Linwood Barclay is a class act. A gentleman and a natural humourist, it is always a pleasure to listen to him and so I was never going to miss an opportunity to hear him on my home ground.
The Primavera Bistro was packed as he told us that he had been on tour in the U.K. for a week, flying in from Toronto and starting in London he has been touring England and then last night was in Edinburgh with Ian Rankin where a visit to the Oxford Bar was high on his agenda.
He’ll leave London on Sunday and then head straight to Toronto before undertaking a US tour, where Elevator Pitch comes out on Tuesday next week, and then he’s back to Toronto to give his daughter away at her wedding. He was happy to come away on tour just now, because as he said, his opinion at home is not needed an anything!
This is his second time in Scotland. Last trip he went to Bloody Scotland, Glasgow, Stirling and Elgin. He also managed to fit in a trip to Barlinnie, which didn’t, he says, look anything like a Waterstones.
He talked about Elevator Pitch, explaining to the audience the double edged meaning of the title which encompasses nicely the ‘Elevator Pitch’ term used when pitching an idea usually for a movie, and his
Idea of elevators pitching down in Manhattan.
How did the idea come to him, Douglas Skelton asked?
Barclay was listening to Toronto news and heard an item about there not being sufficient lift inspectors in Toronto to cover the growing number of high rise buildings. The idea sparked right then for a guy who goes round killing people by sabotaging elevators.
Subsequently he learned that many people have incidents and phobias about elevators which just fed into the whole concept.
Asked if he had phobias, he says that he usually tries to write novels that get people where they live. His kind of phobias are the ones where he lies awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering why your daughter isn’t home.
The title pretty much came straight away. He did have one other title which he decided was personably not appropriate – Going Down
The narrative, he says just propelled itself. His brother in law arranged for him to meet a guy who looks after all the elevators in a skyscraper. That was when he realised that this guy could control all the elevators in a huge skyscraper with a device that looks like a large TV remote.
He asked if that complex device was hard to come buy only to be told that it can be bought On eBay for 500 dollars. You’d have to know a few things to hack into the system, he says, but it could be done.
He told us about elevator surfing where teenagers get on top of a car and ride it. Linwood was also able to offer the tip that if you are in a plunging elevator, jumping as it plummets to the ground isn’t going to work. The only thing to do is to distribute your weight by lying on the floor. Useful, unless you’re in an elevator with 15 other people.
He set Elevator Pitch in New York because it’s a really vertical city. Skelton asked him whether, as it is a fast read, was it a fast write? He responded that he Started the book in in November 2017 and had a first draft in February the following year. He usually takes three months for a first draft then the rewrites depend on how happy he is with his first draft. He told us that both A Tap on the Window and The Accident had a lengthy rewriting period
When Barclay gets the ‘What If’ of his books he then needs to know what he calls the foundation. What happened, who did it, who are these people? He knows where he wants to end up but doesn’t know ‘the big mushy middle’.
Linwood plans for a week to ten days then starts writing. He doesn’t see all the opportunities until he starts to get into the writing. The story, he says, develops in front of him.
Particular challenges? Easier book to do. A lot going on, a few red herrings. Every time you sit down you want it to be the best. Want to be able to give readers what they come to expect.
Douglas Skelton asked him about one of the characters in his book, Richard Henley the Mayor. Barclay says he is a little like Trump,
but nowhere near as repulsive as the real thing. He may be called Dick, but he isn’t stupid, unlike Trump.
What were the particular challenges of writing Elevator Pitch? This, he said was one of the easier books to write. There is a lot going on, and a few red herrings. Every time you sit down, he says, you want it to be the best. You want to be able to give readers what they have come to expect from you and still surprise them.
He talked a little bit about Stephen King, and the friendship they have developed which has led to their referencing things in each other’s books. He and Ian Rankin have also interviewed each other on a few occasions. It was good to see him in Edinburgh, he says and he’s really hoping his career takes off. You can tell he really enjoys a nice bit of very funny banter and his humour is gentle and rewarding; the audience lapped it up.
Very funny banter. As an aside he told us that what he really wants to see is Pennywise the clown in the sewers of Downton Abbey – now that would be his kind of movie.
Skelton came armed with some off the wall questions for Barclay, based on some of his tweets. How did he get butter pastry in his hair? (Don’t ask) He also had a question from Caro Ramsay (she may have been asking for a friend) who wanted to know the downside of a being a multi million best seller. Well, he said, carrying all that money can be heavy.
Seriously though, he told us, it is a really privileged position making a living doing what you have always wanted to do. Linwood Barclay has written all his life, ever since he was a young boy. Even when you are doing well, he told us, there’s a pressure and anxiety – a fear about the next book and whether it will be good. But he says, it is like standing on the edge of a very cold pool, you are afraid it’s going to be freezing, but once you have jumped in, it’s always warmer than you feared it would be.
I asked him about the terrorist group in his novel, the Flyovers. He told me that the Americans have a term ‘Flyover country.’ This refers to people, the more affluent travellers who fly from coast to coast passing over middle America.Passing over middle America, many of those who voted Trump because they feel neglected and forgotten. The US is so polarised, with the rise of new nazi groups and white supremacists that such a terrorist group is not hard to imagine.
He loves to write humour. That’s how he started out – writing humour, a memoir, political satire, and a book on fatherhood. Then the first four thrillers were humorous. But humour books don’t sell well, so he moved on to thriller writing. He wrote a humour column for 14 years.and he says, When you write satire there is always someone who thinks that it’s true. Now when he thinks of things that spark outrage or humour, he puts them on Twitter.
An audience member asked how he avoids repetition from book to book as every one is different. Sometimes, he says, he worries that he might be repeating himself But Elevator Pitch is a different book to his others in that his previous books his heroes have been ordinary people. This one has a journalist and a couple of police detectives as protagonists. This is also his first book set in a major city as opposed to a small town.
Barclay’s Promise Falls Trilogy and the fourth book, Parting Shot, have been optioned by Entertainment One and are in development. He’s writing some of the scripts. He has no plans to revisit Promise Falls, but if a pilot gets made and then the series follows and people like it then maybe he will re-think, but as he says, that is lot of ifs.
Barclay has a contract for a book a year. When he finishes a book the first thing he does is to clean his desk until it is pristine. He’ll walk away for a couple of months and go on tour, speak at festivals and maybe, undertake a screenplay adaptation. The worst feeling, he admitted is for waiting for his editor’s response to the new book.
He was asked about his next book. Laughing, he told us that he had written a novel, got it ready to go, and delivered it. It’s a little different, he says, a little more like a Michael Crichton book. Then he did what he says was ‘a stupid thing’ and told his people what he intended to write after that. They liked the idea so much that they suggested he put the already written work on hold while he writes the one that he had the new idea for. So he’s saying nothing about that one!
But his most important piece of writing will have to be done very soon. He has been given three minutes to write his Father of the Bride speech at the end of September. He says he has a good story to tell. And you know what? I bet he does.