Linwood Barclay's spy dog middle-grade series was a middle-of-the-night idea
Linwood Barclay is an international bestselling writer of thriller novels. His book series about an orphan named Jeff and his genetically modified spy dog Chipper has resonated with middle-grade readers and critics alike, picking up the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Chase and the Arthur Ellis Award for Escape.
The books follow Chipper's escape from the institution that engineered him into the arms of Jeff, a 12-year-old boy that helps his aunt run a fishing camp. With help from a young technology whiz named Emily, Jeff and Chipper elude the shadowy organization responsible for Chipper's decidedly un-dog-like abilities.
Barclay joined The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers to talk about his middle grade series.
"I literally woke up at 2:00 a.m. and the whole thing was there — a dog that's outfitted with all sorts of computer programming and is used in surveillance operations. His canine instincts overrule his spy tendencies. He'd rather chase a squirrel than chase a spy. The secret institute that's made him is going to put him down and so he escapes."
Orphans in children's literature
"I think it's the fact that it puts your protagonist, at the outset, at a disadvantage. Something bad has happened to them and they're behind the eight-ball. It's a good starting point. My main character Jeff has gone to live with his aunt and he's helping her run this cottage resort, which is in fact all very autobiographical. I think [being an orphan] sets up a number of plot points from the very beginning. The kid's in a tough position. His future is open-ended because he doesn't really have anyone to answer to."
"My parents bought a cottage resort trailer park in the Kawarthas of Ontario in 1966 when I was 11 years old. It fell to me to run the joint when I was 16 when my dad died. I had all this responsibility of having to look after it. My mom managed the place, but I was doing everything. A lot of those experiences became part of Chase.
"My big chore was that every day there was this big garbage can [I had to take out]. It was down by the water under a table with a hole in it. People would clean their fish and scrape all the guts, fins and junk into this pail. I would lug that pail out into the woods to a pit, dump the guts and then throw dirt and a bit of lye over it. That was my job every day. I vividly remember the day that I was en route to bury the guts and the bottom of the can gave way and all these guts just spread out all over the road. I thought it could not possibly get worse until my dog came over and rolled in it. Those are all those lovely memories from running Green Acres near Bobcaygeon in Ontario."
Linwood Barclay's comments have been edited for length and clarity.