I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander to my blog this month. Nicole and I published our first novels at a similar time with the same publisher, Random House, in 2010, and since then Nicole has been a prolific writer – The Great Plains is her fifth novel! Nicole covers an astonishing breadth of topics in her books and skilfully absorbs all her painstaking historical research into her stories. It was a pleasure to chat to her and find out more about her new novel. Before we begin, here’s a taster of what you can expect from The Great Plains:

It is Dallas 1886, and the Wade Family is going from strength to strength: from a thriving newspaper and retail business in Texas to a sprawling sheep station half a world away in Queensland. 

Yet money and power cannot compensate for the tragedy that struck twenty-three years ago, when Joseph Wade was slaughtered and his seven-year-old daughter Philomena abducted by Apache Indians. 

Only her uncle, Aloysius, remains convinced that one day Philomena will return. So when news reaches him that the legendary Geronimo has been captured, and a beautiful white woman discovered with him, he believes his prayers have been answered.

Little does he know that the seeds of disaster have just been sown. 

Over the coming years three generations of Wade men will succumb to an obsession with three generations of mixed-blood Wade women: the courageous Philomena, her hot-headed granddaughter Serena, and her gutsy great-granddaughter Abelena – a young woman destined for freedom in a distant red land. But at what price . . . ? 


Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, NicoleTHE GREAT PLAINS is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?

My aim was to write an epic narrative that told the story of two lands, two frontier worlds, Australia and America, and the people both settlers and indigenous who inhabited those countries. With that background in mind in plotting the novel I asked myself this initial question: what would it feel like to be displaced in the world? What would it be like to be lost to the world you were born into, only to find that on being reunited with loved-ones that you truly didn’t belong? During the American Civil War, a confederate soldier, Joseph Wade, gets caught in a skirmish and is killed, his young daughter, Philomena, abducted by the legendary Geronimo of the Apache Indians. This is Philomena’s story, and that of her descendants, strong-willed women, whose destinies are altered by fate and whose lives are hampered by the prejudices of society and the mixed-blood that runs in their veins. It’s also the story of the powerful Wade family across two continents and the men who became obsessed with these women and the families, both in Australia and America, struggling against adversity during periods of enormous change.9781742759852

Your novels have covered The Great Depression, World War One, and now the American Wild West. Can you offer us an insight into your research process – how you tackle it, and keep it under control?

 To date I’ve had a previous interest in every topic I’ve written about, so that’s made it easier to pinpoint timeframes and include specific historical events. It is easy to get carried away with the research side of things and I have to be quite disciplined in what and how much material I read. I find the best thing is to read widely on the subject area first and then begin writing. Getting the story down is fundamental. I then research along the way as specific points come up and again when the manuscript’s completed. This is part of double-checking facts to ensure accuracy.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE GREAT PLAINS is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

 I never plan an entire novel. I don’t like the restrictions that places on the work. Novels grow organically, characters change, situations can be improved on, or the chapter order may need to be altered. I start with an idea and usually plan the first quarter of the work and then I begin writing. Once I have a feel for the work I wait for the characters to start talking to me, for my imagined world to come alive. The Great Plains was a major undertaking, the story changed, as did the characters, but the kernel of the novel, that initial idea, remained constant.

THE GREAT PLAINS is your fifth novel. If you could revisit yourself when you were working on your first novel, THE BARK CUTTERS, what advice would you have to offer about writing and publishing?

Writing is about redrafting, refining and re-polishing, making a seed into a pearl. Make life your muse and writing your passion and with luck and timing you’ll create something worthwhile. I’ve been telling myself the same thing for over twenty-five years now.

As well as writing, you are also a busy with rural property and numerous farming projects. How do you combine these two occupations?

