Monday, July 31, 2017

Fiona Barton at The Poisoned Pen!

Saturday, July 22 found me back in my old routine: Denis at work and me on the road to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. Arriving in plenty of time to grab my preferred seat, I went up to the front desk and got the books they were holding for me, then back to the back of the bookstore I went to sit and read. Time flew, and before I knew what was happening, Barbara Peters and author Fiona Barton were sitting in front of us and beginning to speak. 

L to R: Barbara Peters and Fiona Barton

Barton had come to The Poisoned Pen last year in January or February before her first book (The Widow) was published-- and she complained of the heat then. I can't begin to imagine what she thought of our July weather! The Poisoned Pen was the only bookstore on her short tour last year, and the entire thing was a learning experience for her. Book publishing in the UK is a much smaller scene, and authors are not used to self-promotion or talking about themselves.

Barbara described Barton's two books as domestic suspense, or what she calls "Trust No One," and The Child brings back one of the characters from The Widow-- the journalist Kate Waters. 

Fiona Barton
As Barton explained, Kate wasn't the main character in The Widow. "I needed more voices so readers would learn not to trust what they were hearing. Of all the characters in that book, Kate was the one readers kept asking about."

At this point, Barbara and Fiona made it clear that The Child was not a sequel; this new book just happens to have one character from the first book. 

"There are books that I wouldn't want to have a sequel to," Peters said. "Like Scarlett O'Hara returning to Tara; you don't want to know what happens, you want to imagine it." They both agreed that an upcoming book, Shari Lapena's A Stranger in the House, is another one that should not have a sequel. 

Barton wanted a character who's a journalist to show that they aren't all bad. She herself has challenged the stereotype when people would express surprise that she was affected when she listened to a woman whose child had been murdered. "What? You didn't think we were human beings?" She then disclosed that in her next book she's torturing Kate by giving her a techno savvy young sidekick.

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Barton believes that we live in a confessional age, an age in which people no longer need to talk to journalists in order for their stories to be told. Instead, all we have to do is go online to Facebook or Twitter. This gives us the power to present ourselves as we want others to see us... and to hide things about ourselves that we want no one else to see.

Fiona had been an award-winning journalist for thirty years and remembers seeing an article in the newspaper about the discovery of a mummified body of a baby. That image had stayed with her over the years. At the time, she thought of some of the same questions Kate did in her book, The Child.

When it was time to come up with the idea for her second book, she had one. This image of the mummified baby was something that she referred to as "a back of a fag [cigarette] packet idea." When her editor didn't like her original idea for the second book, she talked about this image that had stayed with her for so long, and her editor liked it a lot better.

Fiona Barton
Barton then went on to show us how a story can spread in the press. Kate Waters saw the story about the mummified baby in a local paper. She knew there was a story there, so she wrote an article that appeared in a national paper and that paper's website. "I don't think I could write these books without my experience as a journalist," she said.

Barbara Peters then talked a bit about how-- almost always-- the second book an author writes is never as popular as the first. Fiona nodded her head. "Some of the fairy dust has fallen off," she said.

"I was fifty-one, our children were raised, when my husband and I decided to quit our jobs and do volunteer work in Sri Lanka. This was in 2008 when I'd been a journalist for thirty years. Doing this allowed me to have some time, to have some space in my head, and an idea began to cook

"My idea was about the women one finds on the edge of stories-- what they knew, what they didn't want to share. When we returned from Sri Lanka, I began to write. It turned into ten chapters which I then put in a drawer, as you do. After two years, we moved to France. I joined a writing group which was a great help. But in many ways I think my experience as a journalist made it harder for me to write. I had the facility of writing-- I could write a thousand words about any given subject at a moment's notice, but writing about something that wasn't real was anathema to me, and I had to overcome that."

Fiona Barton
"The great thing about your professional background is that you've heard a lot of stories, and that also had to be a great help in writing dialogue," Peters observed.

Barton agreed, but stressed, "Kate is not me, but I've worked with Kate.

"I think when people think of journalists, they think of them pounding on doors and shouting through letterboxes, but that was never my way. I always wanted to make a human connection.

"There was one news editor who famously suggested that we have a Cornish pasty in our pocket-- do you know what a Cornish pasty is? [with the Cornish Pasty-- PAST-ee-- Company a block away most of us knew]-- so that if we had someone who told us that they didn't want to talk to us, we could pull the pasty out and say, 'All right, but could I just step inside for a minute to warm up my pasty in your microwave?'"

Barton's editor insisted that the journalists dress as though they were going to tea with the Queen or to speak to someone bereaved, so she was used to being very formally dressed. In fact, she once found herself wearing her high heels in an elephant enclosure in the dark in order to get a story about cruelty to elephants. "I was in mud up to my ankles," she said.

In talking about the titles of her books, Barton told us that The Widow had been the one and only title, but that 'The Silence' eventually became The Child. There is no working title for the third book "that I'll share." She then mentioned the marked difference between the UK and US covers for her books, so don't be surprised if she's the subject of my cover comparison post on Wednesday!

I will now encourage you to watch the Livestream recording of this event so you can see everything and hear every word. For those of you who do decide to watch the video, the very low-pitched whispering you hear about midway through comes from a man in the back corner who was reading a book to his young son sitting on his lap. The conversation between Barbara and Fiona is still perfectly clear.

I think I could sit and listen to Fiona Barton tell stories for hours-- and I'm wondering what that untitled third book is all about. While I'm wondering, I did pick up a book or two to tide me over....


  1. How could you not get a couple of books, Cathy? And it sounds as though you had a great time listening to Fiona Barton, too. I think that's terrific. Sounds like a perfect evening to me!

  2. Fiona looks like nothing that I'd thought of. She looks happy and well-adjusted, content with herself.

    After I read "The Widow," I thought of the writer as younger, more hip, perhaps a bit depressed. But she looks like a happy person.

    Should read her second book if it won't give me nightmares as book one did. I still feel eerie thinking about the creepy husband and naive, submissive wife.

    1. I didn't find The Child creepy at all, just sad, and with a character you'd love to shake silly.

  3. OK. A character you'd love to shake silly.

    Hmmm. Is it worth reading anyway?

  4. No, she is neither silly nor stupid. I merely said that I wanted to shake her silly. The way she behaves toward other people is infuriating.


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