In her mid-year overview, Yvonne Perkins unveiled the most popular books in this year’s challenge, so far. In the top spot was Dawn Barker‘s Fractured.
Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn’t coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They’d come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?
But Anna hasn’t been herself since. One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, he thought, she’s just adjusting. He was busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And he realises that something is really wrong…
In this interview, Dawn shares how Fractured came to be published, and gives us a peek behind the curtains at her daily life as a writer, as well as her favourite books from the AWW Challenge:
Q. Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?
My household wasn’t overly bookish when I was growing up, but my mum read us a bedtime story every single night, a ritual I do continue with my own children. I was always a big reader though. I remember going on my weekly trip to the library with my grandma (who recently told me that she had always wanted to be a writer!) and taking out as many books as I could on my library card, then hurrying home to read them by torchlight when I was meant to be asleep. I remember looking at the ‘teenage’ shelf in the library and realising that I’d read practically every one, and tiptoeing over to the adult shelves and asking grandma to take some books out for me on her card!
Q. When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
I started writing some non-fiction when I was working as a junior doctor, but I didn’t start writing fiction until my first child was three months old – almost four years ago. That was when I began writing Fractured. I had wanted to write a novel – that novel – for years, but always found excuses not to. When I found myself at home with a young baby, I decided it was the time to give myself the intellectual stimulation and challenge. When my daughter napped, I would hurry to my computer to write my daily 500 words. It was a great way to switch off from being a new mum.
Q. How did Fractured come to be published?
When I had finished the second draft of Fractured, I entered it into the 2010 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Programme and was lucky enough to be one of seven writers chosen to participate. Publication was not guaranteed, but I was lucky enough to meet my wonderful publisher, Vanessa Radnidge, and she invited me to resubmit the manuscript after some revisions. I did, and Hachette then offered to publish it. It really was a dream run to publication, and I know it’s not that straightforward for most new writers.
Q. What research did you have to do for Fractured and how did you go about it?
I was lucky enough to have done most of the ‘research’ for Fractured through my medical training and work in psychiatry. This book is fiction, and in no way based on any real patients, but having studied postnatal mental illness, and having worked with thousands of patients with mental health problems, I was confident about the psychiatric aspects of the book. I did have to do a fair bit of legal research however, and for that, I trawled through court transcripts from the Supreme Court of NSW, and had lots of conversations with a lawyer and a police officer.
Q. Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to Fractured?
Most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive, and I’ve been overwhelmed by readers who have contacted me to tell me that I have written a story that could have been theirs, as they have a history of postnatal depression or psychosis in themselves or their family. The most touching response was when a woman in her eighties came up to me after I talked at a local library. She told me of her own experiences as a young woman with postnatal depression, when she was ‘locked up’ in an institution. She said that ‘it (postnatal mental illness) didn’t exist in those days’. She was crying, and I was too: of course mental illness existed! That feedback really exemplifies a big part of my motivation for writing Fractured: to open up conversations about mental illness, to make people realise that it can happen to any of us, and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Q. You work as a psychiatrist as well as a writer. How does that affect your writing, and vice versa?
I’m currently not working in psychiatry as I have three very young children at home, but I do hope to soon be able to combine being a writer, a psychiatrist and a mum! I think that psychiatry and writing really help inform the practice of the other. In medical practice, I see my patients for only a short time, in a clinical setting, but they go home to families and lives outside of my office, and writing Fractured has helped to appreciate that. My training in psychiatry has, I hope, helped me to think about the origins of personality and character, the effect of stresses and trauma on a person, and how people work through these – all the elements of a novel.
Q. What are your writing habits? Where do you write? What does a typical day look like for you?
I wish I could be stricter about my writing schedule, but as anyone with children will know, things don’t always go to plan! Only one of my children is at (part-time) school so I am home with the younger ones full time. Generally, I have a babysitter two mornings a week, and in those times I go to my local library, buy a large coffee, and try to write for 3 hours. At home, while the children are occupied, I work on the ‘business’ side of being an author: emails, social media, finances etc. Until recently, I also wrote while the children had an afternoon nap, but sadly, they have just given that up! I’m experimenting at the moment with more childcare, but it’s hard to find the balance between giving enough time to the children, and myself and writing. If I’m desperate, I write in the evenings once they’re in bed, or get up very early to fit in an hour or two before they wake!
Q. What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I like exercising, so when I go for a run, it’s a nice time to think about my creative problems – solutions often become obvious. Another thing I like to do is to research around the subject I’m writing about: read a novel with a similar theme, listen to a podcast, watch a film, visit a location. That’s what I did recently with my current work in progress, and I found so may little things to add into the book, links and ideas that seemed to come from nowhere. That’s a great feeling.
Q. What are you working on now?
I’m working on my second novel, which will also be published by Hachette Australia in mid 2014. I won’t give away too much as it’s still in the early stages, but essentially, it deals with similar themes to Fractured: parenting, mental health, mother-infant attachment, and the ethical challenges we face.
Q. What’s the best book you’ve read for the AWW Challenge?
I just went back and looked at my Goodreads page and was really happy to see that this year I’ve already read 18 books by Australian Women Writers! It’s so hard to pick one, so I’ll mention the two most recent books that I’ve loved and given five stars to: Amanda Curtin’s Elemental and Hannah Richell’s The Shadow Year. I do know both of those writers and I’m trying not to be biased! Looking back through my list, I realise that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so many books, all very different! I look forward to reading much more writing by Australian women (and men!).
Your turn: Got a question you’d love Dawn to answer? Why not put it in the comments.
Dr Dawn Barker is a Child Psychiatrist. She grew up in Scotland, and studied Medicine at Aberdeen University. In 2001 she moved to Australia, completed her psychiatric training and began writing.
Dawn began writing Fractured in 2009 while living in Brisbane shortly after the birth of her first child. In 2010, the novel was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s manuscript development programme and it was published in March 2013 by Hachette Australia.
Dawn lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband and three young children.
Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. She has had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University.
Thanks so much, Elizabeth and Annabel, and to those who kindly gave their time to read and review Fractured! The AWW challenge is a fabulous initiative!
Thanks! Dawn was a great interviewee – very generous with her responses.