 With great difficulty. There’s no writing or editing while I’m on-farm, the place is pretty busy. I tend to turn off my writing brain and concentrate on the work at hand. A typical property work day for me starts at 7.30 am and could involve anything from mustering sheep and cattle, working in the stockyards, doing bookwork in the station office or checking cultivations with our agronomist. I’m a 7-day-a-week person, which includes 3 full days for writing as well as nights, although work-related injury has slowed me down this year on both fronts.

When you hit a roadblock in yalexander, nicoleour writing, how do you get going again?

 I usually re-read what I’ve previously written, or read about the subject I’m writing about. If all else fails I go and do something else and hope the muse returns. It may take half an hour or a week, but eventually I’ll get back on track.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

 Red wine and chocolate, but then I always feel passionate about red wine and chocolate. I’d like to emulate Oscar Wilde who only seemed to work half a day and partied the rest of the time, but luckily or unluckily my work commitments don’t allow it!

 I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

On the literature side I really enjoyed Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North. My guilty pleasure? Phillipa Gregory’s The White Queen and The King’s Curse by the same author which I’m currently reading.

 And now THE GREAT PLAINS has been published, what are you working on next?

My current work-in-progress is set in Australia on the northern NSW frontier in the 1830s when settlers went beyond the designated counties to the outer limits.

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

They can head to my website www.nicolealexander.com.au





I’m delighted to welcome Annabel Smith onto my blog this month. Annabel is the author of the digital, interactive novel/app The Ark, and the novels Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe (shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards). Her short fiction and non-fiction has been published in Southerly,WesterlyWheeler Dailies and Junkee.

I admire Annabel for all sorts of reasons: not only is she an extremely talented writer, she has a great work ethic, and she reads zillions of books I’ve never heard of and introduces me to them via her fantastically detailed blog! On top of all this she holds a PhD in Writing, is an Australia Council Creative Australia Fellow, and is a member of the editorial board of Margaret River Press. In summary, she’s one busy lady! Therefore, I’m very grateful she found time to visit and tell us about her new book THE ARK.

The ArkTHE ARK is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?

The Ark is a digital interactive novel and app in which a group of scientists and their families retreat into a bunker inside Mount Kosciusko during a post-peak oil crisis, alongside a seed bank which holds the key to the future of life on earth.

I began making notes for the novel after reading Adrian Atkinson’s foreboding essay ‘Cities After Oil’, about the likely collapse of society as we know it, in a period of chaos following post-peak oil. Then, in the ‘environmental lifestyle’magazine G, I saw a snippet about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, also known as the Doomsday vault. These two ideas came together in my mind and The Ark was born.

THE ARK plays with narrative, as the story is told through emails, news articles, blog posts, text messages and conversation transcripts. Why did you choose this structure, and were there benefits or drawbacks to it during the writing process?

Initially I thought these documents would form a supplementary thread to the main narrative, offering a different, less subjective viewpoint. But I was having so much fun writing them that they took over and eventually I decided to tell the whole story through documents. I like to give myself a new challenge with each book I write, and I’m interested in structural experiments – I wanted to see if it was possible to tell the entire story this way. There were some difficulties – how do you show a character’s inner life, for example, or an action sequence, without descriptive prose or a narrative voice. I was stimulated by overcoming these challenges.

9781922089144_WHISKYCHARLIEFOXTROT_RGBYour published works are noticeably diverse in content and structure, much more so than those of many other writers. Do you feel that there are themes or other elements that bind your novels, or is each project unique?

I think all my novels are connected by a preoccupation with the effect of secrets or what is left unsaid. In A New Map of the Universe and Whisky Charlie Foxtrot this theme is explored through the impact of secrets on family relationships; in The Ark, it is explored more broadly in relation to access to information and how that relates to questions of power and manipulation.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE ARK is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

I didn’t have a plan with The Ark – I wrote it organically, letting it unfold as I went along so I really had no idea where it would end up. The most surprising aspect of the process was the revelation that I was not writing a book ‘about’a seed bank, which is what I thought for the first couple of years. The seed bank was just the setting, the book was actually about the way humans behave in extreme circumstances. It took me a long time to see that.

Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith

Can you tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

One of the things I love most is making up small and silly details, like names for businesses or products. Unlike the greater story arcs or character arcs, writing these tiny details brings instant satisfaction and allow for a little playfulness. For example, when writing The Ark, I created a fitness schedule for the bunker inhabitants and I amused myself making up names and descriptions for fitness classes which might take place twenty five years from now:

Yogatronics: Achieve perfect posture AND enlightenment via intelligent pressure pads which assist with self-correction of those tricky asanas!

TaeKwonBop: Defend your vitality! Contemporary robo-dance meets the ancient Korean martial art TaeKwonDo: be prepared to bop til you drop.

When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I go back to the last place I felt confident things were working and see where I might have made a wrong turn. Failing that, I show it to a trusted writer friend who might be able to see it with clear eyes.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I’m horrified by the way the Australian government is treating asylum seekers and plan to volunteer to ease their suffering and make them welcome and comfortable, wherever possible, or even just convey that not all Australians are heartless. On a much lighter note, I am very excited to be planning a trip to the states with my husband and son next year, to meet the US publisher of my novel Whiskey and Charlie and travel through Yosemite in a camper van, with dear friends of ours who live in Seattle.

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book youve loved in the last year.

My favourite book in recent memory is Patrick Somerville’s This Bright River. It is beautifully written, funny, poignant and extraordinarily suspenseful – basically everything I look for in a book.

And now the ARK is complete, what are you working on next?

My current work-in-progress is the first in a trilogy called Monkey See; an epic quest with a speculative-fiction twist, in which a trio of unlikely heroes must unite to overthrow a sadistic cult before their city is destroyed by the mother of all tsunamis. It is wild! I am having an absolute blast writing it.

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

I love to connect with readers on my blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I also have a website for The Ark.

Thanks for visiting, Annabel!

Would you like to win an e-copy of The Ark? Leave us a comment telling us your favourite dystopian work of fiction, and make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter to enter the draw. Competition will close 11.59 pm on 14 November 2014, and the winner will be notified the following day. Please note this competition is to win an e-book edition of The Ark, which is downloadable for Kindle, Kobo, iPad or iPad mini.



The ArkToday it’s my pleasure to help celebrate the release of Annabel Smith’s The Ark by joining in this group post on writing in the digital age. Annabel’s book is PERFECT for the digital age – a new invention of the epistolary form using emails and transcripts to tell the story of a group of people trapped in an underground bunker with vaults of priceless seeds in the year 2041. What’s more, The Ark is truly interactive – you can explore the bunker, listen to the characters speaking, and add your own fan fiction at thearkbook.com. So first of all, congratulations, Annabel, on your genre-defying dystopia and its groundbreaking format.

I have transitioned to writing in the digital age alongside the publishing industry. When I first began proofreading I had to learn all the little symbols that are the proofreader’s shorthand, and bulky tree-toppling typescripts would be couriered to me. However, my editing jobs slowly moved towards using tracked changes online over the last decade, and now I edit my own work the same way.

I find writing in the digital age to be a mixed bag – the internet pummels me with distraction and trivia as soon as I venture online, but there are many gems to be found too – and the joys of instant research rather than endless treks to the library are amazing. I’m certainly grateful for programs like Word and Scrivener – I think back to viewing Jane Austen’s manuscripts in the British library (incredible, to think her hand and mine had both been so close to the same sheet of paper) and I wonder about the personal qualities needed to complete an entire manuscript by hand.

When I become one of the billions of consumers of internet content, I can have a dozen moments of connection and disconnection in a single minute. If I’m writing intensely I find this exhausting, and I try to avoid it. I need to keep my story under the spotlight, and going online is too much of a firework display. The internet is a fantastic tool for publishing and promotion, but it’s also an endless noise-maker, making even the most meaningful things seem scarily devoid of meaning if I linger in this virtual world for too long. However, I cannot be anything but thankful for all the connections and relationships it has brokered for me since it came into existence.

