This article originally appeared in Authors Magazine
Linwood Barclay began writing stories at the age of eight, but when a family tragedy had him running his parents’ caravan park and cottage resort at 17, his dream of becoming an author looked unlikely to come true. It may have taken 30 years, but when it did, it really did.
His 2007 thriller, No Time for Goodbye, about a girl who wakes up one day to find her family has vanished with no bodies and no suspects, spent seven consecutive weeks as the UK’s top novel. His work has since been translated into 40 languages and published in 30 countries, making him one of Canada’s most successful living writers. Not to mention that Stephen King might just be his greatest fan. (“Where has Linwood Barclay been all my life? His is the best thriller I’ve read in five years,” King once said in an Entertainment Weekly column).
Like King, Barclay’s stories are driven by ordinary everyday people: a used car salesman, a landscaper, a construction worker, whose lives are turned upside down by tragedy or crime. Trust Your Eyes (2012) is the story of a schizophrenic obsessed with maps who, in exploring a website (similar to Google Maps Street View), sees a crime in progress. It is currently being adapted into a movie directed and produced by Todd Phillips (The Hangover).
Tallulah Habib of Authors Magazine was honoured to interview Linwood for our August Cover.
Your 2012 novel, Trust Your Eyes, caused a bidding war between Universal Studios and Warner Bros, which Warner eventually won. How was that experience? And are you at all involved in the adaptation for the big screen?
Unfortunately, the option Warner Bros had on Trust Your Eyes has lapsed, and while no one else is currently developing that book into a movie, we have occasional nibbles. The good news is, The Accident has been made into a six-part TV series in France that will air this October, and it’s looking very likely that Never Saw it Coming, a shorter novel I did a few years ago, will be made into a movie in Canada next year. I wrote the screenplay for that – first time I’ve done that – and it was a lot of fun.
You’ve made a name for yourself writing detective fiction. What about this particular genre appeals to you?
I like a good story. Crime fiction is more plot driven than most fiction. It has a strong narrative drive. And you can do anything you want with it. Have an ax to grind? Do you feel strongly about something? You can infuse the conventions of a crime novel to talk about anything you want – from family dysfunction to corrupt politics to environmental degradation.
What other genre would you like to try your hand at one day?
I think this is what I’m good at. I don’t want to write a literary novel. Every once in a while, I have an idea that is more fantasy or science fiction, and maybe one day I’ll get to one of those, but for the moment it’s a thriller a year. And, as I think you know, there’s a book for young readers coming that is slighlty sci-fi.
Your first children’s book, Chase, is due out next year. It’s a middle-grade novel about a dog who carries out missions for a secret organisation. What inspired you to try your hand at children’s literature?
I’d had an idea about a dog with special powers for several years, and it was my wife, a former kindergarten teacher, who kept urging me to write it. She thinks it’s a book all kids will love, but she feels particularly strongly about getting boys – often reluctant readers – into books. She believes they will love Chase.
How was the experience of writing a children’s book different from that of writing an adult detective novel?
It’s shorter, and way less profanity! But the process was very much the same. Keep it moving, have lots of twists.
You have two children, how did having children influence your career? Did you find that it changed the kinds of stories that you tell?
Our kids are all grown up now, but I think having kids had some impact on what I’ve written. First of all, my thrillers are often family-based. Once you have kids, you realize how much you worry about them, and it’s that anxiety I often tap into when writing my books. When there are teenagers in my books, I just hear my kids talking when they were that age.
Are your kids interested in writing at all? Should we be on the lookout for their breakout detective novels in the future?
I don’t think so. They’re both amazingly talented, but those talents go in other directions.
In one interview, you joked that writing a novel is similar to journalism except that novels take a bit longer to write than a column. How long on average does it take you to write a novel?
I can usually write a first draft in two and a half to three months. How much longer I spend on it depends on how good that first draft is. But I would say that rewriting, editing, etc. add at least another five or six weeks to the process. I’ve had at least one book that took longer to to fix than it took to write the first draft. And while I try to write the first draft without interruptions, the other parts of the process get spaced out over the year.
What is your writing routine? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both. I need to know the overall story before I start, but I don’t work out every detail. I don’t see the opportunities that exist in the novel until I am into it.
You recently returned from Thrillerfest in New York where you gave a masterclass on hooking the attention of both reader and agent. What is the one piece of advice you’d give to writers starting out looking for an agent?
Don’t tell an agent you’ve written the next Twilight or Da Vinci Code or Gone Girl. Whatever’s currently in fashion will be over by the time your book comes out, assuming someone picks it up. Write a very short letter. This is who I am, and this is my pitch. Then attach chapter one. You will live or die based on that first page.
If I’m not mistaken, all of your novels have been traditionally published. What are your views on self and independent publishing?
If it works for some people, great. But I like having an established organization behind me with expertise in design, marketing, distribution. I’d like, as much as possible, to focus on the actual writing,
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