Q & A with Author Dawn Barker

What was the inspiration behind Let Her Go?

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.

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.

Were there any writers or books that influenced Let Her Go in terms of style/theme/form etc?

Around the same time as I saw the documentary that I mentioned above, 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.

Another book that was an inspiration was David Vann’s brilliant Caribou Island. While this is set in Alaska, a long way from Western Australia, Vann is an expert at using landscape – in this case an island – to increase the intensity between characters. I loved the idea of an island being both an escape, and a prison. This gave me the idea to set the book partly on Rottnest Island. Robert Drewe’s  The Drowner, a fictionalized account of the life of CY O Connor, whose story appears in the background of Let Her Go, was really useful too.

The other big influence was the biblical story of the Judgement of Solomon where highlighted the concept of two women trying to claim a child, and whether you would rather give one up, or metaphorically split a child in two.

What research did you have to do for Let Her Go and how did you go about it?

I don’t like to research at all in my first draft, as for me, the first draft is about the characters and the ‘story’ and I find it too easy to get distracted by researching minor details and trying to make the characters fit in with facts. So my first draft came only from me imagining how it would feel to be the woman on either side of a surrogacy arrangement.

For my second and subsequent drafts, I researched some legal surrogacy issues by reading court transcripts, meeting with the director of a surrogacy clinic, and reading online forums written by both surrogates, and children of surrogates.

This research was one of the reasons why I included an adolescent character in Let Her Go: I read blogs of teenagers who were searching for their identity and feeling confused and betrayed by the legal – and often commercial – arrangements of their birth. I wanted to make sure that in my novel, as in life, we remember that all babies will grow into young adults who will want to know where they came from.

How did Let Her Go come to be published?

I was lucky enough to have a contract with Hachette Australia for a second novel despite it being unwritten at the time! It was a very different process to that of writing my debut novel, as with Fractured there was never any time pressure other than that which I put on myself! With Let Her Go, I knew I had to get it written. While this caused some sleepless nights, I also found that having a deadline inspired me to keep writing every day. With three young children, I do need some pressure to make sure that I make time to write.

Who are your writing influences?

I love the work of Lionel Shriver, particularly how she writes about contemporary social issues in a well-plotted, psychologically complex way. I love how never shies away from dark and confronting situations because she writes about the real world, and I hope I do too. Other writers whose work influences me include Caroline Overington, Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty.

What are you working on now?

I’m ready to start writing my third novel – I have done the background reading for the major themes, and have a pretty good idea of my characters, but I found it difficult to concentrate on it while I waited for the release of Let Her Go. Once things settle down over the next few weeks, I hope to lock myself away and start writing!

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Dr Dawn Barker is a child psychiatrist and author. Her debut novel, Fractured, was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s manuscript development competition and published in 2013. She has published non-fiction articles/features on parenting and psychiatry for various magazines and websites, including Mamamia.com, Essential Baby, Quartz.com, Artlink and the Medical Journal of Australia.

She blogs at authordawnbarker.com/

 

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