I knew when I picked up Linwood Barclay's latest book that I was in for a couple of late nights. Sure enough, Never Saw It Coming had me sitting up way past my bedtime.
Barclay is a clever writer. His plots always surprise me, his characters are so real I feel like I'm in the room with them, and his stories always move along at a cracking pace.
No time to get the slightest bit bored with Barclay's style.
Never Saw It Coming is quite violent, and features gruesome murder scenes.
The central character is Keisha Clayton, a psychic - well, that's what she tells everyone.
Keisha watches the news closely and targets the families of missing people. However, when she picks on somebody with a deadly secret, she finds herself fighting for her life.
Barclay was born in the US, but moved to Canada when he was 4. He is the bestselling author of several books.
I asked him some questions.
Your books are always full of twists and turns. When you start, do you know the ending?
I usually have some kind of idea how the book will end up when I start, even if I don't know how I'm going to get there. But there have been times, during the writing of a book, that something better will occur to me.
What comes first when planning a book, the plot, the place or a character?
The plot, or at least a situation, comes first. I need a hook, or a "what if" before I begin anything.
How do you research your murder scenes?
Well, I don't kill anyone, if that's what you're asking. I don't research them. I don't write CSI-type novels that are dependent on a lot of forensic detail. When I have someone shoot someone else with a gun, I'll write something like: "He took out his gun and shot him". Not a lot of research there.
What is the secret to crafting a character readers are going to believe in?
Good question. A great deal of what a character's all about comes through the dialogue. I want to hear how they speak, and get that down. I think you need to be able to recognise these people, that they are like people you may know, or have known at some point.
They don't need to be larger than life; they need to be down-to-earth. I don't think you have to like all the characters, but you have to say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I know someone like that".
How do you pick names and how important are they to the storyline?
I can think of at least one instance where the person's name was critical because it sounded like two actual words. (I can't say any more; it'd be a spoiler.) But generally, I just open the phone book, or look at Facebook, or the news, for inspiration for names. I don't want them to seem particularly clever or imply special meaning to a person's characteristics. That strikes me as somewhat cliched.
I'm writing about regular people, so I give them ordinary names.
Do you switch off when you stop writing, or do the characters keep talking in your head day and night?
When I am in the thick of writing a book I do find I'm often thinking about plot permutations. What if I did this? Or this?
Sometimes at lunch or dinner, I probably look as though I've drifted off someplace.
What is the best thing about being a famous author?
Short commute. No traffic. I go upstairs to my study and I'm at work. And when I get there, I get to do what I've wanted to do since I was a teenager: write stories.
And the worst?
It's all pretty good. I think the toughest thing is that you're competing very much against yourself. You feel that each book needs to be better than the one before it. You want each book to be fresh and original, and that's a challenge.
I sometimes jokingly ask my agent how many books do I have to write before I can just mail it in, and people will buy the book anyway. She doesn't like that question, and I don't blame her. I hope I don't ever get to that point.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Do we count Hooked on Phonics? My mother sat me down with that book every day before I even started kindergarten, so I was reading before I ever attended school. But the first books I read were probably the Hardy Boys mysteries.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love movies and we travel, and my dark secret is that I'm a model train nut. I am building a layout in my basement.
What's next for you?
This year's book, A Tap on the Window, is all done. I'm now at work on next year's novel, which is a sequel to a big hit I had a few years ago called No Time for Goodbye.
And I'm interested to see how things progress on the movie version of Trust Your Eyes, which was optioned last year by Warner Bros.
We have one copy of Never Saw It Coming to give away. Send your name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 21.
Never Saw It Coming
by Linwood Barclay,