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Books Linwood Barclay: ‘It would be easy to write the same kind of story year after year’

Bill Taylor/photo illustration by the globe and mail

Linwood Barclay is the author of more than a dozen novels, including Trust Your Eyes, No Time For Goodbye and Never Look Away. A former newspaper columnist, his fiction has been published in 30 countries and translated into 40 languages. Barclay's most recent novel, Broken Promise, is the first instalment in a trilogy to be published over the next 18 months.

Why did you write your new book?

I wanted to do something bigger, more ambitious. Broken Promise is the first of three linked novels and I've never attempted anything like that before. There's a back story that builds through the first two books and explodes in the third. There was a lot to keep straight. I was having a conversation with my editor about a scene in the book I wanted to tinker with, and he couldn't find it, and then I realized, oh yeah, the scene is in the next book. It would be easy to write the same kind of story year after year. I created a challenge for myself with Broken Promise and the two books that follow. I was afraid I'd get to book three and think of something I needed to set up in book one – once it was already published – so I wrote them back to back.

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What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Knowing how much energy it takes to write anything – good or bad – I am reluctant to attack other authors, but I think I can tell you how much I hated The Canterbury Tales without hurting Chaucer's feelings. I don't think he reads the Globe. I'm not saying it's bad. It just wasn't my thing. Every Chaucer class I attended at Trent University I kept thinking, "Kill me now." And I only got through the first Dragon Tattoo book. I didn't hate it, but it was work. Life's too short.

Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time-travel, and why?

I can't help but think one's motives for wanting to be invisible border on the creepy, so I'm going with time-travel. I'd love to go back to 1920s Virginia and see what life was like for my father as a young man. Exploring the Toronto of the 1950s would be fascinating. And I wouldn't mind skipping ahead a couple of years to find out whether Donald Trump becomes president. I'd have time to prepare for the apocalypse.

What scares you as a writer and why?

The scariest thing is the fear you won't be able to do it again. I just finished writing three novels in about 15 months – I usually do one a year, but I wrote my trilogy in one long stretch – and I'm still winding down from that. But I know come January, I need to sit down and start another novel. Will I get a great idea by then? Will I be able to do it? I know the answer to those questions is most likely yes, but there's a nagging fear the idea won't come.

What's the best death scene in literature?

It may not be the best death scene, and it most likely does not qualify as literature, but when I got to the last few pages of Thomas Harris's Hannibal, and read the scene where he uncaps a man's skull while the victim is still alive, and carrying on a normal conversation, it stopped me. How, I thought, does someone come up with something like that?

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