Does art imitate life? Only if it's dreadfully boring



A spy novelist once told me the following story. He had just published his first novel - it wasn't terribly successful, but the whole idea of writing and publishing a novel is so improbable that he nevertheless considered himself a serious bigshot, despite having only about $16 in the bank.

The novel didn't sell well. His elegant way of putting it is: "My first book caused me no tax trouble." But the blunt facts were these: it flopped. No one bought it at airport bookstalls. No one ported it to the beach in the summer. No one read it by the pool of swanky resorts. And worse, no one called from Hollywood to turn it into a movie.

Someone, though, must have read it, because a few months after its dismal publication, my friend got a call from a high-ranking person at the Pentagon who claimed to be a big fan. The caller relayed how he had passed it along to colleagues in the US Department of Defense, and they also had read and enjoyed the book. Even further, they would be honoured to host him at a Pentagon luncheon and give him a guided tour of some of the cooler and more top-secret locations.

It is a measure of my friend's relative newness to the business that he didn't instantly complain. "You passed the book around?" he should have asked. "You should have each bought your own copy."

The book, I should mention, was partially set inside the Pentagon - I think the title was something like Five Deadly Rings, or maybe even something sillier. During the call, his Pentagon fan laughed and suggested that some of his facts and details might have been a little bit off. "Come to lunch," he said, "and we'll show you how it really is."

I have yet to hear a credible tale of a writer passing up a free lunch, and my then-impoverished friend was no exception. On the appointed day, he appeared at the front gate to the world's most forbidding building, was buzzed in by security, led through anonymous hallways, and escorted to a drab and sparsely furnished room where he sat, alone, for several minutes.

"You'll get lunch in a little while," he was told by a distinctly unfriendly man who joined him. It wasn't the man who had invited him to lunch - he was not to be seen, and my friend's questions were met with vague and evasive non-answers. Two more people joined them, took their seats on metal chairs opposite the now-terrified novelist and the interrogation began.

Because, apparently, the truth was that none of my friend's facts were off. His facts were eerily factual, and his details were alarmingly detailed. He had described spy missions and military initiatives with such accuracy and confidence that a team of counter-intelligence specialists had been assigned to the case.

My almost-failed spy novelist friend had been summoned to the Pentagon to explain how on Earth he had broken the code of secrecy. His three interrogators wouldn't relent - and wouldn't let him leave the building - until he had recreated his research process.

It was a thorny problem for my friend, because he hadn't bothered to do any research at all. He had made up almost every scene, character and event in the novel, and hadn't even mustered the energy to get the correct address of the Pentagon. And yet somehow, his slapdash first attempt was uncannily on the mark.

It wasn't until he had convinced his interrogators that he really was as lazy as he said he was that they let him go. He was given a package of stale crackers from a vending machine - "Here. Lunch is on us." - and escorted out of the building.

"That was the last time," he said, "that I ever tried to write a spy novel without doing extensive research."

Why? I asked. He had managed to conjecture his way into a highly realistic and all-too-believable novel. Why start researching now?

"Because," he told me, "I don't want my books to be accurate. I want them to be entertaining. I want them to sell. What I realised about my first book was that it failed because it was so lifelike. Real life is boring. I don't want to be factual. I want to be rich."

So he researches his books now to make sure that they're in no way truthful, which is the best way to make sure they're interesting. It sounds crazy, I know, but it's important to note that he told me this story years later as we were sitting by his pool, at his beachside villa in Malibu. Realism, I guess, doesn't pay.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl

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1. Bhiwadi, India
2. Ghaziabad, India
3. Hotan, China
4. Delhi, India
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Jordan cabinet changes

In

  • Raed Mozafar Abu Al Saoud, Minister of Water and Irrigation
  • Dr Bassam Samir Al Talhouni, Minister of Justice
  • Majd Mohamed Shoueikeh, State Minister of Development of Foundation Performance
  • Azmi Mahmud Mohafaza, Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research
  • Falah Abdalla Al Ammoush, Minister of Public Works and Housing
  • Basma Moussa Ishakat, Minister of Social Development
  • Dr Ghazi Monawar Al Zein, Minister of Health
  • Ibrahim Sobhi Alshahahede, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Environment
  • Dr Mohamed Suleiman Aburamman, Minister of Culture and Minister of Youth

Out

  • Dr Adel Issa Al Tawissi, Minister of High Education and Scientific Research
  • Hala Noaman “Basiso Lattouf”, Minister of Social Development
  • Dr Mahmud Yassin Al Sheyab, Minister of Health
  • Yahya Moussa Kasbi, Minister of Public Works and Housing
  • Nayef Hamidi Al Fayez, Minister of Environment
  • Majd Mohamed Shoueika, Minister of Public Sector Development
  • Khalid Moussa Al Huneifat, Minister of Agriculture
  • Dr Awad Abu Jarad Al Mushakiba, Minister of Justice
  • Mounir Moussa Ouwais, Minister of Water and Agriculture
  • Dr Azmi Mahmud Mohafaza, Minister of Education
  • Mokarram Mustafa Al Kaysi, Minister of Youth
  • Basma Mohamed Al Nousour, Minister of Culture
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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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