Introducing Kate Waters
You could say that my journalist Kate Waters got her foot in the door in my debut novel, The Widow. There I was, busily writing about a marriage with secrets when I heard Kate’s rap rap rappity rap in my head. She was supposed to be a minor character, introduced to allow the widow, Jean, to tell her story. But gradually, Kate made her own voice heard and I began giving her her own chapters. She has been at my shoulder ever since…
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – I was a news journalist for 30 years, after all. But I was nervous about putting Kate at the heart of the narrative – the reputation of reporters was in the gutter, just above politicians in terms of public trust – and I was unsure about how readers would react to her.
I decided to give a clear-eyed account of what it is like to work as a journalist. Much is said about us but I feel it is a largely unknown world. I hoped that walking the reader into The Post’s newsroom would be like pushing through the swing doors of a restaurant kitchen and seeing the warts and all processes that produce that plate of food in front of you. It was partly to make my story authentic but also because I am offended by the casual stereotyping of my profession as weasels or criminals. There are some bad apples, as there are in any walk of life, but the vast majority of journalists I have worked with do an essential job with dedication and integrity.
Anyway… The reaction of readers to Kate – and her job – has been fascinating. Some see her as manipulative, some as manipulated and others as a feisty investigator determined to find the truth. And, most importantly for me, readers have wanted to know more about her, urging me to tell them more about her and the world of journalism.
Her role has grown and in my second book, The Child, she is leading the hunt for the identity of a baby, found buried on a building site in London.
Having a journalist as investigator gives the story a different pace; Kate Waters allows me the freedom to go in any direction – a freedom I loved when I was a reporter. I could be on a council estate in Wakefield one day, Windsor Castle at a royal reception, the next (and once in an elephant enclosure at Woburn Safari Park).
She is not bogged down in a sea of forms in triplicate like her detective counterpart or amassing evidence to put before a jury. She can pick up her notebook and go.
And, of course, the lack of official ‘procedure’ that frames police work, puts Kate in vulnerable situations – meat and drink to me as a writer.
I should say here that Kate Waters is not me. I’ve been where she goes but she is a composite of many Kates I have worked with. She is in her fifties, has juggled career and family, chafing at her hospital consultant husband’s dismissal of her job and the guilt of missing parent evenings and football matches. She is world-weary at times, terrified by the technology changing the media and insecure about her role. But she is still driven by the need to find the story. And she refuses to go until she has nailed it…
As they say in the business, More Follows Later…