Real experience gives diary weight

Former advertising copywriter Sally Nicoll is seduced by a rags-to-riches story into having a go at online spread betting. In this humorous diary she describes her transition from novice to trader.

“Wig, head and shoulders, double bottoms and wedge formations”. For the uninitiated, these words might form part of an unflattering physical description. But for those in the know, they each relate to stockmarket trading – the first word, “Wig”, being the Polish equity index.

From knowing nothing to understanding exactly what these terms mean is the journey on which Sally Nicoll invites us to join her in Bets and the City. Nicoll, who used to be a copywriter in the advertising industry, decided to try online spread betting after reading a “rags to riches” story in a newspaper. She did this having had no experience of trading. Her lack of experience in the world of stockmarkets generates the humour and drives the narrative of the book. “Share prices,” she says. “They go up. They go down. How difficult can it be?”

Taking the form of a diary, the book is based on the author’s blog for Finspreads, an online trading company, as she battles her way through jargon, advice, losses and wins. Every trade listed in the book is an actual account of what she bet her money on. It is by no means a definitive manual or instruction on how to trade. Likewise, a fan of Sex and the City or Bridget Jones might be disappointed by the lack of sex and glamour. Indeed, the author herself says it appeals “mostly to blokes aged about 35”.

But what grabs the reader’s attention is the gusto with which Nicoll embarks upon her new occupation. At one point when the markets close for the weekend she says she feels “desolate”. Her increasing determination, bordering on obsession, to prove she can successfully make money from trading online is what keeps you reading. At one stage binary spread betting is compared to crack cocaine. It is clear the experience of trading is becoming addictive.

Nicoll frequently comments that she is having “lots of fun”. But the highs and lows she goes through while she is either making money or losing it can, for the reader, feel like you are observing someone’s life unravel. This is not helped by Nicoll’s initial rationale that she must be suited to this line of work because she was good at winning at pinball when she was eight.

What the diary succeeds in doing is leading the reader through a series of strategies Nicoll uses in an attempt to make her spread betting project a success. She develops from acting on “gut feeling” and a heavy reliance on Google’s search engine, through to behavioural finance, technical analysis and spotting trends. Along the way she gets advice from several “gurus”, one of whom is a portfolio manager in charge of $2bn (£1bn). As she progresses she becomes more disciplined in her approach and congratulates herself on abandoning “betting” for the more respectable occupation of “trading”.

“No guesswork. I will trade what I see. Not what I think,” she says. “I will keep a record of every trade justifying my entry/exit decisions. I will cut my losses when the market moves against me. Protecting my capital is the number-one priority.”

As Nicoll’s winnings become more modest as she grows more cautious, she says she feels increasingly like a trader. “OK, so £8.20 won’t buy you a morning’s parking in Primrose Hill,” she says. “But for the first time in my spread betting career, I’ve traded as opposed to gambled.”

If you are interested in reading someone’s comic journey from a trading novice into successfully mastering a spread betting methodology, this is the book for you. Words of wisdom along the way such as “never take a holiday in Cornwall when you are speculating on sterling against the dollar” might only be funny to someone who has ever had the inclination to speculate on sterling. But the book also tries to appeal to another kind of reader.

The author explains that spread betting is becoming increasingly popular among women. The chapter entitled “Do Women Make Better Traders than Men?” states to this effect: “Five years ago there were only six female [Finspreads] account holders, but we’ll soon account for 10% of the client base.”

The reader also has an insight into Nicoll’s private life alongside her development as a trader. Her group of friends – the “latterati” with whom she meets for coffee most mornings – feature in her diary almost daily.

Characters such as Much Married Michael, Retired Reggie, Scouse Git and Filthy Luca are designed to offer light relief to the detailed accounts of her daily trades. Her disastrous attempts at internet dating are also sprinkled throughout the book, as are her regular walks with her dog, Dow Jones.

The book is marketed as “Bridget Jones meets Wall Street” and the author herself as the “Carrie Bradshaw of spread betting”. However, I am not sure this is enough to make genuine fans of “chick-lit” rush to Borders. The dearth of fashion and sex could be a turn-off for such readers – as could any mention of the FTSE 350.

Anyone involved in stockmarket trading, however, whether as a hobby or profession, will be familiar with Nicoll’s highs and lows. Professionals will remember how it feels to be a complete novice and beginners will empathise with the bewilderment.

The fact that all the trades in the book are real and people have logged on to Nicoll’s blog to read about them gives the book some weight. It demonstrates that people are interested to know what other people are doing with their money. And most importantly of all, whether or not they can successfully make it grow.

As for the comparisons with Carrie Bradshaw – maybe they would sit better with obsessive Adrian Mole. Nicoll’s book does not have the sex and designer fashion of an episode of Sex and the City. But it does offer a humorous account of a trading virgin on a quest to become more experienced.

To order a copy of Bets and the City call 01730-233870 or go to