Whether I like it or not, I belong to this digital age. How else could I be talking to you now? I’m ensnared in the worldwide web, by turns exhilarated and exhausted – doing my best to tame the techno-beast before it gobbles me up. In case that happens, as Annabel releases her new work into worlds virtual and real, I urge you to click here without delay and discover The Ark for yourself.

Writers Ask Writers

Find out what my fellow writers have to say about writing in the digital age by visiting their blogs. You’ll notice we have a new member, Yvette Walker, author of Letters to the End of Love. Welcome to our group, Yvette!

Annabel Smith: I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to create a work which is at the cutting edge of publishing’

Amanda Curtin: ”The first time I tried Trove, I was almost speechless.’

Dawn Barker: ‘the biggest challenge for me… is finding the balance between the benefits of the internet and social media, and the endless distraction.’

Yvette Walker: ‘to me it’s a twenty-first century toll road I have to drive along every day.’

Emma Chapman: ‘the digital age offers great opportunity to connect with readers’

Natasha Lester: ‘I’ve come full circle to become an author who views the digital age with excitement’






Yep, book 4 is in full draft form, with my agent, and we’re working on getting it into the wider world. Watch this space! If you want to know what it’s all about, here’s a preview:

Georgia Turner has a secret – one that has isolated her from all those she loves. She is desperate to tell her best friend, but Sophia is ignoring her, and she doesn’t understand why. Before she can find out, Sophia is left fighting for her life after a hit and run, with Georgia a traumatised witness.

As a school psychologist, Georgia’s mother Anya should be used to dealing with scared adolescents. However, it’s very different when the girl who needs help is your own child. Meanwhile, Georgia’s father is racked with a guilt he can’t share; and when Zac, Georgia’s younger brother, stumbles on an unlikely truth, the Turner family’s relationships really begin to unravel. But it will be the stranger heading for their house who will finally cause their walls of secrets to crumble, and leave one of them running through the countryside into terrible danger.

Set against the stark, rugged beauty of England’s Lake District, The Spirit Road is a timeless tale with a modern twist. It is about what happens to a family when the lies used to betray and protect one another are pushed into an unyielding and unforgiving light. col-md-2

It’s an honour and a pleasure to welcome Favel Parrett to my blog this month. I’m sure that every single person who read Favel’s debut novel Past the Shallows has been eagerly awaiting her next publication.  Past the Shallows (shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, and winner of numerous other accolades) was set in a remote part of Tasmania, and for When the Night Comes Favel went a few degrees further, to Antarctica, to immerse herself in a book which is fast acquiring as many accolades as its predecessor. Congratulations, Favel, and welcome!


Favel Parrett 1WHEN THE NIGHT COMES is your latest novel – what inspired you to write it?

It sounds strange – but I was inspired by a Danish ship called Nella Dan. I loved her as a kid and I love her even more now. I wanted to bring her back, bring her home. I wanted people to remember her.

 You won the Antarctic Arts Fellowship and travelled to Antarctica during your research for WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. What has stayed with you most from that experience?

Getting to be a sailor – an old dream come true. I love being at sea. I sleep so well and wake excited every day. I love everything about sailing the southern ocean. I would do it for the rest of my life, if I could.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that WHEN THE NIGHT COMES is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

I never have a plot – a story arc – a strategic plan. I just write scenes from character as they come. It’s a jumble, a puzzle, a mystery for me to solve.

Tasmania features in both your books – do you have a special connection to the place, and why do you think it sparks your imagination?

I never meant to write about Tasmania. It just keeps coming up – for better or worse, part of me is stuck there. I am fascinated, scared, and both love and hate the place. It’s where I grew up – an island that I was desperate to leave, but desperate to stay at the same time.

When the Night ComesCan you tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

Sometimes I hate everything about being a writer. Sometimes I love it absolutely. I like when I work something out that I didn’t know about my book or my characters. I get satisfaction from problem solving.

