Linwood Barclay will be at Bloody Scotland in Stirling on Sunday 13 September 2015. Click here for more details.
I don’t think I’d be any good doing anything else. I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction, way back to when I was reading the Hardy Boys adventures. The first stories I wrote, when I was about ten years old, were based on TV spy and detective shows. I like that crime fiction demands strong plotting, and for me, plot is the engine of the novel.
How have now published 13 novels, soon to be 14. Do you worry that you will ever run out of ideas? Where do you get your inspiration from?
For 14 years I wrote three columns a week for the Toronto Star, and if you said to yourself, oh my God, I have to write nearly 150 columns this year, where will I get all those ideas, you’d panic. But what I told myself was, I need a column idea for Friday. I got one and I wrote it. The next day, I’d come up with an idea for Tuesday’s column, and would write it.
Books are a bit like that. I need ONE great idea this year for a book. When I believe I have one, I get to work. I don’t worry about the ones that came before, or the ones that will come in the future. You take things one book at a time. And something always comes along to inspire you, generally from everyday events that, as a writer, you view from a somewhat different perspective.
Did you always plan to write a sequel to No Time for Goodbye (No Safe House, which was published in May 2015, seven years after the original book)?
No. My US publisher, a few years ago, raised the idea of my doing one. And seven years later seemed like a good time to revisit the Archers and see how they were doing. Not too well, as it turned out.
What is your favourite of your current published books? Which one would you recommend to someone who hasn't yet read any of your books?
That’s a tough one. I like different books of mine for different reasons. For example, No Time for Goodbye was a huge hit and got my name out there, and it’s a good book, but I don’t think it’s my best. That might be Trust Your Eyes. And Broken Promise, and the two books that will follow it (they are written) are the most ambitious novels I’ve done.
Would you say that your journalism background has influenced or shaped your fiction writing? If so, in what way?
Journalism influenced my work ethic more than the work itself, I think. When you work at a paper, and are expected to produce copy on a regular basis, you learn the importance of deadlines, of getting something done. So writing a novel for me is very much WORK. It’s work that I love, but it is work. I sit down every day and expect to get a certain amount done. I don’t wait for the muse to strike.
Page-turning. That leaves nine words. Or eight, depending on how you feel about hyphens.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I’d say no. I think this relates back to the question about journalism. As long as there’s coffee, I’m good to go. One thing: I can’t write with music on. I love music, but I find it too distracting when I’m in the thick of writing.
Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing to see where it leads you?
A bit of both. I need a way into the novel – a really good hook that grabs the reader – and I need to know the backstory to that opening. I need to know the major players and who did what, and roughly how the story ends. Once I have that, I start writing. I don’t see all the opportunities that exist in a novel until I get into it.
I'm a big fan of your books. You take ordinary people and put them into extraordinary situations. How do you make sure that your characters remain believable and realistic, no matter what you throw at them?
Well, I certainly hope they’re believable. I suppose I ask myself what I – and I think I’m a pretty ordinary person – would do in the situations I’ve placed my characters in. For example, there have to be compelling reasons for someone who has no experience in dealing with dangerous characters to not go to the police. There has to be something huge at stake, and that’s usually a loved one. Ordinary people can find extraordinary reserves of courage when the stakes are high enough.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
I did write a book about my life, and it’s called Last Resort. Out of print, but you can download it. It tells the story of my formative years, when my parents bought a cottage resort and trailer park (what you’d call a caravan) in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. At the age of 16, my father died, and I essentially was running the family business for my mother. Ultimately, it’s about breaking free from the business – and my mother – to pursue a writing career.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read Stephen King’s On Writing. He says it all better than any other writer has. But I would say, if you’re a writer, you must also be a reader. You must be reading a lot, and you should already be writing, even when you have no expectation that what you are writing will be published.
Broken Promise, which is being published in the UK in September, is the first of three linked novels about a New York town called Broken Falls. What made you decide to write three linked novels rather than standalones?
I wanted to do something more ambitious, something that would intrigue readers in a way I haven’t before. The good thing is that people won’t have to wait a full year between books. They will come out about eight to nine months apart.
And lastly, can you tell me a bit about Broken Promise and why people should read it?
David Harwood – the hero from my novel Never Look Away – tries to sort out what really happened with his cousin Marla, whose baby died at birth ten months ago, but is found caring for an infant whose mother was just brutally murdered. Has her personal tragedy led her to kidnap this child? To kill that mother? Meanwhile, strange – and possibly linked – things are happening around Promise Falls. There’s a ritualistic animal killing. A decommissioned Ferris wheel comes to life. A predator is stalking students at the nearby college. Someone, it seems, is trying to send the town a message. But why? What’s the message?
Why should people read Broken Promise? It’s the best thing I’ve done, and it’s great fun. Well, not for the people in the story, but for people who love thrillers.
About Linwood BarclayFind Linwood Barclay on Facebook here and follow Linwood on Twitter - @linwood_barclay.
Linwood Barclay is married with two children and lives near Toronto. He is the author of four acclaimed Zack Walker mysteries, a former columnist for the Toronto Star and is the author of the Richard and Judy 2008 Summer Read winner and No 1 bestseller No Time For Goodbye.
Published by Orion (10 September 2015)
After his wife’s death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can’t find a way to stop his descent. Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David’s cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David’s mother asks him to check on her, he’s horrified to discover that she’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.
When the baby’s real mother is found murdered, David can’t help wanting to piece together what happened—even if it means proving his own cousin’s guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla’s mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg. Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past…in blood.
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