* Fiona Barton, 54, wrote The Widow, this year’s fastest-selling debut novel * A terrible Chinese meal with her husband inspired her to move abroad * They moved to a £140 a month flat in Sri Lanka and she trained journalists By LIZ HOGGARD FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Fiona Barton, 54, is the best-selling author of The Widow, this year’s fastest-selling debut novel.
The psychological thriller is being turned into a major TV drama. Fiona is married and lives in France.
My light bulb moment – to ditch my career and become a volunteer, thousands of miles from home – came over a terrible meal in a Chinese restaurant in late 2004.
My husband and I had just been to see The Motorcycle Diaries – the inspiring story of Che Guevara’s journey through impoverished Latin America.
As we looked at each other over the congealing beef in black bean sauce, we started talking about a future that would involve stepping off a precipice.
I was 48 and a journalist, a job I’d loved and succeeded in for 25 years – Gary, 52, was a builder with his own business. We had two adult children, mortgages and all the paraphernalia of a full working life.
Yet the idea of volunteering was so powerful that I remember it made our teeth chatter with excitement.
We did lots of research talked to our family and, three years later, applied to Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).
A year later, we boarded a plane to Colombo in Sri Lanka to begin a two-year placement.
It was both exhilarating and terrifying – we lived on £140 a month in a small flat, washing our clothes under a cold outside tap and coping with the occasional rat and cockroach.
I trained journalists, working under terrifying physical threats, while Gary taught carpentry to adults with learning difficulties. It was a challenge most days. But it made me feel more alive than I had for years. And it gave me space to write outside the relentless news agenda.
I had heard the voice of Jean, the main narrator of The Widow, in my head for months, but I wrote the first words of my novel in February 2009.
I was overwhelmed that I’d started something I’d been waiting to begin for years: my career as a novelist.The Widow is out now in paperback (Corgi, £7.99).