Richard and Judy Interview: Fiona Barton on The Widow

Richard and Judy Interview: Fiona Barton on The Widow

Your first novel, and what a start! Congratulations! How long has this one been simmering in the pot?

The germ of the idea infected me a long time ago but it was more of a fascination than a book concept. As a full-time journalist and mother, I didn’t have the space in my life – or my head – to take it further. It was only when I stopped being a reporter, in 2008, that I found that space, and Jean’s voice. It sounds weird but the phrases she uses – ‘No more of his nonsense’, ‘Me, the grieving widow. Don’t make me laugh’ – were echoing in my head along with her thoughts, her distress, her disbelief. She was a compelling presence and when I finally stopped thinking about it and wrote it down, tapping away on an old laptop in a flat in Colombo (my husband and I were volunteers in Sri Lanka with Voluntary Service Overseas at the time), I felt chilled, despite the thirty-degree heat. Jean was saying the words I had written in my head for her but it was as if I was hearing them for the first time.

I remember straightening hunched shoulders after a lost couple of hours, realizing it had got dark outside and feeling slightly tearful. Ridiculous, but it felt such an act of faith, writing those first chapters.

You won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards. In a long career on newspapers, have you ever had to cover something quite as noisome as Glen’s story?

Yes, I’ve covered extremely disturbing stories involving children, including the kidnap and murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger, the massacre of sixteen schoolchildren and a teacher at Dunblane and the killing of Sarah Payne by a convicted paedophile. These stories affected me deeply – as a mother as well as a journalist – and I have tried to use those emotions in the character of Kate Waters.

How long have you wanted to break out of news and go into fiction?

I didn’t leave the world of reporting to write fiction, originally. I left to fulfil a long-held ambition to work as a volunteer abroad. My husband and I went to Sri Lanka and it was while there that I started to write The Widow. It meant unlearning thirty years of writing as a journalist – short, clear and under five hundred words – and there was a real crunching of gears when I let myself go on flights of fancy and started inventing. It is wonderfully liberating to be free to create my own world.

Have you finished the next one yet or are you still catching your breath?

I have written book two, The Child, skidding up to the finishing line this summer. I’m still feeling over-whelmed by the success of The Widow but planning to lie down in a darkened room very soon!