When I had just graduated and worked in London as a teacher of English as a foreign language, I met so many extraordinary characters from all around the world that I had enough inspiration to write about twenty novels. The only one I have actually written is a crime thriller called Friends with Secrets.
I have been thinking about it a lot lately, because of all the traumatised young people fleeing Syria and other war zones around the world.
Back then, some of my particularly young students were from Georgia and had just escaped a brutal war which expelled them from their homes. They confided stories of their experiences in the war as a kind of catharsis, telling me that the other young students either did not seem to care, or wouldn’t believe them.
They described the country they had left behind as being nothing but mud and rubble. There was no fuel, no factories, hardly any sound buildings and very little food. Every single one of them wanted to be a businessman to rebuild a new economy for Georgia.
They could not understand other students who spoke against capitalism and profiteering. They had come from a country with none left.
“When there’s no business, what are you going to put on your feet? Where will you buy your food? How will you pay for your schools and hospitals?” they would ask, bewildered and exasperated.
They were traumatised, yet so brave in trying to continue to build their lives, that they touched me deeply.
I hope they will forgive me for amalgamating them into fictitious people, and for using them as inspiration for some of the criminal characters in the Friends with Secrets action that unfolds around London.
After four years as an English teacher, I joined a graduate training programme and started working as an analyst in the stockbroking division of a global bank. I was based in London but also sometimes worked in New York.
The bank trained me in money laundering techniques, and how to spot the signs of money laundering in clients, for my regulatory exams.
Being me, I studied the technical facts whilst also letting my imagination run riot, by inventing endless exciting scenarios that could lead into criminal adventures. I did actually get my work done, too, I swear!
Whilst Friends with Secrets is a work of pure fiction, I have enough first hand experience of all of its scenarios and plot twists to know that, whilst it isn’t actually true, it just might have been.
FRIENDS WITH SECRETS by Veronica Di Grigoli
New York, 1993: Mistry thinks she has a safe job in a bank, but when she realises a client is using her to launder money, someone tries to kill her. How can she outwit a criminal who has already outwitted the police?
London, England: College teacher Crystal befriends a teenage language student from war-torn Georgia as he confides in her how his brother was kidnapped and held to ransom. A Colombian student, realising she has spotted him receiving a huge sum of cash, threatens to kill her if she tells the police. When another student vanishes, Crystal realises she has stumbled into a deadly conflict between a Colombian drug cartel and the Soviet Mafia. She already knows too much. Who can help her now?
As the net tightens around Crystal, and Mistry’s assassin tries to kill her again, they cross paths and realise their only hope is to unite forces. Two scared young women discover just how resourceful danger can make them. But are they in time to save each other’s lives?