One of Stephen King‘s favourite authors, Linwood Barclay tells us about how his latest thriller, Trust Your Eyes, was born of some very unusual inspiration…
When I wrote the acknowledgements for Trust Your Eyes, I thanked many of the people you might expect to be thanked. My agent, my editors, my family. Publicists and booksellers. The usual suspects. But I realize now I forgot someone.
No last name. Just Winston. Winston is a dog. A big, white furry thing of a dog. He belongs to friends of ours, and while I like these friends very much, I don’t drop in to seem them since they got Winston because, as much as I love dogs, I am allergic to them. Half an hour in Winston’s company is likely to send me to the local emergency room, gasping my last breath.
But Trust Your Eyes might not have happened without Winston.
Our friends commented one day that if you go on Google Street View and look up their house, you can spot Winston looking out the window, head up, transfixed by something. It probably wasn’t a squirrel. It was more likely that car, with a with a weird contraption strapped to its roof, that was passing by at the time. (I must add, with all the fur hanging in Winston’s eyes, it’s a wonder he can see anything.)
It’s a funny shot, an amusing moment in time. And it got me wondering.
What if something far more sinister was going on in that window than a curious pooch?
What if the Google camera car, in the instant that it passed a particular address, caught someone in the act of committing a murder? And that every person on the planet with an Internet connection was a potential witness, if only they knew where to look?
Trust Your Eyes started cooking.
Of course, there was much more to figure out. The first thing I did was invent a new website, modeled on Google Street View, that I called Whirl360. (We even made T-shirts!)
Then I had to come up with a believable way that someone could, while traveling virtually through New York city, happen upon this one particular window in a lower Manhattan tenement building. The odds of someone just finding it like that were too long to calculate.
But suppose you had someone – a savant-like character – who did nothing, all day long, except sit at his computer and wander, without ever leaving his bedroom, the great cities of the world? Someone obsessed with maps. Someone who not only viewed every street he could, but committed them to memory, too.
That’s when Thomas Kilbride was born. Thomas, a schizophrenic who is looked after by his brother Ray, spends every waking moment working his way through the streets and avenues of Paris, Rome, London, San Francisco – you name it. And then one day, while virtually walking down Orchard Street in New York, he sees what appears to be a woman being suffocated in a window. He manages to persuade Ray to look into it.
Little wonder that when my editor first read the manuscript, he called it Rain Man meets Rear Window. (If you read the book carefully, you might find someone saying something that’s nearly word for word for a line in the movie. My tip of the hat to Alfred Hitchcock.)
When I set out to write Trust Your Eyes, my goal was to produce the best thriller of my career. But I think I ended up doing a little more than that. I got people thinking about the nature of our wired world, where every move we make, on the very street where we live, is very likely being watched. And not just by the government or the police, but by total strangers anywhere on the planet.
It’s an unsettling notion.
Although not to Winston.
He’s still happy to look out the window to see who’s going by.
If they end up making a movie of Trust Your Eyes (it’s currently in development) Winston probably deserves a walk-on.
But not a speaking part.
Linwood Barclay, for Waterstones.com/blog