How Linwood Barclay became a full-time thriller writer

​Linwood Barclay used to be the guy flipping the pages of mystery books and thrillers. Now he's the guy writing them.

He always loved mysteries and thrillers — then he ended up writing them full-time

Linwood Barclay and Ross Macdonald

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8 years ago
Linwood Barclay talks about his interest in the work of Ross Macdonald. 0:27

Linwood Barclay used to be the guy flipping through the pages of mysteries and thrillers and now he's the guy putting the words on them.

Linwood Barclay's A Noise Downstairs went on sale to Canadian readers in July of 2018.

The bestselling author, whose latest book, A Noise Downstairs, was released in Canada this month, had a lifelong interest in mysteries and thrillers.

In particular, he loved the mysteries penned by Ross Macdonald when he was a young man.

"I had the good fortune to actually correspond with him and meet with him," Barclay told CBC's The National in 2013.

Macdonald, a famous mystery writer in his own time, actually inscribed an inspirational message to Barclay in a copy of one of his books.

"For Linwood, who will, I hope, someday outwrite me," said Barclay, reading the inscription aloud on The National.

'Thankfully, they were not published'

Barclay was eager make that happen, but success in the publishing world didn't come as quickly as he would have liked.

"I had probably written two or three mystery novels by the time I was 22," he told CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. "Thankfully, they were not published, not that there was any risk of that happening."

Barclay ended up working in journalism, first at the Peterborough Examiner and then at the Toronto Star, where he eventually became a section editor and columnist.

'This is so lame'

At the Star, he published some non-fiction books, including Father Knows Zilch: A Guide for Dumbfounded Dads in 1996.

Linwood Barclay's kids react to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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25 years ago
Linwood Barclay tells a story about his children's reaction to a show he liked when he was a kid. 0:21

While speaking with CBC-TV's Pamela Wallin that year about that book, Barclay told a story that revealed his love for stories about action heroes and mysteries didn't necessarily get passed on to his children.

Barclay said he asked his kids to watch a favourite episode of the 1960s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with him. When it was over, his daughter wasn't impressed.

"'Oh Dad, this is so lame," Barclay said, quoting his daughter. (His family does read his work now, though.)

A big idea and a breakthrough

Barclay also wrote a series of mysteries while working at the Toronto Star, but they did not see great commercial success.

Linwood Barclay on 'No Time For Goodbye'

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8 years ago
Linwood Barclay tells the story of how he came up with the idea for No Time For Goodbye. 0:52

One day, however, an idea came to him that became the basis of his bestselling 2007 thriller No Time For Goodbye — a story about a woman who wakes up one day and discovers her family has vanished.

The book became a hit in Britain and the success helped propel Barclay into the career he had always dreamed of — writing mysteries and thrillers. He left the Star in 2008 to focus full-time on his new career.

Since No Time For Goodbye was published, Barclay has written more than a dozen additional books, including his latest. His books have sold millions of copies since catching his big break.

Copies of some of Linwood Barclay's books are seen on the author's home bookshelf. (The National/CBC Archives)