Author Visit: Dawn Barker

Fun times, peeps, fun times! Grab yourself a glass of something bubbly – because the sun is shining where I am and it’s a Bank Holiday weekend so why would you not; I’ve already been on the bucks fizz this morning – and make yourself comfortable because today I’m chatting with the lovely Dawn Barker about her novel Let Her Go, and writing in general.

Before we get started, let’s warm up with a quick fire round. This is always my favourite part.

Ready, steady, GO:

  1. Coffee, tea or…? Gin (Hendricks) and tonic (elderflower!) [a woman after my own heart!]
  1. Favourite film?          The English Patient
  1. Favourite book?        We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  1. Summer or winter? Winter (I live in Australia – summer is too hot for my Scottish skin!)
  1. Favourite Colour?    Blue
  1. Last thing you ate? Ciabatta with vegemite for breakfast
  1. Dream holiday destination? An Antarctica cruise
  1. If you could jump to any point in history, who would you have dinner with? Marie Curie
  1. How do you like your steak? Medium rare
  1. What are your pet peeves?  Whinging! I’m a big believer is solving problems and being positive and proactive.

I do love that bit! Anyway, on to the proper bookish fun stuff!

Let’s get started.

Firstly, I’ve read Let Her Go but for anyone who’s yet to get acquainted with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

First of all, thanks for having me! I had fun with those quick questions above!

Let Her Go is my second novel, but my first to be published in the UK with Canelo!

It’s the story of two sisters, Zoe and Nadia, one of whom decides to act as a surrogate for the other. The story follows the journey through each character’s eyes, and also though the child born of this arrangement, Louise, as they all have to deal with the psychological aftermath of their decisions.

I first thought about writing Let Her Go after watching a documentary about a woman who used a surrogate mother to have a child. In the show, when the surrogate mother attended the child’s first birthday party, she appeared to be very 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 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.

The whole premise of the book, the way you get to see both Zoe and Nadia’s points of view as well as seeing what life is like for Louise as a teenager and the way you weave the three stories together is clever and effective. Where did the idea come from?

It was important for me to have the perspectives of both Zoe and Nadia in this novel. The issue of surrogacy is not one sided, and there are no heroes and villains as there are in some novels. I wanted the reader to hear from both of them, to empathise and like and dislike them as much as we would with any real person.

I didn’t have the thread of Louise’s story until about my third draft of Let Her Go. I had been reading the blog of a child born in the US to a surrogate, and he wrote about he felt powerless and that he had no voice. It then occurred to me that the third important person in this story – Louise - didn’t have a voice either, and I felt that her life was, in many ways, more important that the others’. I found her character very easy to write – I liked her, and I felt that her story was the simplest in many ways – she was a child, and was powerless until she found a way to express her feelings.

The relationship you painted between Zoe and Nadia felt really honest to me, and you seemed to really get how relationships between siblings – even step-siblings – work. Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you close?

I do have siblings: a brother, and a half-brother and half-sister. We are reasonably close though given the age difference between myself and my half-siblings, and the fact they still live in Scotland and I live in Australia, we are not as close as I’d like.
My brother moved to Australia though and that’s fantastic.

Families are complicated, and that why I like to write about them. In my professional job, as a child psychiatrist, I work with families every day and see how complex those relationships are. I wanted to capture the sense of family duty and love versus our selfish needs and desires as individuals.

Who did you find easiest to write, Nadia or Zoe?

It was an interesting process, writing from both points of view. Initially, I thought I was on Zoe’s ‘side’ – she was the character I sympathised with most, and Nadia was the villain of the novel. However, as I wrote Nadia’s scenes, I found myself cheering her on in a way. Perhaps it was because I could put myself in her shoes more than Zoe’s. Having gone through three pregnancies of my own, I understood how much Nadia would have bonded to her child by the very act of carrying the pregnancy

If Let Her Go was a DVD what would the special features be - are there any scenes that ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that you can share?

Oh, there was so much cut out of it! I write big first drafts, with all sorts of threads in it, and then start a new document called ‘deleted bits’ – I always dream that I’ll use those words in another project but have never even gone back to look at them. And I can’t even bring myself to go back to them now – once a novel is finished, I like to pack it away. There are always ways that it could have been improved, but when it’s done, its done, and I don’t want to create doubt by revisiting it!

Special features might include some of the research: the interviews I did with three women who had been surrogates, interviews with surrogacy clinics, the case law from the Supreme Court that I based this story on, and images of the locations around Western Australia where the book was set including the stunning Rottnest Island.

Tell us about how you write: do you prefer a loud room or a quiet room; is your manuscript typed or handwritten, do you write during set hours or as the word comes, and at home or some place else? What works best?

I’m pretty disciplined when I start writing a new project - I have to be, with three children and a day job as a psychiatrist! 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. However, I have to work around my job and family, and young children have no respect for protected writing time!
I find it harder to redraft books as I need some time to get into the momentum of the story and hold pieces of it in my mind as I move things around, deleting and adding scenes and chapters. At the moment I try to write during the day (in term time) on two days a week, while my children are at school. I write from home now so that when I’m having a break, I can do the things that need to be done in a family, like hanging washing and waiting for tradesmen! I used to always write in my local library but at the moment, I’m trying to cut out the travel time and use it to write instead!

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m on the second draft of my third novel, which will hopefully be released in 2018. It’s not finished enough yet to be able to talk about, and I still don’t even have a title but hopefully it all comes together before the end of the year!

What’s the best writing tip you’ve been given?

‘You can’t edit nothing’!  

When I first started writing I spent (wasted!) so much time dreaming about how it would feel to have written a novel, but I now understand that you must get the words on the page. They will probably be terrible words and paragraphs and chapters, but it’s only through actually writing that you can write a book.

& because I’m always on the look out for new book recommendations, what are you reading right now?

I’ve just started Jock Serong’s On the Java Ridge – I loved his last book, The Rules of Backyard Cricket which, despite the title, was not really about cricket. It was a crime novel set around the relationship between two brothers, who happened to be cricketers!

& what’s the best book you’ve read this year?

I’ve just checked my Goodreads page to see what I’ve read this year – and I think for me, it was The Power, by Naomi Alderman. There are others that I loved at the time, but this is the book that has stayed with me and that I still think about it and recommend to friends.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog today! I love to hear from readers so if there are any questions, please get in touch through my website,, Facebook, or Twitter @drdawnbarker.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Dawn! 

Let Her Go is available now, and is currently only 99p on Kindle; a bargain and a good read, what are you even waiting for!?