Five Questions for Suspense-Writer Linwood Barclay

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Author Photo Credit: Michael Rafelson

With millions in book sales, movie deals and serious fan recognition in Europe, this Ontario-based author is easily one of Canada’s most successful writers. Zoomer talked to Barclay about his new thriller, A Tap on the Window, tricks for writing page-turners and the scary things that keep us up at night.

ZOOMER: You once said you like to write chapters so a reader wants to keep going for “just one more,” like potato chips. What are the secrets to doing that?

Linwood Barclay: It might be kind of obvious as you read it. First of all, some of my chapters are long, but I don’t like to do them too long. So you can do a chapter in a gulp. I like to always end the chapter with a mini cliff-hanger – something that makes you want to go to the next one. They don’t have to be huge cliff-hangers.

I’m a kid of the ’60s, the TV generation. For me, chapter endings are like commercial breaks. You get to that, they end on a little cliff-hanger, and you have just enough time to run and get something else to drink from the fridge before you come back. Those chapter endings, you build in a little bit of a pause that makes the reader think, “Whoa, what the heck is going on?” And then they have to go on to the next one.

Zoomer: It’s a fabulous title, A Tap at the Window. It sounds scary before you even know what the book is about. How much thought goes into the title for you?

LB: It’s funny. Sometimes, titles are just murder. Next year’s book, we’re going to call No Safe House. We went back and forth, particularly between the U.S. and the U.K. publisher on titles. One loved one, but the other side of the ocean hated it. On and on, it took forever. With A Tap at the Window, I needed a working title when I was finished and handed it in. I just threw that on because what starts the entire story is when this girl taps on his car window. Everybody said it was perfect. It was the least amount of trouble I’ve ever had with a title. I’m not usually that lucky. A lot of titles are not my own. I’ve had titles I liked, and no one else liked them, and we went back and forth and settled on something I wasn’t crazy about and then, over time, learned to love it. But we got lucky with this one.


Zoomer: Like some of your previous thrillers, this one involves younger people in peril. As a father, do you bring that fear into your writing?

LB: Oh, yes. I mean, thankfully our kids are older now so I don’t have to worry about them the same way I used to. They are past the teenage years – that’s when I really started to drink. I never drank much as a teenager myself, but when I had them, that’s when I really turned to alcohol. They were good kids, but it’s a stressful time. But that’s the kind of thing I like to tap into. We’re all worried about terrorism and global warming and those sorts of things, but those are not the issues that keep us awake at three in the morning because they are really so out of our control. Three in the morning is when we wonder why our daughter isn’t home yet from this first date with a guy we didn’t think much of; or why is my son still cruising the neighbourhood in the car when he was supposed to be home three hours ago; I need to make the mortgage payment; is my wife going to lose her job? These are the things that keep us up at night, and that’s the sort of thing I like to tap into when I do these books.

Zoomer: Usually your novels focus on ordinary people, even though they deal with mysteries and crimes. This one actually features a private investigator. What was the reason for doing that?

LB: Usually, my heroes are regular people. I’ve had a car salesman and a teacher. People whose line of work doesn’t usually bring them into contact with any sort of crime. For this one, I thought I would use a private detective because I thought he needed to have more of a reason to pursue these things, that it was more in his area of expertise. It also allows the opportunity for me to bring him back, which I think I will do. Though not for a couple of books. It makes sense. You can do other cases with him, given his line of work. But if your hero is a car salesman, you really can’t – how much can you have happen?


Zoomer: You mentioned the title for your next book, No Safe House, earlier. Can you give us a little teaser for it?

LB: About five or six years ago, I had a book come out called No Time for Goodbye. That was the single best-selling novel of the year in the U.K. in 2008. It’s a been a huge hit for me around the globe. No Safe House is kind of a sequel to No Time for Goodbye. I’m bringing in the same characters. There were two sort of minor characters that are coming to the fore in this book. So, you don’t have to read the first one, but I think if you have, it will add to the enjoyment of it.



Win A Copy of Linwood Barclay’s new thriller, A Tap on the Window. Private investigator Cal Weaver’s life is coming apart at the seams. Lost in his grief for his son, who was killed in a tragic accident, Cal is drawn into a nightmare of suspicion and secrets when he gives a teenage girl a ride on a rainy night.