An Interview with Dawn Barker

Dawn-Frac

I’m very lucky to have as a guest on my blog author Dawn Barker. Dawn’s first book, Fractured, was released this month and is published by Hachette Australia. Like myself, Chris Currie, Favel Parrett, Simon Groth, Edwina Shaw and many other writers, Dawn is an alumnus of the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program and I was interested to hear about her experience.

Dawn’s day job is Child Psychiatrist, demanding and complex work, and she writes in the evenings as well as looks after her family of three very young children – an incredible achievement given many women (me, for one), struggle to create a bowl of cereal when surrounded by babies and infants, let alone create a book.

What drew you to writing?

I’ve been interested in stories and writing for as long as I can remember, since I co-wrote a ‘Famous Five’ inspired novel with my pen pal at the age of seven! I loved English at school, and was close to studying literature at university, but in the end chose medicine instead. I’m glad I did as I think the two subjects are very complimentary and I’ve been able to use my experiences as a doctor to inform my writing.

Tell us about your experience writing your first novel—what challenges and hurdles did you face?

I started writing ‘Fractured’ when my first baby was three months old. I wrote when my baby slept, and finished the initial draft quite quickly. Editing it, however, was another matter! While writing the first draft, I kept telling myself to keep writing, that I could tidy things up later…and in my second draft I had to do just that! I found it most challenging to work out the structure of the story. I wrote ‘Fractured’ in a linear fashion to begin with, but I knew it didn’t work. I then spent many hours with index cards, blu tac, highlighter pens, and a big blank wall, moving scenes around into the structure that it is today. I have also had two other children since I started ‘Fractured’, and so overall the biggest challenge for me has been finding the time to write with three very young children at home!

Tell us about your book

‘Fractured’ tells the story of an ordinary family whose lives are changed forever by the tragic events of one particular day. In the novel, we meet a young couple, Tony and Anna, who’ve recently had their first child, a baby boy called Jack. Tony has been worried about Anna’s emotional state, but it’s not until he gets a phone call from his mother to tell him that she and Jack have gone missing that he realises the terrible implications of Anna’s behaviour. It deals with themes of mental illness, parenting and family relationships.

Why did you decide to enter the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program?

I entered the competition when I was on the second draft of ‘Fractured’, although my first fifty pages (those I had to send in with my entry) were as good as I could make them. I knew how difficult it was to find an agent and publisher, and was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of turning my rough manuscript into a polished novel – so this programme sounded perfect. It was a far less intimidating way of getting an introduction to the publishing world.

How did you hear about the program?

I first heard about it though the QWC. I was living in Brisbane when I started writing ‘Fractured’, and was completing their Year of the Novel course online.

How did the program assist you to improve and develop your manuscript?

In many ways, the best part of the programme for me was the confidence that it gave me, both in my manuscript and the idea of myself as a writer. It was a wonderful boost to my self-confidence and in many ways felt more significant than the day Hachette offered to publish the book! As part of the programme, I had individual time with my publisher, Vanessa Radnidge, who gave me some excellent feedback, and I went away from the programme knowing exactly what I needed to do to make it better.

How did the program assist your professional development as an author?

It gave me a fantastic insight into the publishing industry, as we had sessions with a literary agent, publisher, writer and a bookseller. I was lucky enough to meet my agent through the programme and, of course, my publisher. Having worked with Hachette from the very early stages of the novel until the end has been fantastic. I also met a lovely group of writers, many of whom are now published, and that has given me a wonderful support network as a new author.

The book is out there now at all good bookshops, both real and online, how do you feel?

It’s an amazing – and surreal – feeling! The first time I saw it for sale was in the Perth Writers Festival bookshop, a few days before general release. I made sure my husband took lots of photos! I had a wonderful experience of witnessing the first ever sale of the book to another author (though I didn’t know that at the time). In the following week I went to lots of bookshops around Perth and saw gorgeous window displays – I never imagined my book would be in the front window of major bookshops! While I’m amazed and overwhelmed, I’m also anxious as reviews start to come in!

How are you promoting it and what are your thoughts on the whole ‘writer platform’ thing?

One of the benefits of being published the traditional way, through a large publisher like Hachette, is that I have a team behind me to help promote the book. I know there are some self-published authors out there who do very well, but I know as a writer that I’m not an expert in marketing and publicity! I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a few writers’ festivals this year, which is a great way to meet other authors and readers. ‘Fractured’ will also reviewed by various magazines, newspapers and websites, and I’ve been interviewed in other publications and media too. Locally, I’m doing events at bookshops, libraries, and an arts centre.

The author platform is interesting. I have the lot: a website, twitter account and facebook page. I started my blog long before I was published, and wrote mainly about psychiatry and parenting – this has perhaps been my ‘platform’. As a writer, I enjoy the contact that social media gives me with booksellers, publishers, writers and readers so I feel that I benefit from it personally. It does seem that most authors now have such a presence, though who knows if it actually benefits their career. The potential downside is the distraction – it’s very easy to waste a lot of time on the internet!

Any advice for new writers?

My advice is nothing new, but if you want to be a writer, you have to write! Treat it like a job, write every day, and make sure your manuscript is the best it can be before you send it out to agents and publishers as you only get one chance. Given my own experience, I’m a big fan of publishers’ manuscript development programmes (there are a few around) – they’re a great way to encourage new writing and a chance to learn more about the industry and your own writing.

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