When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I think, as writers, we just have to keep turning up. We just have to keep reading, keep thinking, keep trying. We have to give our work space and time and 100%.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

So many things… dogs, live music, ships, sea birds, surfing, growing veges in my back garden, sharks…

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke.  Just so so so so so good!

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?


Thank you again, Favel, and wishing When the Night Comes a safe and steady passage into the world.

If you would like to win a copy of When the Night Comes, all you have to do is make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter, and leave a comment below telling us which place or places in the world you think make(s) a brilliant setting for a novel. This competition closes 25 September 2014 at 11.59 pm, and the winner will be notified the following day.


It’s a pleasure to welcome Jaye Ford to the blog this month. Jaye’s first novel, Beyond Fear, was published in 2011, and she is about to publish her fourth (yes, fourth!) book, Already Dead. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jaye’s answers to my questions, and I defy you not to want to pick up her book after you’ve read this blurb:

Journalist Miranda Jack is finally attempting to move on from the death of her husband by relocating up the coast with her young daughter, Zoe. Then a single event changes everything.

On a Monday afternoon as she waits at traffic lights, a stranger jumps into her car and points a gun at her chest.

Forced to drive at high speed up the motorway, Miranda listens to the frantic, paranoid rants of Brendan Walsh, a man who claims he’s being chased and that they’re both now running for their lives.

Two hours later her ordeal is over in the most shocking fashion. Miranda is safe but she can’t simply walk away – not without knowing the truth about that terrifying drive.

As a journalist Miranda has always asked questions. But this time the questions are dangerous – and the answers might get her killed . . . 

Jaye Ford Author ImageCongratulations, Jaye, on the publication of Already Dead. The blurb is terrific  – how did you come up with the idea for the story?

Like all my books, Already Dead is a compilation of ideas.

The main character, Miranda Jack, had been percolating for years as someone who investigates but who isn’t an investigator, who has skills for asking questions but no professional reason to get involved, who is pulled in by her circumstances – and who would bring to life my own fondness for asking too many questions.

I had seen a lot of media coverage about soldiers with PTSD and wanted to recognise some of the battles they face at home, as well as explore some of the issues within a crime setting.

The carjacking that begins the book came from a real incident – a woman was carjacked at knifepoint near where I live a few years ago. While I watched the helicopters overhead and listened to the sirens of the police chase, I was thinking, how awful, but also what is that like? – which is the place most of my stories start.

Your books are all described as suspense thrillers. Do they have any recurring common themes, and did you always plan to write in this genre?

I love to write about ordinary women thrust into danger who must find the strength of will to survive. That theme is in all my books as a kind of analogy – a scary, dramatic one – of the tough times in our lives and what it can take to dig deep enough.

I also cast women as the ‘hero’, giving them a chance to do all the fun running and hitting and brandishing of weapons. I was tired of reading about women that were either waiting to be rescued by the cool guy or playing his sidekick. I also wanted to write about women like me (mothers, friends, colleagues, neighbours) so my stories are often about why and how an average woman might be pushed to doing that.

I’d always wanted to write a thriller but my first attempts at a full novel were in romance – I thought it would be easier to get published and I didn’t think I had a calculating enough brain to write crime. But after about seven years of not getting published, I decided it was possible I was going to be the only person who ever read my own words so I might as well have a go at the book I really wanted to write. That was my first published novel, Beyond Fear, and the lesson in that was to write what I want to read. By the way, one of my romantic comedies was later published (Just Breathe by Janette Paul).


Which other writers inspire you?

Nicci French for being queen of the ‘every woman’ thriller. Michael Robotham for putting heart in the psychological thriller. Lee Child for writing great action and justifying a tough-man’s rules. Wendy James for using women and their domestic lives for edgy crime stories. And Raymond Chandler for just being cool.


Already Dead Cover ImageAlready Dead is your fourth novel in about as many years. Have you hit on any secrets that help you write to a deadline?

