1. What can you tell our readers about your new book When the Siren Calls?
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.
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.
2.The character has been compared to a modern day Lady Chatterley, what was your reaction when you heard this review?
I liked it, and I have plagiarised it shamelessly in my marketing. I see Isobel as quintessentially English, trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to a workaholic husband, with little to excite her in the bedroom. That is very much the case with Conny, the heroine in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Isobel, like Conny, does her share of navel gazing, but Conny takes a lover early in the story, and in her marriage, whereas Isobel waits 15 years and doesn't do the deed until page 162 (for those who like to go straight to the naughty bits). The sex scenes in Lady Chatterley were of course considered outrageous, which is why the book was banned. By today's standards they don't even register on the erotica meter.
Nevertheless I found them sensual, and that is a word many have used about my book. I'm also told my book is beautifully written, so all in all I take it as a huge compliment if anyone wants to draw a comparison with my work and the work of someone who was one of the greatest literary talents of his time.
3. The novel travels to Tuscany, so why set it there?
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.”
4. In what circumstance do you feel infidelity can be justified?
Life for most of us is a constant struggle to do the right thing. If you are unhappy in a relationship you want to fix it, or get out of it. But those options are sometimes easier to preach than to practice. Inertia and fear keep some people in unfulfilling relationships, for others it's some sort of dependency, children, financial, emotional. If people who are unfulfilled in a relationship have the opportunity of happiness, even for a season, maybe it’s right that they grab it? Particularly in those relationships where the other partner has been unfaithful or, for whatever reason is happy to look the other way, when infidelity is obvious.
5. You worked for 20 years in London; can you tell us about your experiences there?
My work centred on my clients. London is a world business centre and a world entertainment centre. It can be a hot house by day and a playground by night. I've lived and worked in many places around the world, but if I have to work somewhere I'd just as soon it be London. It has everything except the weather, and when you are working hard and playing hard, the weather doesn't figure on your priorities. My work involved heavy entertaining duty. I found overseas clients always happy to come to London for business and pleasure. It's vibrant, it's cosmopolitan, and you can wine and dine clients as well as almost anywhere. It can be expensive, but then again show me a world business centre that isn't. And if it isn't, it's because there's other places - like London - clients would rather be.
6. You have had two heart attacks, so how did this change the way you felt about life?
It was a shock to the system, reminded me I'd already had more time than I had left, and that you never know how much time left you actually had. It made me reassess my priorities, to take a long hard look at my work-life balance, and to think about the people who were really important to me, and what was important to me. So I quit the day job. I thought I'd spend more time at leisure, and I suppose I do. I certainly don't work the type of hours I used to. And I'm fortunate that now I have the luxury of choosing how I spend my time, so when I'm at my desk I'm not at work, I'm doing what I want to do.
7. Why is this book appropriate for people who both love and hate celebrity lives?
My book throws a spotlight on a certain lifestyle. Pretty much all the characters are what we might describe as the jet set. They've got money and they want to enjoy spending it. It's easy to judge and dislike some of the characters, and to find aspects of their lifestyle unreal. But the truth is, while my book may amplify and to an extent exaggerate a particular lifestyle, it is the lifestyle that the rich indulge in, to a greater or lesser extent. Whether it’s envy or just disapproval, some people will reject the celebrity lifestyle as superficial and decadent. On the other hand, there's millions who are fascinated by it, and want to live like it.
8. What made you want to tell this tale?
I wanted to write a book that would entertain. And I wanted it to be original. The idea of a life under the sun sipping cocktails is what living the dream means to a hell of a lot of people - I'm told 70% of Brits would emigrate if they could. I am someone who has followed the siren call of the expat life, and it's given me rich life experiences, some good and others less good. For want of a better word, I'm an expert, or at least I have the scars to show from living, working, and owning property abroad. So the siren call of life in the sun made for a great backdrop to a novel that is really about relationships; relationships between married couples, lovers and business partners. And the idea of the siren call really is a metaphor as well as a title; my book is full of sirens. The question is when we get the call, should we answer it, or run from it?
9. What is your writing background?
Tom Barry is uniquely placed to throw fresh light on the world of Britain’s rich and famous. After 20 years working amongst city of London ‘fat-cats,’ and two heart attacks, he retreated to suburbia to live in a celebrity bubble alongside footballers, rock stars and screen idols. If infidelity is as ubiquitous amongst the rich and famous as Barry suggests, then his debut novel will win him few friends amongst his illustrious neighbours. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tombarry100 and visit his highly opinionated blog at http://tombarrywrites.com.
10. Which writers have influenced you the most?
I read everything by Ben Elton, but that's because I like the subject matter and you can get through a book of his in a weekend, which is probably how long he took to write it. At the airport I'd most likely grab a book by John Grisham and be sure I'd like it, but never read it again. Tom Wolfe is not everyone's favourite but I would seek out a book by him; Bonfire of the Vanities is probably a book I'd read again.
Inspiration is all around, you just need to recognise it when it comes your way. I can't understand writers who have methodologies for generating ideas. If I wake up remembering a dream I may write it down before I forget it. Apart from that I write about, or draw on, things I know, people I've met, jobs I’ve held, places I've been, experiences I’ve had. I've never felt the need to research a book, too many stories waiting to be told but, having said that, I have an idea my heroine in When the Siren Calls - Isobel - is going to find herself in some tricky situations in India in book three of the trilogy. I have spent little time in India, so I may make researching the story an excuse for a holiday.
11. Who do you most like to read?
I read widely, partly because I'm in a local book club. I'm the only guy, so my choice is always outvoted! I really couldn't pick a single favourite, so I'll say the most recent book that I thoroughly enjoyed, Restless, by William Boyd.
12. What is next for you?
That depends a little on how WTSC is received. If I have an audience and they want to buy the books I write I will keep giving them what they want, because I enjoy writing. But there are aspects of being a writer that are a hard slog; it's not all about the flowing creative juices. And almost every writer will tell you that self-promotion is a tough gig - one you only do because without it you won't sell any books. Given everything I know now, once WTSC is on auto-pilot I will focus on bringing Book Two of the trilogy, "Saving Jay", to market, and while I'm doing that I will also be doing the creative work on Book Three which, I'm delighted to say, will necessitate travel to some exotic locations.
Female First Lucy Walton