Linwood Barclay is a renowned thriller writer for adults, but this year publishes his first book for children. Here he explains how it came about.
The first question seems to be: Why a book for children?
For nearly a decade and a half, I’ve been writing slightly more than one thriller per year for adult readers. But this year marks the release of my first novel for young readers. What’s going on, many of my readers ask. And the second question is almost always: Can I read it anyway?
Short answer: Yes.
Let me start by telling you how Chipper – the star of Chase – came to me.
Chipper arrived at two in the morning. Many of my ideas show up magically in the middle of the night, and if one of them is good enough, it will end up as next year’s thriller for my adult readers.
I knew right away Chase wasn’t going to be one of those books.
Staring at the dark ceiling, I plotted it out. What if a secret organization is taking regular dogs, implanting them with loads of sophisticated software and surveillance capabilities, then setting them loose in hostile nations to see what’s going on? After all, who’ll pay any attention to some wandering mutt? Except this mutt understands several languages, can read, communicate, even transmit images and video back to headquarters through its camera-like eyes.
Chipper’s one of these dogs, but he’s not working out. His canine instincts often sabotage his assignments. If there’s a choice between following a spy or a squirrel, odds are he’ll pick the latter. His masters have decided to pull the plug on him, but Chipper’s smart enough to know what’s coming, and plots his escape.
Once he’s on the run, he sets out to find a young, orphaned boy working at his aunt’s fishing camp. Why has Chipper fixated on some boy that he’s never met? Why is it so important that he find him? Is this boy in grave danger without even knowing it?
My wife, Neetha, is a former kindergarten teacher, and when I told her my idea the following morning, she urged me to write my first book for a younger audience. All kids will love it, she said. But she thought boys, who can be reluctant readers, would really eat it up.
After writing so many novels for grownup readers, could I write a book for kids? I couldn’t see any reason why not.
While it had been a while since I’d read a novel specifically aimed at children, I hadn’t forgotten my own love of books when I was young (a long time ago, I admit). I grew up devouring the Hardy Boys mysteries and the adventures of that boy scientist, Tom Swift. But by the time I’d read all those, there wasn’t much else on the market aimed right at my age level, so I shifted into books written for an older audience. By age 11 or 12, I was reading every Agatha Christie I could get my hands on. From there, I went to the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout.
What I’d always liked as a young reader couldn’t be that much different, I believed, than what young readers would want today.
My approach in writing Chase, as it turned out, wasn’t much different than how I go about writing my adult thrillers. (Okay, there was a lot less swearing.) The story had to move. There had to be plenty of surprises. As many chapters as possible had to end with a mini-cliffhanger. It needed terrific characters. (Emily, the friend of the boy Chipper’s searching for, might be my favourite.) But it would also have something that none of my adult thrillers had: a fort. What’s a novel for kids without a fort? And not just any fort, but a mysterious, abandoned railway station in the middle of a forest.
Neetha suggested I call the dog in my story Chipper. Not just because it’s perfect for a dog that’s loaded with computer chips, but because it was the name of my dog when I was growing up.
The real Chipper came into my life as unexpectedly as the fictional one.
It was 1966. I was 11, and my parents had bought a cottage resort and caravan park about two hours outside of Toronto, in Canada. (I actually wrote a book about that time, called Last Resort, which is still available as an e-book.) Chipper was a stray who’d wandered into the camp and been adopted by one vacationing family after another. But one week, as cottages changed hands, no one else wanted him.
Except for me. He was my best friend for more than a decade.
I made the Chipper in Chase a border collie. (I needed a dog with a bit more size to fit in all that computer equipment.) But what do the two dogs have in common? A thirst for adventure and a young boy’s devotion.
A sequel to Chase is already written and will be out next year. It picks up literally moments after the end of book one. So if you get to the last page of Chase and go “Wait, what?” don’t worry. The story continues.
If you’re no longer what we might call a young adult, can you read the book, too? Permission granted. Many who’ve loved my other novels have already been in touch to ask that question. What I can tell you is, the first four people I gave Chase to read were all roughly my age and they couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
I really do hope young readers will love Chase, and embrace Chipper. He may be loaded with software, but he’s all heart.
This guest blog was provided by Linwood Barclay. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.