You wouldn’t know of too many trade magazine editors who became extremely successful thriller writers, would you?
Well, it so happens that I do. And, come to think of it, probably you too.
The Hailey kinda books
Arthur Frederick Hailey (1920–2004), popularly known as Arthur Hailey was the British-Canadian writer of a special category of thrillers — industry thrillers.
He’d pick a particular industry and research like crazy, reading books and interviewing people till he knew a great deal about the industry.
Then he’d use this understanding to write a best-selling novel.
And then pick up another industry. Research. Write. Repeat.
His extremely well-researched novels with strong storylines became a gold standard of sorts. Almost every book he wrote focused on a particular industry. Here’s a list of his most well-known books and the industry each book focused on:
- The Final Diagnosis: Healthcare industry
- In High Places: Politics (if it may be called an industry)
- Hotel: Hospitality
- Airport: Aviation
- Wheels: Automobiles
- The Moneychangers: Finance
- Overload: Power
- Strong Medicine: Pharmaceuticals
- The Evening News: News media
Elaborate research into each of the industries he wrote about became a norm for him. Readers just loved him for the way he interlaced industry knowledge with his story-telling craft, something for which The New York Times called him “a competent craftsman” (not many critics agreed, though).
One of Hailey’s books Airport (1968)wasn’t just blockbuster; it was made into a successful, Academy-nominated film by the same name.
But more importantly, the film unleashed a sort of rush of flood of disaster movies in the 1970’s.
Interesting coincidence for someone who got accepted and trained as a pilot because “Britain became desperate for pilots. Standards were lowered”, as Hailey (who’d have turned 99 on April 5, 2019) honestly admitted later on.
The Hailey Formula
Early on, he developed a formula that he’d stick to for the rest of his career: place a few professionals of an industry in threatening situations and let the situation come to a boil. Let the protagonists fight back by drawing upon a secret reservoir of strength, not unlike the author himself, who fought back post-operative depression and wrote one of his major best-sellers Strong Medicine in 1984.
Beyond the formula, much of his success could be attributed to his disciplined approach and relentless research. He’d research industries for upto 3 years and once he’d sit down to write, he’d refuse to stop unless he was clocking in 600 words per day.
While the writer Hailey was really good, the same may not have been true for Hailey the person. When his second (and last) wife Sheila penned a memoir (“I married a Bestseller”), she used some adjectives that weren’t particularly complimentary: self-centered, ruthless, temperamental, unreasonable, and more.
All the same, his film and TV adaptations featured some major stars (Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas,Christopher Plummer, Anne Baxter and Dick Van Dyke among others) and plowed in millions of dollars.
As a matter of fact, he earned so handsomely from writing that he had to look out for tax havens.
Not bad for someone who had to drop out of high-school because the family didn’t have money to pay his school fees.