As one of the most powerful players in Australian media, Siobhan McKenna is used to taking risks on a grand scale, but this time she is putting everything she’s worked so hard for on the line.
The very private McKenna, who is Chairperson of Foxtel and Fox Sports, Group Broadcast Director at News Corp (publisher of this masthead) and sits on the boards of some of the country’s most recognisable brands, has made an indelible, if not deliberately understated, mark on Australia’s media landscape.
But for years the Melbourne-based mother of three has been keeping a closely guarded secret. In the rare moments between deal-making, strategizing and wrangling her boys, McKenna has been penning a novel – and now her book, Man In Armour – is due to hit the shelves next week.
Letting such a secret out into the open brought to the surface feelings that were slightly foreign to the respected executive: vulnerability and fear.
“I felt vulnerable and I feel vulnerable,” McKenna says. “When Harper Collins said yes, we’d like to acquire this and publish it, I sort of went ‘oh my goodness, what am I going to do?’ ”
With her husband and children the only ones privy to her secret, when a publisher came knocking, it was something she had to think long and hard about.
Would her distinguished career, one she had worked hard over the decades to establish, be put at risk? And would her hard-fought privacy be jeopardised with ‘Siobhan McKenna’ printed on thousands of copies across the country?
“I’ve guarded my privacy really closely and I feel, on balance, I have the respect of my peers in the business community so when (HarperCollins) said they’d like to publish it, I sort of went ‘am I putting all of that at risk? Will people lose respect for me because I would write a novel?’ ” she says.
But the chance to realise a dream she had held onto for almost a decade was too good to refuse and McKenna did what senior executives do best: she backed herself.
“I just thought it’s really important to me … I shouldn’t be embarrassed about wanting to write and be published so I guess I’m prepared to take that risk,” she says. “But I do feel like it is a risk and that makes me very nervous.”
Man In Armour is set in a world McKenna is intimately familiar with — a world of high-flying executives, big-money deals and displays of power that would make world leaders squirm.
The story centres on Charles, a wealthy investment banker who is deeply embedded in the top end of town. For years he has donned a metaphorical suit of armour as a protective layer to deal with the dark side of corporate life. But a suit of armour isn’t impenetrable and the chinks begin to appear.
The fast-paced boardroom thriller contains some graphic sex scenes, but McKenna says they aren’t included for the fun of it. Rather they talk to the power games and vulnerability that come into play.
“I think the point of 50 Shades of Grey is the sex,” she laughs. “I think if you bought this hoping it was going to be about sex, you might be a bit disappointed.”
The book is a fascinating insight into McKenna’s world. When asked if this is really what happens on those levels of a corporate building most people never see, she nods.
Given the dark side of big business is so vividly and terrifyingly explored in Man In Armour — it will undoubtedly be met with questions of whether any of her characters are based on people she has worked with at the top. Rest assured, executives, they are not (but you may recognise a few of traits here and there).
“Charles, in my mind, is Charles, he’s not another person and he doesn’t in any particular way resemble anyone I know or have met and none of the other characters do either,” she says. “I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in my professional life so none of the characters are based on real people but they are informed by my knowledge of how people behave in this particular world.”
And while there are many who would probably prefer not to be the basis of a character in McKenna’s novel, there are others who would probably get a kick out of it. When she shared an early version of the story with a friend, he came back with quite the suggestion.
“He said ‘the music you have to play at the launch party is You’re So Vain because everybody will think this book is about them’,” McKenna laughs.