For the mega-bestselling author of The Widow, you'd think writing another book would feel easy — but Fiona Barton's new novel The Child was even more challenging to write than the first, she tells Bustle. The Child comes out on June 27, and will no doubt be eagerly snatched up by everyone who read and loved The Widow last year. Fan-favorite character Kate Waters is back for a second mystery — this time digging into the secrets behind the skeleton of a newborn infant found hidden on a building site.
"The experience could not have been more different!" Barton says, of writing a second novel. "With the first book, no one knows you are writing so you pootle along at your own pace, letting the ideas ferment in your head, writing when you feel like it, not writing for weeks or months. Don’t get me wrong, writing in this sort of bubble brings its own anxieties – the conviction that no one will want to read your work, the fear that you will never finish… But then, there is Book 2. There is no bubble. A lot of people know you are writing. There is a deadline." I can definitely imagine how stressful that must have been — especially with fans like me clamoring impatiently for a second novel.
In a separate interview from last December, Barton told Bustle her new thriller The Child would see the return of journalist Kate Waters — but Barton had never initially intended for The Widow to become a series. She tells Bustle now: "I wasn't sure what the reaction of readers would be — journalists get very bad press these days — but people seem to have been fascinated by the glimpse into a reporter's life. And so she has stayed."
Barton herself has experience reporting, having spent years as a journalist before turning to fiction writing, so it's no surprise that she so excellently captured everything that makes the profession so exciting. When writing The Widow, she had thought that Jean Taylor (the eponymous widow) would be the main character — "but gradually," she says, "Kate made her presence felt, doorstepping me, demanding extra chapters from her perspective."
Beyond the grit and glamour of the job, Barton also exposes in her novels one persistent problem in the world of journalism: sexism. "It is a funny thing," she says. "There are equal numbers of women and men reporters and you have modern frontline icons like Marie Colvin, Lindsey Hilsum, Orla Guerin and Dame Ann Leslie but casual sexism, dressed as ‘banter’, persists in some newsrooms." Readers will be shocked to hear that some of the worst quotes thrown at Kate Waters are drawn directly from Barton and her female colleagues' own experiences. "I think perhaps the phrase ‘womb trembler’, used by an editor to describe an interview with a grieving mother, sums it up nicely," she says.
So Kate Waters is a fascinating character, and this time around she becomes the central character of The Child. The reader follows much of the story from her perspective as she leads her own investigation into the mysterious skeleton of a newborn child. We also hear the story from the perspective of three other women — including a grieving mother whose newborn child was stolen from the hospital where she was born decades earlier. It's an enthralling story loaded with twists and turns — but for Fiona Barton, it all started with an image.
"In my head I could see a baby wrapped in newspaper, being buried in a flower bed," says Barton. "The idea came from a news story I'd seen many years ago about an infant's skeleton being found and I remembered wondering why someone would secretly bury a baby. And who else knew..."
When she's juggling so many strands of the story, Barton says she avoids reading other crime novels while she's writing. But of course, she's still an avid bookworm and "cannot imagine a day without picking up a book." At the moment, Barton is re-reading old favorites by P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh while she works away at her third novel. (Sidenote: is it too early to get excited about Book 3 when Book 2 just came out?!)
In between writing sessions, though, Barton loves to catch up with all the thrillers she's been missing — and currently recommends I See You by Clare Mackintosh and The Dry by Jane Harper. She's also had a sneak peek at some upcoming titles, and lets us know that The Lost Girls by Heather Young, A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena, and Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner are the ones to watch out for.
For aspiring thriller writers, Barton has some key words of advice: "Writing is not just about putting words on a page. Ideas have to cook first." She's speaking from a place of experience, admitting "I had an epiphany as I got to the end of my first draft and rewrote 50,000 words." Yikes, that sounds like a hefty job. Probably a good idea to let that idea settle for a while first...