Welcome to a conversation with Award Winning Author, Barry Finlay

Entering the library the murmur of amiable voices greets you and immediately you sense you’re among friends. You bask in the amber glow of the coals on the hearth and the late afternoon sun through ancient leaded glass windows; the richness of the mahogany lined walls and bookcases filled with ancient tomes; and the soothing scents of leather and old books fill you with a sense of peace and tranquility. Someone pours you a steaming cup of your favourite hot beverage and you settle into your familiar chair as an expectant hush falls over the room and our conversation begins.

I’m proud to introduce Barry Finlay, author of five award winning books and an award winning decorative wood carver. He is a remarkably accomplished individual whose philanthropic endeavours change countless lives both here at home in Canada as well as internationally.

Barry Finlay spent his thirty-two year career in the financial field with the Canadian federal government. His life took a sharp turn after his retirement in 2004 when he climbed Africa’s highest mountain with one of his sons. That in turn led to visits to primary and preschools in Tanzania and his life was changed forever. He resolved then to help the kids in any way he could, and he has been raising money towards that goal ever since.

Barry and his son Chris documented their climb in a book entitled “Kilimanjaro and Beyond – A Life-Changing Journey” and his writing career was off and running.  His second book, I Guess We Missed the Boat won an award for the best Travel Book from Reader Views. That was followed by the Marcie Kane Thriller Collection, a series of three books, each of which are Amazon bestsellers and have won at least one literary award.

He released a novella prequel to the Marcie Kane series in February 2019 called Never So Alone and he is now working on another thriller, which he hopes to release in early 2020.

Barry is a recipient of the Queen’s Silver Diamond Jubilee medal for his philanthropic work in Africa and he lives with his wife Evelyn in Ottawa, Canada.

Thank you, Barry, for sharing a moment with us and allowing us to get to know you a little better.

James:                  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Barry:                    I have always enjoyed writing. I attribute that to the fact my mother spent a lot of time teaching me how to read and write before I ever got to school. I put it into practice during part of my career when I wrote financial policy for ten years. Nobody reads financial policy unless they have to, but it honed my writing skills. I wrote my first book with one of my sons after he and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and it has continued from there.  

James:                  What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Barry:                    The one trap everyone refers to is telling rather than showing. Writers need to be conscious of allowing the reader to visualize rather than telling them what is happening.  Another trap is not taking the time to ensure authenticity in fiction. Even though a book is fictional, there are parts that require some research. A good example where authenticity is sometimes lacking is police procedures. My experience has been that local police forces are more than happy to answer questions so the author can get it right. Thinking you can edit your own book is a huge trap. No matter how many times you read your manuscript, you will read what you think you wrote, rather than what you actually did write.

James:                  Thank you Barry for that excellent advice.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Barry:                    This is a timely question. I have a blog called Keyboard Reflections and my next post will be titled “The Subtle Art of Blowing Your Own Horn.”  I haven’t mastered it yet so the post will focus more on the difficulty of doing it rather than providing answers. My books have won a few literary awards and each time I had a tough time posting about it on social media. Posting about something like that always feels like boasting to me.

I suppose a big ego would help with self promotion in the short term, but I’ve always thought that people see through it eventually. I’m pretty sure most authors have been humbled enough that ego is not a problem.  Most will tell you they have difficulty promoting themselves and their books. Writers have to be confident that their work is the best it can be in order to market and promote. Confidence is different than ego in my mind, unless it’s taken to extremes.

James:                  I look forward to reading your article. Thank you for your valuable insight.

What is the most unethical practice you’ve observed in the publishing industry?

Barry:                    I’ve been reading a lot lately about authors and publishers gaming the Amazon system with fake reviews or inflating profits or sales rankings. Amazon is suing some of the perpetrators so hopefully, that will stop the practice. Otherwise, the deck is tilted towards anyone who is willing to try anything to be successful. It’s hard enough for an author to be noticed in this business without an unlevel playing field.

