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Books Fiona Barton: ‘Writing is not just about putting words on a page’

Fiona Barton.

Jenny Lewis/Globe and Mail Update

Fiona Barton's bestselling debut novel, The Widow, was published last year. She's already back with a second: The Child, in which journalist Kate Waters – who readers will remember from Barton's previous book – investigates a child's skeleton found in an old house in London. Barton, who lives in the south of France, is a former journalist herself, with stints at the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday.

What scares you as a writer?

Starting the next one. I've just been through the hell that is the second book so you will have to forgive my trembling hand. With the first book, no one knows you are writing so you bumble 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 two. There is no bubble. A lot of people know you are writing. There is a deadline. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy writing The Child – discovering new characters, new voices, new secrets – but I confess I wept when I wrote my last scene. There may have been tears of relief. Now for book three.

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What's the best advice you've ever received?

Two pieces of advice stick out: Writing is not just about putting words on a page. Ideas have to cook first. And: hold your nose and write (thank you, Hallie Ephron!)

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

The sublimely silly Bertie Wooster – P.G. Wodehouse's genius creation who first appeared with his all-knowing, urbane butler Jeeves in 1915. Despite being almost 100 years old, Bertie has me laughing out loud every time I read his stories. Who can forget his attempts to steal a silver cow creamer from the appalling Roderick Spode or attempts to help the newt-obsessed Gussie Fink-Nottle? Okay, it may be an English thing but I love every fibre of him. Pip pip!

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

Without question, Miss Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. The second of five daughters in need of a husband, Lizzy is feisty, clever, witty, funny and sharp-tongued. Her creator, Jane Austen, described Elizabeth as "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print." And, of course, she gets Mr. Darcy in the end.

Which books have you re-read most in your life?

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Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon books create a world I can immerse myself in over and over. I love the deadpan humour, the warmth and the wonderful characters in The Sidetrack Tap. I discovered them when I was about 30, starting with Leaving Home and We Are Still Married and fell in love with the place and those flat Midwestern vowels. The words, "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…" still bring me out in goosebumps.

Who's your favourite villain in literature?

Shakespeare's Iago: I like my villains clever, deep and driven by pure evil. Iago, Othello's nemesis, engineers the downfall of almost everyone in the play with his wicked asides and a masterful line in manipulation. There is no pantomime – no twirled mustaches, no rubbing of greedy hands – just a devil in human guise with a beautiful turn of phrase. What's not to like?

What's the best death scene in literature?

Beth in Little Women. Sob …

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