Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of seventeen thrillers including "No Time for Goodbye" and the epic "Promise Falls" trilogy. This visit to Franklin, IN will be just his third appearance of his North American book tour. Early reviews for this new novel "A Noise Downstairs" are exciting with the king of thrills and chills himself, Stephen King, calling him a "suspense master."
Johnson County Public Library: What is your writing process? How do you do your research?
Linwood Barclay: I set my novels in the world I know, for the most part, so research does not play as large a role as it would for someone doing a historical novel, for example. But even writing in the world I know, there’s still a lot I do not know. For example, a few years ago I wrote a novel called “Fear the Worst” in which the hero was a car salesman. I took out two friends — both retired car salesmen — to lunch and asked them to tell me their best stories. I could never have dreamt up better stories than the ones they told me, and they wound up in the book. As for the writing process, once I have a hook, or a way into the story, that I like, I’ll think about it for a few weeks, make some notes. Once I know the broad strokes, and where the story ends up, I’ll start writing. But I don’t see the opportunities that exist in the story until I get into it. I start working around 8:30 a.m. and aim for about 2,000 words. At around three o’clock, I hear the whistle blow.
JCPL: What is your favorite part about writing your books?
LB: Finishing. Although that runs straight into the worst part about writing books, which is waiting for your editor to read it.
JCPL: How did you get started writing? What interested you about the thriller genre?
LB: I started writing stories around the time I was in Grade 3. By Grade 5, I asked my dad to teach me how to use our Royal manual typewriter so I could crank them out more quickly. I was obsessed with many TV shows, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." in particular, and wanted to write my own stories based on those characters, what we call fan fiction today. By the time I was 12 I was writing 30-40 page typed novellas inspired by these shows. I suppose my early fascination with crime and spy shows naturally led me to want to write thrillers.
JCPL: How long does it take you to write a book? Do you take a break in between writing books?
LB: If I can get those 2,000 words done a day, that’s 10,000 a week, and if a book is roughly 100,000 words I can have a first draft in about two and a half to three months. How much rewriting I have to do will depend on how solid that first draft is. Since I do a book a year, that might suggest a nice long break, between them, but rewriting, editing, proofing and promoting end up filling much of the rest of the year. Also, in the last couple of years, I have become involved in TV and movie adaptations of my work, which also fills the time.
JCPL: You’ve written a couple of books for kids, can you tell us more about those books?
LB: I had an idea come to me one night around 2:00 a.m., about a dog enhanced with all sorts of implanted software that makes him an ideal “spy” since no one suspects a dog, right. But his canine instincts often override his programming. He’d rather chase a squirrel than a suspect. So the sinister organization that made him decides to put him down, but the dog escapes, and once free, goes searching for a particular boy for reasons unknown. The first book is called "Chase", and the sequel is "Escape". They’re both out now in the UK, Ireland, Canada, and some other markets.
JCPL: How does it feel to be referred to as a “suspense master” by Stephen King?
LB: Pretty amazing. He’s told me he’s a fan and has read everything I’ve done. You get a little lightheaded when someone whose work you’ve admired for four decades turns out to like your own work. I’m amazed at his output, and that at a time in his career when he’d be entitled to coast, he’s turning out some of the best stuff he’s ever done. I’m thinking, in particular, of "11/22/63".
JCPL: If you weren’t an author, what would you do for a living?
LB: It’s in the same ballpark, but I’d probably still be writing and editing for newspapers. I was a columnist at the Toronto Star for 15 years before I started writing books full-time. That was a great gig. There’s also a lot to be said for lawn maintenance. In my teenage years, I spent thousands of hours on a John Deere lawn tractor. It’s one of those rare jobs where, with each pass, you can actually see that you’ve accomplished something.