The twelve month deadline is hard work and real life has a habit of whittling back the time even more – I have children in far-away cities and aging parents who need me around. I spend most of my year writing the first draft, leaving about a month for rewrites, and trying not to panic about time running out.

I’m not sure there’s any way to making the writing part easier. Stories are complex, messy, intricate things – and they should be, it’s what makes good fiction. But after experiencing the creative process over a few projects, I think I’m getting better at dealing with the ebb and flow, and not panicking about it – too much!

I try to remind myself that the beginning is always slow, the word rate increases in the back quarter, the ending often writes itself … and that there is always a black hole when the story falls apart.

That sense of ‘Oh my God, I’ve only got that long’, can really kill the creativity so I also try to keep to my writing schedule as much as possible, not beating myself up if I don’t get down a thousand words in a day but not slacking off either if I double it.

The rest is just tying myself to a chair and writing – that seems to work.


When you reach a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I try to figure out what the problem is – whether it’s with me or the story. Usually it’s me so I start there. I have a tendency to sit at my desk too long and sometimes I just need a break, so I go for a walk or do something non-writerish for a while. If I’m having trouble concentrating and it goes on for a while, I try a new work routine to freshen up the creative process – exercising at different times of the day, writing at a café or somewhere else in the house, finding small jobs to break up my time at the computer.

If that doesn’t help, I figure it’s a problem with the story. Sometimes it’s a quick fix to go back over my character motivations and conflicts and straighten it up. Other times it’s the ‘black hole’ and I realize a major element of the story has fallen apart.

The black hole used to freak me out but I know now to just keep picking at it, both on the screen and in my head. I write extra bits and pieces to sort through ideas, like character backstories and the secrets I’m keeping from readers, and just keep drafting with new dialogue or action. I also keep scenes going around and around in my head when I’m not at my desk, letting my mind find different pathways. Mindless activity is great for that – chopping vegetables, ironing, walking, driving. The process has taken weeks at times, but, man, it feels great when a ladder is finally chucked down the hole and I can climb my way out.


Now that Already Dead is about to hit the shelves, are you working on another book?

Yes! I’ve been signed by Random House to write my fifth thriller, called Dead Sleep and scheduled for release in September next year. It’s about a woman who keeps dreaming about a man breaking into her apartment. She’s trying to start her life over and learning that she can change surroundings but she can’t change herself.

It’s a bit of a crazy time really. I finally get to talk to readers about Already Dead but my brain has already moved on to another story. I feel like I need two heads.


What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

My kids. Possibly it’s a little strange now that they’re in their 20’s but they both moved out of home not all that long ago and it’s great seeing their very different paths to independence. My son has been travelling the world for almost two years and I’ve been able to live vicariously through him and use him as an excuse to go to Europe twice. He’s coming home soon and bringing a keepsake from Germany – his lovely girlfriend! My daughter moved to Melbourne at the beginning of the year with plans to make lots of friends and get a cool job in the city – both of which she’s done!


I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you have loved in the past year.

The Lost Girls by Wendy James. Wendy is a friend and I got to hear some of the story as it was being written but it did nothing to dampen the experience of reading it. It’s engaging and intriguing to the end, it made me feel for every character and is just beautifully written.


And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I read mostly crime, both because it’s my job and I like it. At the moment, I’m looking forward to reading Michael Robotham’s new book, Life or Death. I’ve also got Sue Grafton’s last installment to her alphabet series, W is for Wasted, waiting for me. I enjoy trying new authors but it’s always great to go back to the ones I know and love.


Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

For information about me and my books, go to my website at: www.jayefordauthor.com

To see what I’m writing and doing, go to my author Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/JayeFordauthor


Win a copy of Already Dead and the suspense 3-in-1 Secrets and Lies, which includes Jaye’s first novel Beyond Fear, and my own Come Back to Me, along with Caroline Overington’s I Came to Say Goodbye. All you have to do is make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter, and leave us a comment below telling us which book you are looking forward to reading next. The winner will be announced on 1st September 2014. Best of luck!



