Ask the Author: Brian Finney
What would you like readers to know about you?
I was born in England, where I spent the first fifty years of my life. During my early twenties, I wrote a couple of novels that didn’t work because they falsely adopted a gloomy outlook when I was essentially an optimist. It took most of my adult life to find the formula that has worked in my new novel, Money Matters. After spending three years in the Royal Air Force and five in factory management, I became a tutor-organizer for London University’s Department of Extra-Mural Studies (a bit like University Extension here in the States). This entailed hiring lecturers in all the arts and making their courses available throughout the city, including in locations such as the National Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the British Film Institute, and the like. I obtained a PhD while doing this and gradually transitioned to a primarily teaching position in English literature.
Research for my PhD on D.H. Lawrence’s shorter fiction took me to a wide range of special collections in US libraries, the first time I had visited the United States. I returned years later to interview Christopher Isherwood (I was writing a critical autobiography of him) after he had settled in Santa Monica, when I taught graduate summer school at UCLA to cover my costs. The biography won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Award.
Once Margaret Thatcher had started savagely cutting my sector of education, I decided to immigrate to America. I was lucky in landing the position of visiting professor at UC Riverside just before leaving England for good. But after the two-year appointment ended, I was thrown on the job market and for many years forced to freelance between three Southern Californian universities – UCLA, USC, and California State University, Long Beach, an experience of insecurity and hard work that many immigrants habitually encounter. I found the State University system suited me best with its smaller class sizes and I was eventually granted tenure at Long Beach where I am now a Professor Emeritus, having retired from full-time teaching four years ago.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
It’s narrated (in the present tense) by Jenny, a twenty-seven-year-old woman who hasn’t got her life together, partly because she refuses to make money her sole aim in life. As a result, she is renting a bedroom and bathroom from her successful right-wing sister, a realtor who plays the LA singles field with skill. Jenny has a deadbeat boyfriend and two low-paying part-time jobs, one in plant maintenance for the CEO of a large mutual fund company and the other reviewing surveillance videos for a large LA detective agency.
When the CEO’s Mexican-American housekeeper asks Jenny to investigate the disappearance of the CEO’s live-in girlfriend with whom she had become friends, Jenny finds herself entering a dark web of intrigue, pitted against the powerful and dangerous forces of big money, politics and a drug cartel. Besides the theme of money, the novel involves issues of immigration. A subplot focusses on an undocumented immigrant who tangles with the US authorities. Another character is the director of an immigrant rights organization whom Jenny asks for help in her investigation and finds herself strongly attracted to. So the novel is part amateur sleuth, part (late) coming of age, part social issues, and part romance. The mix of genres helps to keep the reader guessing to the end.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
I guess the act of retiring from teaching gave me the freedom to write what I fancied, rather than write non-fiction books, which is expected of an academic. But after writing it, I realized that, as I said, immigration played an essential role in the novel, and that I had shared some of the experiences of the immigrants I was writing about. I spent 14 years as a freelance lecturer before becoming probably the oldest assistant professor in the US. So I had little difficulty empathizing with the immigrant characters in the novel.
Then there was my choice of a young female American protagonist. Here I am, an older male author with an English vocabulary and accent. Why speak through a character so very different from myself? Apart from always having enjoyed the company of women friends, I found that drawing on what Jung calls my “anima” (my feminine self) I could produce a voice that came easily to me just because it was so different from my own. Mind you, I had to get editors and friends to help me eliminate every trace of English expressions in the draft. Still, it was worth it.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
I really enjoyed writing the arguments that keep erupting between Jenny and her sister Tricia. Jenny is a liberal who attempts to look at all sides of a question. Tricia is right-wing, opinionated, and believes that money can buy you whatever you desire in life. Jenny, however, asks, how can you put a price on happy memories? Or regrets? Or longings? By describing the two sister’s recurrent arguments about money, politics, and immigration, I was able to make personal and dramatic a broader argument that was dividing the country in the mid-term election of 2010 when the novel is set.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
When I was in my twenties, I loved much of the work of D. H. Lawrence. Brought up in a coalminers’ row house on the edge of the countryside, he deplored the effects of industrialization on the human psyche and the materialism that accompanied it. A decade later, I woke up to the revolutionary use of English that Samuel Beckett developed as he fought to free himself of his earlier Irish loquacity. I was also drawn to his sardonic view of humans who avoid facing the pointlessness of their existence by resorting to the illusory rewards of art, philosophy, and love. Later still, I found myself admiring the English writers of the eighties and nineties, starting with Angela Carter, whose reaction against realist narrative anticipated today’s popularity of the supernatural, the paranormal and sci-fi. She was followed by Salman Rushdie (whose latest novel Quichotte I am reviewing for the Los Angeles Review of Books), Martin Amis (about whom I wrote a book), Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, E.S Byatt, Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro, and others. Finally along came twenty-first-century novelist David Mitchell whose earlier novels, especially Cloud Atlas with its plot that doubles back on itself, dazzled me.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Create your fictional world and then allow it to take charge. Let the characters tell you what is possible for them to do and say. Obey the laws of the fictional scenario you have established. Be prepared to revise and erase. Listen to others’ comments and criticisms and amend anything they convince you doesn’t work. But remain true to your vision and reject any prompts wanting you to write a different book from the one you have chosen to write.
Finally, I would like to offer readers help in learning more about me and Money Matters. You will find most of what you want to know about me on my comprehensive website: www.bhfinney.com
My book is available on Amazon as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook at Money Matters