Linwood Barclay was born in the United States, but just as he was turning four, his parents moved to Canada, settling in a Toronto suburb. Linwood’s father, Everett, a commercial artist whose illustrations of automobiles appeared in Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post, had accepted an advertising position north of the border.
As the major car accounts switched more to photography for their magazine advertising instead of illustrations, Linwood’s parents bought a cottage resort and trailer park in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. But when Linwood was 16, his father died, and he essentially took over running the family business (an experience he wrote about in his memoir, Last Resort).
At the age of 22, Linwood left the resort and got his first newspaper job, at the Peterborough Examiner.
In 1981, he joined the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. For twelve years he held a variety of editing positions, then became the paper’s humour columnist in 1993. A few thousand columns later, he retired from the paper in 2008 to write books full-time.
After writing four comic thrillers featuring the character Zack Walker, Linwood turned to darker, standalone novels, starting with No Time for Goodbye, which became an international hit. The novel has been translated into nearly forty languages, was the single bestselling novel in the UK in 2008, and has been optioned for film by Eric McCormack. Since then, all of Linwood’s novels have appeared on bestseller lists, and more his books have been optioned.
Linwood studied English Literature at Trent University. He was fortunate to have some very fine mentors; in particular, the celebrated Canadian author Margaret Laurence, whom Linwood first met while she was serving as writer-in-residence at Trent, and Kenneth Millar, who, under the name Ross Macdonald, wrote the acclaimed series of mystery novels featuring the private eye Lew Archer.
It was at Trent where he met his wife Neetha. They have been married more than thirty years, and have two children, Spencer and Paige.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where do you get your ideas?
This is the question most writers say they hate – I kind of hate it myself, to be honest – but it’s a legitimate one. I’d have to say that most of my ideas originate with everyday anxieties. What if I forgot to lock the door? What if a horrific crime happened next door? What if my daughter didn’t show up at work? What if I woke up one day and the house was empty?
How long does it take you to write a book?
I can usually write a first draft in two to three months. But much depends on how good that first draft is. No Time for Goodbye was written in eight weeks, and didn’t require much rewriting. The first draft of the The Accident was written in about the same time, but it needed a couple of major rewrites before I nailed it, so it took the better part of five or six months.
Do you have the whole book planned out before you write it?
Once I’ve settled on a good hook, or way into a story, I take a couple of weeks planning it before I start writing. I have a pretty good idea what the overall story is, but once I’m into a book, possibilities and opportunities start presenting themselves. So while the book may finish as I’d first planned it, how I get there may end up being quite different from what I’d first envisioned.
What’s your day like?
When I’m in the thick of writing a book, I usually start around nine and go until four or five, with plenty of breaks, some to play nine holes of golf on Nintendo Wii.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Around Grade 3. I was filling entire notebooks – in big, chunk handwriting, double-spaced – with single stories around that time. In Grade 5, I asked my father to show me how to type because writing stories longhand took too long. On our old Royal typewriter, which weighed about the same as a Volkswagen, he showed me where my fingers rested, and which fingers hit which keys. A five-minute lesson, and that was it.
Who are your own favourite writers?
There are so many I’d be afraid I’d leave someone else if I started listing them. But my all-time favourite writer is Ross Macdonald, who wrote the Lew Archer series of detective novels. He had a profound influence on me when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was also privileged to know him, briefly. Another author whose work I admired, and who was very generous with her time and encouraged me endlessly during those same years was Margaret Laurence.
How can I get to be a writer?
Everyone’s path is different, but there two things you have to be doing. You have to be writing. And you have to be reading. You learn so much from reading a variety of different writers. I believe that if you’re really a writer, you’re already doing it. Writing poems, short stories, novellas. Maybe they’re not published, maybe no one but you is reading them. But you’re writing.
When you think you have something that might be publishable, start reading the acknowledgements in books that are similar to what you’re writing. Look for the names of the literary agents being thanked. Google them. Get an email address. Then send a very short covering letter saying who you are and what your book is about. Four paragraphs, tops. Do not say you’ve written the next Da Vinci Code. Do not say you’re the most brilliant writer ever.
Attach the first chapter of your book. You will live or die based on that first page, no matter how great your covering letter makes you out to be. If the agent sees potential, you’ll hear something. If the agent doesn’t, you won’t. Don’t be hurt if the agent does not critique your work in rejecting it. That’s not their job. Many agents receive fifty to a hundred inquiries every single day. If one agent doesn’t like your book, another may. Remember, there were people who turned down The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (They’ve probably jumped in front of a bus by now.)
By the way, the best book I’ve read about wanting to be a writer is Stephen King’s On Writing.
I’ve written a book and would like to send it to you. Is that okay?
I wish I had the time to read works from aspiring novelists, but writing my books, editing them, and promoting them, pretty much overwhelms me. And due to the volume of requests I receive, I only blurb books that come through my agent or editor, and even then I often can’t get to them.