Welcome 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.
I 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!
When 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?
Thank you, Dawn, it’s been a pleasure.