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When a newborn's skeleton is discovered on a building site it only makes a paragraph in an evening newspaper - but for three women it's impossible to ignore.
Two years ago, I would have laughed at the very idea of publishing one book but, here I am, delivering number two in a state of slightly stunned disbelief.
What spurred me on to write a second psychological thriller were the voices and images, collected over a thirty-year career in news journalism, still clamouring to be put on the page – and the irresistible lure of a secret.
Irresistible because secrets expose the suspicion and fear we have about how little we really know other people.
We may pretend otherwise, but we all have hidden thoughts we don’t want anyone to know, things we’ve done that would change the way people feel about us or parts of our lives that we would rather forget.
And for most of us, our fabrications or omissions are so inconsequential that being found out would be mildly embarrassing at worst. But for some of us, our secret threatens to destroy everything.
The Child, looks at the impact of a, literally, long-buried secret on three women who have never met.
For one, journalist Kate Waters, who first appeared in The Widow, it sparks a hunt to uncover the truth.
I found the inspiration for The Child in exactly the same place that Kate finds it. The book opens with her spotting a snippet of news about the discovery of a baby’s body, buried on a building site and deciding to investigate.
As a journalist, always looking for stories, I used to tear interesting items out of newspapers as I saw them and shove them in my handbag for later. They were often just a few lines – the basic facts - but it was the unanswered questions that drew me in. The Who? or the Why?
A paragraph about an infant’s skeleton found in a garden shed was squirreled away by me many years ago. Like Kate in The Child, I wanted to know who the baby was, why someone had hidden it and who else knew about it. I was drawn into the story behind the story - the desperation of the act and the human tragedy that underpinned it.
I never got to write the story – the police solved it immediately, arresting the mother and finding more tiny corpses - and the newspaper cutting is long gone, discarded in one of my ritual handbag clear-outs.
But the image of the nameless child, just beneath the surface of someone’s life, has stayed, waiting for its moment to be unearthed. And for its story to be told.
I hope you enjoy reading The Child as much I loved writing it.
Why did you want to continue Kate’s story? Was that always the plan even when you wrote The Widow?
I honestly had no plans to write a series – the idea of writing one book was already enough of a challenge – but the reaction to Kate has spurred me on. I thought the readers would focus on Jean and the idea of a marriage with secrets but there has been a surprising fascination in the reporter’s thread. So Kate has stayed. In The Child, she spots a snippet of news about the discovery of a baby’s body, buried on a building site. She decides to investigate the story and her hunt for the identity of the child changes the lives of three women, forever.
Where did the idea for The Child come from?
Exactly the same place that Kate finds it. As a journalist, always looking for stories, I tore interesting items out of newspapers as I spotted them and shoved them in my handbag for later. They were often just a few lines – the basic facts - but it was the unanswered questions that drew me in. The Who? or the Why? A paragraph about an infant’s skeleton found in a garden was squirreled away by me many years ago. Like Kate, I wanted to know who the baby was and why someone had secretly buried it. I was drawn by the desperation of the act and the human tragedy behind it. The newspaper cutting is long gone – discarded in one of my ritual handbag clear-outs - but the idea has stayed, waiting for its moment to be unearthed.
How are you feeling about this second book? Is there a pressure to follow up such a huge success?
Huge pressure fuelled by the legendary second album paranoia. The thing is, no one knows you are writing the first book so you can pootle along, letting it all cook in your head, move sentences around a hundred times and leave it for weeks on end. But Book 2 is a whole other story (in every sense…). The success of The Widow meant there were expectations for the second book from the first word and it has created a completely different writing experience. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed writing The Child but I confess there were times when I felt as if I was wrenching it out of my body with bloodied fingernails! But it is done and I am off to lie down in a darkened room for a while…
What has been your favorite reader response to The Widow?
The reader who asked me the name of a relatively minor character’s new baby. It made me realise people were completely immersed in this world I’d created. To my shame, I had no idea what the baby was called and had to make it up on the spot.
When did you first realize The Widow might end up being huge?
When Stephen King tweeted about it. Totally overwhelming…
Are your friends and family a little more frightened of you than before, knowing the creepy stories you can create in your mind? What was their reaction to The Widow?
I hope not… I suppose they are used to me being deeply involved in horrifying stories, as a reporter. They are as thrilled as I am with the success but I do catch my children sometimes, looking at me and wondering if this is their mum people are talking about.