Syndicated interview with Tom Barry, author of When the Siren Calls. Permission granted by Tom Barry to repost this interview. For more information please visit his website.
Q: After a long career at the top of your profession, what prompted you to write a novel?
My original plan was to write a business book that distilled down everything I’d learnt about selling over 20 years in the corporate world. But when the opportunity came, I decided that, if I were to be a writer, I’d rather entertain my readers than lecture them! Much more fascinating, it seemed to me, to embody everything I knew about persuasion in a fictional character, in a master persuader.
Q: So, your business career was key to being able to write this story?
Yes. People tell me I’m a salesman by nature and I’ve spent 20 years in management consultancy, or what I prefer to call the persuasion game. My only tool was my pen, so what I was really selling was hope, hope to corporations looking for salvation. And that is what the master persuader appeals to in my story; to people’s hopes and to their dreams.
Q: You’ve set your story in a fictional luxury tourist development in Tuscany. Where did that idea come from?
Once I had the idea of a character – a master persuader who would use his skills for business and pleasure – I thought about context and setting. I’ve lived and worked abroad much of my life, and I have bought property in Italy and Spain, amongst other places. I know a lot about the siren call of living in the sun, having answered that call myself, and I’ve learnt the hard way about the perils and pitfalls of overseas property investment. So I set my story against the background of a dream holiday condominium for expats. It could be anywhere you find Brits in the sun, but I chose Tuscany because I love visiting there, and I knew stereotypical hot-blooded and hot-headed Italians would add plenty of spice to my story.
Q: The master persuader is not your protagonist. What made you give the story a female lead?
I wanted the book to be about the characters and what happens to them, not a case study in selling or in living the expat life. When the Siren calls is the story of two people, Isobel and Jay, but the more the characters came to life as I wrote the story, the more I fell in love with Isobel, and the more I wanted it to be at least as much her story as Jay’s.
Q: What is that story?
Isobel is quintessentially English: a modern day Lady Chatterley. When she meets Jay, she imagines a life of excitement outside her stagnant marriage, free of her workaholic husband. When the Siren Calls tells what happens next.
Q: What makes your story different to other romance/thriller novels out there?
Several things. First, I’ve written cross-genre. My book is a romantic suspense and business thriller brought together around three common threads: seduction, deception and betrayal. Second, it’s written from multiple points of view; we don’t see the story just through Isobel’s eyes and every character is the hero of his own story.
The result is a story with twists and turns that keep you guessing. But more importantly it is fresh and original because it does not follow the formulaic approach that all publishers now demand before they will even consider a manuscript from a debut author. The reader sees characters’ actions through the characters’ point of view, and the point of view of their adversaries, and it is for the reader to decide who the good guys are.
Q: Does that mean different readers will view characters differently?
Exactly, take Isobel for example. I hope every reader will find her an empathetic character and I think most will be rooting for her. But not everyone will agree with how she behaves.
Q: How difficult was it to put yourself inside the head of a female protagonist?
People seem to readily accept that you don’t need to be a vampire to write a vampire novel. And D.H Lawrence was able to put himself inside the head of Lady Chatterley, just as a middle-aged woman was able to put herself inside the head of an eleven-year wizard.
Q: Are you confident that women readers will identify with Isobel?
I know they will because I have fans who have read the Prequel to the novel saying they are going crazy waiting for the full release. And it’s not just women. Isobel’s situation is universal, and everyone over the age of fifteen will relate to it. We all, at some point, find ourselves in a place, a job or a relationship that is not fulfilling. Isobel’s problem is that she lacks the courage to live a life true to herself rather than the one other people expect. Whether she will find the courage she needs remains the issue right to the end of the story.
Q: WTSC is the first book in a trilogy. When can we expect book two?
The second book, Saving Jay, is already written. The timing on the release is something I discuss with my agent regularly. We haven’t set a date yet, but hopefully you will see Saving Jay in bookshops late spring 2013.
Five things about me…
– one of eight kids, lifestory is the classic immigrant tale of seeking to live up to parental expectations, while working to mark out your own trail.
– I have aspects of an obsessive personality, establishing a work-life balance was a major challenge.
– I gave up on my business career in my mid-forties, I just didn’t tell my boss! Find something you enjoy doing, and you’ll never work another day.
– I tell my kids education is the best gift I can give them, it’s no weight to carry and no-one can take it off you.
– I believe almost everyone has an agenda; explore perspectives outside the mainstream, and beware suppliers bearing gifts.