Author Spotlight: Barry Finlay talks about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, writing a story ripped from the headlines and his protagonists’ greatest fears

I don’t consider it crazy, but some people might. At age 60, I successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at 19,341 feet, with our son, Chris (picture below). The elevation is number four of the world’s seven summits, has a 64% success rate on the trail we chose and claims 5-15 lives each year. It led to a slogan for me that every mountain top is within reach if you just keep on climbing and the fundraising for the kids of Tanzania that we started before the climb has continued. It also led to my first book, Kilimanjaro and Beyond: A Life-Changing Journey, written with Chris.

SR: What’s your new book about? What inspired you to write it?

9780995937925-Perfect.inddBF: In Remote Access, the president of the United States is about to impose crippling tariffs on electronic importations from China. A computer hacker hired by the furious Chinese regime is on a mission to stop it. The impetuous president is not listening to anyone, and especially a hacker. The hacker is equally determined not to fail. In this suspenseful cat and mouse game, the stakes include national security and the life of the president of the United States. Remote Access will satisfy readers who have even a casual interest in tonight’s news and who love page-turning suspense

I was inspired to write it by the news. The hacker chooses to blackmail the chief of staff into stopping the president by hacking into his wife’s computer. I thought it would be interesting to explore the fear experienced by a normal citizen if attacked by a foreign power.

SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.

BF: Remote Access is an international political thriller spawned by today’s news that will keep you turning the pages to the surprise ending.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

BF: Marcie Kane and Nathan Harris are the two protagonists. Since the chief of staff’s wife’s computer is in the process of being hacked on page 57, Marcie would immediately blame the aliens for doing it. Nathan doesn’t believe in coincidences so he would be suspicious, but he would give them the benefit of the doubt until there was proof.

SR: Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

BF: Marcie and Nathan are both very familiar with Africa since Marcie stumbled across a human trafficking ring there and Nathan solved the crime in A Perilous Question. I believe they would move to Africa. People might anticipate their move to Africa, but they could easily disappear in the country.

SR: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

BF: Marcie would be Arya Stark. She’s smart, headstrong, independent and brave and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which is the way I see Arya. Nathan would be more like Katniss Eberdeen. He and Katniss are both loyal, responsible, smart and are more than capable of taking charge.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

BF: Their greatest fear at this stage in their lives would be losing each other. They have both been through a lot before meeting so one losing the other would be disastrous. You will have to read Remote Access to see if that happens.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

BF: Hacking is in the news every day and we are all aware of the consequences of someone stealing our personal information. It’s a constant battle against people who want our information for nefarious purposes. Add that to the craziness of today’s politics and I think it’s something everyone can relate to.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

BF: Many of the examples of computer hacking in Remote Access are true and there are some hints how to fight attacks. I’m not a computer expert and many of the facts presented are based on research, but I hope people will take a little more care with their computer security after reading the book.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

BF: I have tried to make the protagonists as real as possible. They don’t develop super hero skills when faced with adversity. They are both independent, as I like to think I am. Would I be as strong as they are in the situations they find themselves in? I hope I never have to find out, but the answer is probably not.

SR: If you were in an arm wrestle with your protagonist who would win? What is your protagonist better at than you? What are you better than your protagonist at?

BF: I would probably lose against both of them. I don’t know if I would match their bravery, but I don’t think I’m as reckless as Marcie can be sometimes.

SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be your protagonist’s song? Yours?

BF: Nathan Harris is a classic music fan and his favorite is Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Marcie Kane generally leans towards artists like Bruno Mars, although she does listen to the Rolling Stones’ newest blues album in Remote Access. I’m with Marcie with her choice of the Rolling Stones and would choose something by them if I had to do carpool karaoke, although no-one would want to hear it. 

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BF: I read a lot in my early years, but the first book I can remember having an impact was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I loved the beautiful story-telling and the theme of not just accepting, but continuing to learn and ultimately to pass your learning on to others. I think that book was a reminder to me of how important perseverance is. The descriptions also stuck with me and I try to be as descriptive as possible in my writing without going overboard.

SR: What’s the best thing about writing?

BF: I’m always surprised where the characters end up taking me as the story evolves. I sort of outline, but I let the story and characters go where they will. I really enjoy that aspect.

SR: What’s the worst thing about writing?

BF: Ensuring there are no holes or redundancies in the plot. That’s why I have a great editor.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

BF: Description is a challenge for me. I remember when our son and I were writing Kilimanjaro and Beyond, I initially basically wrote that the rainforest was green. Of course, it isn’t. Depending on light reflection and shadows, it can be a million different colors. My editor quickly reminded me of that and I’ve been conscious of it ever since. It’s still a challenge.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

BF: Self publishing is something you get better at the more you do it. The biggest obstacle is not publishing, but rather making people aware that your book even exists and that it’s worth reading as much or more than the other million books out there.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

BF: “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep on climbing.” Our mountain was a metaphor for the “mountains” we all face in life at one time or another. We have to just keep climbing.

SR: Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.

BF: I started learning how to play the guitar a year ago. I’m not ready for prime time yet.

SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

BF: My climb of Kilimanjaro changed my life. I realized that with perseverance and a little luck we can do pretty much anything we set our minds to. I also learned that with a little effort we can help others achieve their goals. There’s nothing more satisfying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASR: If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why? If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?

BF: I would choose blizzards since living in Canada my entire life and experiencing them more often than I care to mention has hardened me to them. They’re a fact of winter. We’ve also experienced minor earthquakes and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a large one. The other choices are too terrifying to contemplate. My protagonist would be an earthquake – spontaneous and potentially deadly.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

BF: Three grandkids, golf, travel, reading, gym and guitar.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

BF: We have been raising money for Plan Canada for 10 years and Wounded Warriors Canada for five years and would continue to support them.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

BF: My new novel, Remote Access, will be released at Chapters in Nepean, Ontario, Canada and online worldwide on April 28, 2018. Check out my website at http://www.barry-finlay.com for details.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

BF: Find what works best for you. For example, something that works for me is to put myself in the position of my characters (good or bad) in every situation I’m writing about. How I think I would react usually ends up on paper, either in dialogue or in action. Another trick I use is to make the facial expression (sometimes in the mirror) I’m writing about and try to describe them as accurately as possible. It looks weird, but it works for me.

profile picBarry Finlay is the award-winning author of the inspirational travel adventure, Kilimanjaro and Beyond – A Life-Changing Journey (with his son Chris), Amazon bestselling travel memoir, I Guess We Missed The Boat and two award-winning thrillers, The Vanishing Wife and A Perilous Question. He has just finished his third thriller, Remote Access. Barry was featured in the 2012-13 Authors Show’s edition of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading.” He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal for his fundraising efforts to help kids in Tanzania, Africa. Barry lives with his wife Evelyn in Ottawa, Canada.

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