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Interview: September 7, 2012

In Linwood Barclay’s new thriller, TRUST YOUR EYES, Thomas Kilbride, a schizophrenic man who believes he’s employed by the CIA, stumbles across an image of a murder taking place in New York City on “Whirl360,” a street-view website. This sudden revelation leaves Thomas with something much more dangerous than his delusions to contend with as he is drawn into a fatal scheme. In this interview, conducted by’s Joe Hartlaub, Barclay talks about the joys of virtual travel, the difference between writing stand-alone novels and books that are part of a series, and his future projects --- which include a sequel to 2007’s NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. Everyone I know who has read TRUST YOUR EYES tells me that it is your best book to date, a conclusion with which I heartily agree. You owe me a night's sleep because I could not stop reading it once I started. Its various storylines slowly converge, and include contract killers, long-buried secrets, and lots and lots of twists and turns. Where did TRUST YOUR EYES start? And how did you proceed once things got going?

Linwood Barclay: It's funny. Sometimes, after you've spent a year working on a book, you can't remember what got you going on it in the first place. There were two things, if I remember correctly. First, I started thinking about this character of Thomas, who's at the heart of TRUST YOUR EYES. I had wanted to do a book that had a meatier subtext to it, featuring a character who was dealing with mental health issues. I wanted a character who was truly obsessed with something. At some point, I decided it would be virtual travel. We have friends whose house is captured on Google Street View, the model for the fictitious “Whirl360” site in TRUST YOUR EYES, and you can see their dog in the window. I thought, what if, instead of a pet, it was a murder?

BRC: In my opinion, TRUST YOUR EYES is your most ambitious and complex book to date, and also somewhat different from your other novels. The term "domestic thriller" was coined with you in mind, and while TRUST YOUR EYES has some elements in common with your other works, it also stretches and to some extent transcends the boundaries of where you've been before. Did you deliberately set out when you started writing the book to move in a bit of a different direction, or did the story move that way as you wrote it and saw different possibilities?

LB: It's true that TRUST YOUR EYES is the first book I have done that could be classified as both a domestic thriller and a political thriller. A kind of merger. Once I started working out the plot, I felt that what Thomas sees in that window online had to be something BIG. That led me to dream up a rather ambitious political conspiracy. My villains are usually fairly ordinary people --- like my heroes --- but this time I stretched a bit. I've certainly never had a character before who was a former Olympic athlete turned assassin.

BRC: The book is by turns your darkest and funniest book to date. You've never written truly humorous mysteries, but your early works were on balance lighter and got progressively darker. There are a number of grimly humorous moments here --- containing some of the funniest lines I've read this year --- but at the same time the darkness and violence seem to have ratcheted up a notch or two. Did you strive for a balance between the two tones in TRUST YOUR EYES, perhaps feeling at some point that it was too dark and violent? Or is the contrast something that wove its way into the narrative for you as you wrote the book?

LB: I didn't set out to make TRUST YOUR EYES funny, but I think the humor grows naturally out of the relationship between Thomas and his brother Ray, who is struggling with Thomas' many idiosyncrasies. Both brothers are out of their comfort zone in this story. Ray, an illustrator, certainly has never dealt with hired killers, and Thomas is out of his element just by leaving the comfort of his home. I had a lot of fun writing the scene where Thomas ends up on his own in New York City, a place he knows well from his virtual travels, but has never been to for real.

BRC: You dedicate TRUST YOUR EYES to your brother. Given that at its core it's a story about the filial relationship --- often difficult --- between brothers Ray and Thomas Kilbride, one might imagine that at least some of the vignettes here were based on your real-life experiences. How did you come to dedicate the book to your brother?

LB: I've dedicated almost all my books to my wife, Neetha. But I felt my brother deserved to have this one dedicated to him. Thomas really isn't based on my brother, but I think my relationship with him informs this book to some degree.

BRC: Much of the book is set around "Whirl360," a street-view website. Did you use similar websites while writing the book when describing such cities as San Francisco and parts of New York, or did you leave shoe leather in those places?

LB: I did exactly what Thomas does in the novel. I wandered these streets from the comfort of my computer chair so I would see exactly what he would have seen. Although some of the places Idecided to visit virtually are places I have actually been. I'll say this. You don't have to worry about an early checkout when you do all your traveling from home.

BRC: I have to ask this. Ray Kilbride mentions that the Promise Falls Bakery made the best lemon tarts in the history of the universe. Where can our readers really find the best lemon tarts in the history of the universe?

