Linwood Barclay on his Novels, Literary Goals and Advice to First-Time Writers
Photo: Bill Taylor.
If Alice Munro is Canada’s first and only literary Nobel laureate and Margaret Atwood our nation’s Queen of Letters, then Linwood Barclay is no doubt the “Stephen King of the North” (King, coincidently, counts himself as a fan of his Canuck counterpart).
The former journalist and humour columnist’s life took a sharp turn in 2007 when, at age 52, his thriller No Time For Goodbye proved a publishing sensation, launching a second act as a bestselling author that has earned him international praise and near rock star status on the literary scene back home. And now, at 63, with 18 bestselling thriller and mystery novels to his name — including 2018’s A Noise Downstairs — Barclay’s honed virtually every aspect of his his craft down to a fine art.
“I have decided, at this stage, not to kill myself — from a writing standpoint, that is,” he quips. “Ten years ago, I would try to blast through a first draft as quickly as possible, aiming for 3,000 words a day or more. I now realize, in an industry that sometimes moves glacially, that I don’t have to maintain that kind of pace.”
Barclay notes that this more streamlined process no longer allows him to accept every appearance invitation by libraries and festivals, though he is making an exception for the Toronto International Festival of Authors, a 10-day celebration of all things literary during which he’ll take part in a one-on-one conversation with another celebrated scribe — Ian Rankin.
“Ian’s a friend, and this will be the fourth time we have done an event, the third time one of us has interviewed the other. So it’ll be like sitting down and catching up with someone you haven’t seen for a while,” Barclay says. “The last time I interviewed him, I had a list of questions, and I don’t recall ever referring to any of them. We just had a good time talking.”
But before Rankin can get to Barclay, Zoomer spoke to the author about the writing life, goals for the future and his advice to readers who’d love to pen a tale of their own one day.
MIKE CRISOLAGO: Toronto is, of course, where you enjoyed a successful career as a journalist and humour columnist at the Toronto Star. Despite your success as a novelist, does that urge to write humour ever resurface?
LINWOOD BARCLAY: Thank God for Twitter. Whenever I’m in the mood for a bit of snark, I can get it out of my system in 280 characters. In the past, if I had something to get off my chest – in a satirical way – I had 620 words. Now that I can accomplish the same thing with Twitter, it tells me the columns were overwritten. And there’s still plenty of humour in the novels, in between the creepy stuff. It helps break the tension.
MC: How have the tools you honed as a journalist helped you as a novelist?