DawnBarkerHeadshotWelcome to a very special July interview with fellow WA writer Dawn Barker. I first met Dawn at the Perth Writers Festival eighteen months ago when she had just published her debut novel Fractured. I thought I was doing well at the time, managing to write with one preschooler – but that’s nothing on Dawn, who produced her first book with three young children at home!  Now we talk often, as we are lucky enough to be part of the same supportive writing group, which also includes Annabel Smith, Natasha Lester, Amanda Curtin and Emma Chapman. It’s a real pleasure championing each other to the finish line and giving support where we can along the way. Therefore I feel like a very proud soul sister when I say congratulations on the release of Let Her Go, and welcome to the blog, Dawn!

Let Her Go is your latest novel. What inspired you to write it?

I first thought about writing Let Her Go after watching a documentary about a woman with a medical illness who used a surrogate mother to have a child. In the show, her husband was very much in the background, and when the surrogate mother attended the child’s first birthday party, it was clear that she was still very much attached to the child she had carried. There was something in the body language of both women that made me wonder how they both really felt, behind their smiles.

9780733632228-196x300I then heard more and more about the advances in fertility treatment, and read stories in magazines about people buying eggs and embryos overseas, then paying women to carry the children for them. Around the same time, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and saw that the world she imagined in a speculative fiction novel – where an underclass of women are used for reproductive purposes – is not that far removed from the one we live in now.

I personally felt conflicted: being a mother myself, I would never deny anyone the right to experience the joy of being a parent, but there are ethical issues to consider. I wanted to write Let Her Go to explore my own feelings about this complex issue.

And now that Let Her Go is hitting the shelves, are you working on a new novel?

I should be! I find it difficult to start working on a new project when I’m still involved with another, and with Let Her Go hitting the shelves, I do still spend a lot of time thinking about it and talking about it as people read it. So, once everything settles down in the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to locking myself away and starting the third novel!

Within your writing, are you aware of any common themes, and why do you think they recur in your stories?

I like to write about ethically complex issues that we face today, issues that make me feel uncomfortable, and often issues where I don’t know where I really stand. With my background as a psychiatrist, I am inevitably drawn to write about mental health and complex family dynamics, whether I mean to or not!

Tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

From a practical point of view, I love the flexibility of the job. I have three young children and I love that I can still be with them when they need me, and don’t miss out on all the small, but important things, like school excursions and being there every day for them. But what I’ve loved most about writing is being able to connect with other people who love books and stories as much as me: other writers, and of course, readers. I feel incredible flattered and privileged to be able to talk at an event with readers who have read and thought about my words and characters!

If you could have a tete a tete with any writer in the world and quiz them on their writing secrets, who would you choose and why?

It would have to be with one of my favourite writers, Lionel Shriver. I love her bravery in tackling big social issues in fiction, and how she manages to do that without losing the vital aspect of a good read: a gripping plot. I was so excited to see her talk several times this year at the Perth Writers Festival, but was too star-struck to go and meet her!

16269642When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I’m pretty disciplined when I start writing a new project – I have to be, with three children and a day job! I set myself a daily word limit and stick to it, no matter what. If I get stuck in the scene that I’m writing, I’ll just switch to another, or even just describe a setting that my characters might be in, just to keep the word count moving forwards. I also like to run, and I often find that when I’m concentrating on the physical discomfort of running, ideas will come to me and I can solve my writing problems!

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I don’t have much time for anything other than the family, work and writing! But I am training for my first half marathon at the moment and while I’m not sure I feel completely passionate about it, it certainly takes up a lot of my physical and emotional time!

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

I’ve just read and loved Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You. It’s about a female veteran who returns from Iraq to her small hometown in the USA. Through her, the reader sees some of the reasons – often economic – why people sign up for the armed forces, and the mental health effects of combat. It reminded me a lot of another brilliant book, Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds.