James:                  So very true, Barry.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Barry:                    I don’t think I really grasped the power of language until I started writing. I received an email from someone I didn’t know telling me how much “Kilimanjaro and Beyond” had inspired a friend of hers who had lost a loved one in a car accident. I have received messages or reviews from people who have been inspired or entertained by my books. Sometimes, former colleagues will say something like, “I remember you saying… “. It always shocks me because I don’t remember saying it, but it meant something to them at the time. It’s a reminder of the many people who have said something that left an impression on me. It just demonstrates words do matter and leave a lasting impact on people.

James:                  King Solomon gave us many Proverbs on the power of words. Proverbs 15:1, 2, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh words stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Barry:                    Hiring a professional editor is number one. I guarantee that the right editor will make a book better. Second is cover design. The author can come up with the vision for a cover, but a good graphic designer brings it to life. If there’s any money left, my third choice would be a publicist or at least, a specialist in marketing and promotion. You don’t have to spend a fortune (although you can) but having someone to take some of the marketing load off your shoulders and put your book in front of a wider audience is worth the money. 

James:                  It sounds as though you have given the entire process of writing and marketing a great deal of thought. Perhaps a “How To” guide book is in your future.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Barry:                    I usually do a search on the internet for a list of surnames, depending on my character’s ancestry and first names that were popular when my characters were born. Then I mix and match and put together the two names that seem to fit the character.  

James:                  Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Barry:                    I named one of my characters after a real person in Remote Access. She was surprised when she read it. I have also included subtle things that close friends would recognize.

James:                  Congratulations on conquering Kilimanjaro? I’m sure you can draw many motivational anecdotes from your experience. What words of advice or motivation would you give to a writer whose manuscript has been rejected several times and told he or she will never make it as a writer?

Barry:                    Thank you! Kilimanjaro was an amazing experience and being able to do it with one of our sons was even better. A slogan came to me after the climb that has become my mantra and which has since been used on posters, t-shirts, rubber stamps, etc. by various people. The slogan is, “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” I think it applies to many things in life, including those who have been told they will never make it as a writer.

James:                  Thank you, Barry, for truly inspirational advice.

If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Barry:                    I can tell you this: It would be someplace warm. I base all my books on places I’ve been so I can accurately describe the scenery. The book I’m working on now takes place in Canada and Arizona. Maybe Barbados would be a nice setting.

James:                  Phoenix, Arizona average temperature if 75° F. I hope you went there for your research.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Barry:                    It may surprise people that I used to paint landscapes and I was an award-winning wood carver until I started writing. Unfortunately, there isn’t time to do everything. I’m also a big fan of the Marvel movie series and Game of Thrones.

James:                  Wow! Your artistic talent appears boundless.

What was the hardest part of writing your author bio?

Barry:                    This goes back to the question about ego. Writing a bio is not easy to do, but I think the most difficult part is including everything that is relevant. It’s easy to leave something out because it doesn’t seem that important to you, but it may be significant to the reader

James:                  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Barry:                    My wife, Evelyn, and I have organized variety shows and golf tournaments to raise funds for Plan International Canada and Wounded Warriors Canada each year for the last number of years. We like to travel. I play golf as much as possible during the summer (and in the winter if we can get away from the snow). I like to hike and read and I started teaching myself guitar two years ago with the help of YouTube videos and advice from one of our sons who is a singer/songwriter in Nashville. We also have three grandchildren that keep us busy.  

James:                  You lead a very full life, indeed, Barry.

Pick one excerpt from one of your books you would like to share with readers.

Barry:                    From Remote Access:

Annie’s eyes were open wide and her left hand rested on her chest. She couldn’t move. She was frozen in time. She couldn’t avert her eyes from the screen in front of her.

The cursor moved by itself.

She managed to move her hand, but no matter how much she jabbed at the mouse and clicked the right and left buttons, nothing stopped the runaway cursor. Oh my God, it has a mind of its own. What’s causing that?

The cursor on the screen did have a mind of its own and it also had a purpose. It was rapidly closing tabs so that only the browser remained open. Words swiftly appeared in the dialog box of the browser: USA GOVERNMENT WEBSITE. The site opened, and a new dialog appeared: CHIEF OF STAFF. A picture of her husband, Craig Logan, appeared on the screen along with his bio. The cursor drew a large red circle around his name. A gasp escaped from Annie’s lips.

Thank you kindly for talking with us today, Barry. You are truly an inspiration.