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.
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.
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.
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."
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....