LB: Oh, I wish I knew. The best lemon meringue pie --- a pie is really just an oversize tart, isn't it? --- I ever had was made by my friend Bob's now departed mother-in-law. It was a thing of beauty.

BRC: On a related note, one point of interest in TRUST YOUR EYES is that it is primarily set in Promise Falls, which is also where NEVER LOOK AWAY took place. Does it have a real-world model? If so, what is it and where is it? What is it about Promise Falls that is so special to you?

LB: Promise Falls is a total invention, although in my mind I picture Peterborough, Ontario, where I went to university, and also worked for two years at my first newspaper job, at the Peterborough Examiner. It's a place small enough to be charming, but big enough to have trouble.

BRC: You had your initial success in publishing with your Zack Walker series, but your last several books have been stand-alone works. Do you have any urge at this point to return to writing a series or perhaps a sequel to one of your more recent books? What do you enjoy about writing stand-alone titles? Is there anything you miss about writing a series?

LB: Writing a series was fun because when you sit down to start a new book, half the work is done. You know your characters, their relationship to one another, your locale. All you have to do is think of a new adventure for them. With a stand-alone you're starting with a clean slate, starting from scratch. So there's more work, but there's also more freedom. You can do anything you want to these characters. You can kill them off if you want. And the things that happen to them can be more dramatic, more life-changing. What happens to the characters in a stand-alone will be the most significant thing they ever go through. In a series, you can't do that. The situations you put them through can be difficult, but not so harrowing that they can't come back again.

All that said, I am intending to write a sequel to NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, most likely featuring a couple of minor characters from that book --- Vince and Jane. But Terry Archer will still be telling the story. And I have done a novel about Keisha Ceylon, the bogus psychic from that novel. It's called NEVER SAW IT COMING, and is available as an eBook.

The book I have planned for next year, tentatively titled A TAP ON THE WINDOW, is my first to feature a private detective as the protagonist. He's someone I could bring back.

BRC: The rise of e-publishing has created an opportunity for authors to write and publish short fiction. You have published two book-length works in e-format. Have you been tempted to write short stories and present them as e-works?

LB: While I have done a couple of eBook only stories, I find that a novel a year is my real focus. One great thing about eBooks: it allowed me to bring back a memoir I had published 12 years ago called LAST RESORT. It's out of print, but once I acquired the rights to it, I was able to make a digital version available.

BRC: You very recently had a wedding in your family. Knowing how the mind of an author works, were there any incidents and/or guests at the wedding that will find their way into a future Linwood Barclay novel?

LB: Oh, I don't think so. The wedding went off without a hitch, and we're crazy about our new daughter-in-law. It was a great day to forget about work entirely.

BRC: That brings up another question: When an idea that can be incorporated into a novel comes to you, and you are some place other than your desk, how do you keep track of it? Do you carry a recorder, swipe it into your phone, or write it on a piece of paper? Or are you blessed with a photographic memory? And how do you keep your potential ideas organized?

LB: If it's a really good idea, I will most likely remember it. But if there's a chance I'll forget, I'll get out my iPhone and send myself an email. That’s more likely to happen when I have nearly finished a book, and there's some small detail I have to remember to add.

BRC: You are the number-one bestselling author in your genre in the UK. You have had opportunities through book tours to meet your fans on both sides of the Atlantic. What differences do you find to be most striking between British and American readers?

LB: Other than the fact that my UK readers seem to be less troubled by my characters using the odd four-letter word, I find my British and American readers are very similar. They want a good story, they want to be entertained, and they love the twists in my stories. And I'm grateful to everyone on both sides of the Atlantic who has picked up my books, and taken the time to email to tell me how much they have enjoyed them.

BRC: What books have you read in the last year or so that you would recommend to our readers?

LB: I loved Ace Atkins' novel LULLABY, the first Spenser novel not written by Robert B. Parker. Stephen King's 11/22/63 was a tour de force. If there's anyone out there who's earned the right to coast, it's King, but that was his most ambitious book in years. Lisa Gardner's CATCH ME totally fooled me. I thought I knew where it was going and I didn't have a clue. I'm really looking forward to Richard Russo's memoir. I love his novels.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers look forward to seeing it?

LB: As I mentioned, next year's book is A TAP ON THE WINDOW, which I am doing a rewrite on at the moment. Then, after I've taken some time to recharge my batteries, I'll start on my NO TIME FOR GOODBYE sequel.