 And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I have such a big pile of books waiting to be read! I’m hoping to get to some that have been recommended to me: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Humans by Matt Haig and Kevin Powers’ poetry A Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting. Locally, I’m excited about the release of Annabel Smith’s The Ark which looks so unique – a story told though multimedia, including a smartphone app! I love to see how people are redefining traditional storytelling.

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

I love to hear from readers. People can find me through my websiteFacebook, or on Twitter @drdawnbarker.

Thank you, Dawn, it’s been a pleasure.


Want to win LET HER GO? My newsletter subscribers can enter the draw to win a copy of Dawn’s new release. Simply leave a comment on this post telling us who your favourite Australian female writer is, and subscribe to my newsletter here


9780733632228-196x300Last year I joined forces with five other authors to bring you a series of blog posts on different aspects of our writing lives. Today we’re teaming up again to celebrate the release of Dawn Barker’s new book, Let Her Go, and to talk about our experiences of writing second novels.

Back in the days when I worked for a major London publishing house, ‘second novel syndrome’ was a well-known phenomenon. Authors would often sign two-book contracts based on the delivery of an outstanding debut novel, and publishers would wait with tightly held breath for the delivery of the subsequent book. There was one question on their minds: was this author a one-hit wonder or a career novelist? Upon delivery, the first reading would be a hasty and tense affair, and I can still remember the looks of relief on a publisher’s face if their investment was ratified, and the agony if it wasn’t.

Years later, my first ‘two book’ publishing contract coincided with my first baby. As a result, I ended up writing most of Beneath the Shadows in the first six months of my daughter’s life. If I’d thought second book syndrome was scary, it had nothing on first-time motherhood! It was a rather intense ride, not helped by the fact this was my first experience of writing to a publisher’s deadline, with a publication date already penned in before the first draft was complete.

However, I was lucky in that my second novel was actually my first. I had begun writing Beneath the Shadows some years before Come Back to Me, and I already had about twenty thousand words before my new idea took over. Therefore, I had a good foundation on which to build when I returned to this ‘second’ book.

BENEATH THE SHADOWSBeing aware of the curse of the second novel also did me a few favours. It made me work harder from the get-go to try to avoid the pitfalls. By then I was aware that I was writing for a readership, and that I was entering a new realm where people could begin to compare my work and decide if I was progressing or stagnating. However, Beneath the Shadows brought fresh experiments in plot, structure and narrative goals, and I found the experience of writing it as exhilarating and excruciating as every other book.

Now that I’m working on the final part of my fourth novel, I realise that no book will ever be easy for me to write, and nor should they be. If I get too comfortable I take it as a warning sign that something is going wrong. The aim is always to craft a world so compelling that it leaps from my mind onto the page and rebounds into the imagination of the reader.  In the end, every story is a fresh chance and a new challenge.

Many congratulations, Dawn, on the release of Let Her Go. You have worked so hard and deserve every moment of celebration. I, for one, cannot wait to read it.

Find out more about my fellow writers’ experiences of producing their second novels:

Dawn Barker: …magical things happened while writing this book that weren’t so prominent with my first. The writing process felt more natural, more organic.

Amanda Curtin: I wasn’t conscious then of specific ‘second novel’ pressure; I was too busy coming to grips with what I was trying to do conceptually and narratively with Elemental

Annabel Smith: People always talk about how difficult it is to get a debut novel published; no one ever talks about how difficult it is with a second. But it was really really difficult.

Emma Chapman: I feel terribly lucky to have the opportunity to share my work and get feedback from qualified, trusted members of the publishing industry.



9780857982919There’s a new book in the shops this month that gives you three nail-biting suspense stories for the price of one, and it includes my very own Come Back to Me. Find it in all good ANZ bookstores and online at Booktopia, Bookworld, The Nile, or your online e-tailer of choice!col-md-2