New website

You may have noticed if you’ve visited the blog recently that I’ve moved the blog over to my new website: authordawnbarker.com

I’m trying to transfer my subscribers/followers over to the new blog but at this point I’m not sure if it’s possible, so please visit the new website and resubscribe if you’d like to continue to follow this blog.

Thanks, and hopefully see you on the new website!



The copy edit

I was very excited yesterday when another heavy, fat brown parcel arrived at my door from Hachette – the latest version of my manuscript with copy editing notes. I immediately opened it to find my manuscript, notes from the editors, and a guide to the copyediting symbols to help me decipher the notes!

Unlike the structural edit, which looked at big picture issues around my plot and characters, the copy edit is a detailed look at the finer points: sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, points of view, and a closer look at the text in terms of consistency.

While it looked incredibly daunting last night when I began to flick through the wad of pages, I can see that many of the hundreds of pencil marks relate to really simple things that I am happy to change. There are a few details to add and more to check, but overall, it’s not a rewrite on the same way as a structural edit and I ho pe to tackle this page by page, paragraph by paragraph.

It’s another stage in the development of a novel, a stage that I am privileged to be at. With each step along the way, I can see the book evolving into the version that will be on the shelves (or virtual shelves for the e-book!) in March 2013.

I’ll also have a new website up soon.

Now I just need my three little ones to sleep so I can start editing!

This morning, I met with Matt Richell, the Sales & Marketing Director from Hodder and Headline (Hachette) while he was in Perth for a few days. We discussed books and publishing in general, and of course, my novel.

It sometimes feels that Perth is quite isolated form the publishing world, given that most of the major publishers, literary agents, writers’ festivals etc are based on the East Coast of Australia, although I do wonder if that sense of isolation is common to all writers. While I enjoy the solitary nature of writing, I also love to talk about books, and am really excited to be given access to the publishing world, full of people who are as passionate about stories and writing as I am.

Matt did give me one piece of advice (well, he gave me lots of advice but this piece stuck): celebrate each stage of the process. And I do.

When I started writing ‘Fractured’, the idea of it ever being published was something that seemed so distant and unlikely. Now I am actually going through the process of structural edits, copy edits, proofs, cover design…all those things are real and no longer mysterious processes. I still feel incredibly privileged to have a team of professionals working on the book with me and I’m really excited to see what the next few months hold as publication gets closer.

My book title…

Now that my third baby is eight weeks old, life is beginning to be a little more predictable and the urge to write has returned. It’s a great feeling when life around me nudges me towards potential stories. The last eight weeks has been busy for me, but the benefit is that I have lots of notes ready to turn into stories. When I get the time…

The good news is that the title of my novel has been finalised, and I’m thrilled to say that “Fractured” is due for release in March 2013 by Hachette Australia!

ImageLast night, while feeding my newborn baby at 3.30am, I finally finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I feel quite relieved in a way, as it’s been a long time coming. I bought the book when it first won the Man Booker prize in 2009. Everyone was raving about it; it had won a huge literary award; it dealt with a period of history that I love. It sounded like a book I would love.

I began to read it, but then I gave up. It just didn’t grab me; I found the writing quite dense and the huge cast of characters confusing. I made excuses then put it aside. A few months later, I tried again. Then I tried again for a third time. Finally, I put it back on my bookshelf along with other books that I have abandoned, unread: The Children’s Book by AS Byatt, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Street Sweeper by Eliot Perlman. These are all books that I should like, if reviews and prizes and hype are anything to go by, but I don’t.

When Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall was released recently, I found myself reaching for it on the bookshelf. I’d read interviews with Hilary Mantel, seen pictures of her at the Tower of London, the place of Anne Bolyn’s execution. The reviews have been fantastic and the hype was huge. But I put it back down again: it was ridiculous to buy a the sequel to a book that I had found unreadable. I was determined to give Wolf Hall one final chance. This time, I flicked to and from the list of characters and family trees at the front of the book, and I concentrated. This time, once I adapted to the voice of the book, it was compelling. It was still challenging, but I loved the style of writing, the complexities and density of the book and the politics and personality of the main character, Cromwell. I certainly didn’t find it an easy read, but I ended up enjoying and respecting it.

I never would have read Wolf Hall if it wasn’t for the accolades and the hype. I’m glad I did.

Thinking of hype and marketing brings me to another book…Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. I haven’t read this book, and I don’t intend to: it’s just not something that interests me. Friends of mine have bought this book, and many say it’s not very good, but they still read the second and third in the trilogy. Some say the ‘writing’ is poor, and the responses remind me of the reaction to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or even the Twilight trilogy. There seems to be a need to cut down an author who has sold squillions of books. Is it envy? Is it snobbery?

And so we’re left with the two sides of hype. First, the literary blockbuster that everyone says is brilliant, the thick novel that sits in prime position on our bookshelves, possible unread, because it’s a book that we should read and should like. Second, the book that sells millions and millions of copies on hype and word of mouth, but it’s a book that we feel the need to criticise and tear to pieces. Neither would be as successful without the publicity they have attracted.

With all the concern about the demise of books and the publishing industry, we should be celebrating anything that gets people into bookshops and into the pages of a novel. A flurry of new ‘erotica’ books is now on the shelves in the same way that vampire stories were popular after Twilight. This is good for authors, good for publishers, and good for bookshops. And of course, good for readers who may come across a book that gives them entertainment, escapism and even education.

Excuses, excuses…

I’ve been quiet here recently, but I do have some pretty good excuses I think…

A couple of weeks ago I sent back the structural edit of my manuscript to my publishers after a pretty intense month or so of working on it. While the process was all-consuming, I really enjoyed it. It was fantastic to have professional editorial feedback on the big picture of the story and suggestions on how to improve it. It was encouraging to see that most of the comments were around issues that I knew weren’t quite right anyway. There comes a point in writing when you lose objectivity – you know your story so well that it’s hard to step back from it and see how others view it. That was what was so useful about this process, and I hope the manuscript is better for it.

Since then, I have been preparing for the impending birth of my third baby, who is due very soon. So it may be quiet here for a little while longer until I emerge from the fog of life with a newborn…

I recently read The Good Father by Noah Hawley, a book that attracted me because of its focus on parenting and personality development.  The eponymous good father, Dr Paul Allen, is a rheumatologist whose son, Daniel, is accused of murdering a presidential candidate. As a child, Daniel’s parents divorced, and his father moved to another city and started another family: his presence in Daniel’s life was largely distant and sporadic. The novel deals with how this father tries to defend his son and find out the truth about what happened, while he also deals with his own guilt and sense of responsibility for the trajectory Daniel’s life has taken.

Like other books before it, perhaps most obviously ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, this premise brings the nature-nurture debate to light: are our characters born or made? How important is parenting when it comes to personality development, particularly if that personality is deemed to be disordered, or even criminal? Is a very common occurrence, such as parental separation, enough to make someone commit a crime when thousands of other people who experience the same event do not become criminals? These are the questions that the book wrestles with.

I find in my own work as a psychiatrist that there is an emphasis on motherhood and parenting. There are good reasons for this: mothers are usually the primary caregivers and attachment figures for children, and there is good evidence that maternal mental health has a profound effect on a child’s mental health and security. When a child is taken to see me, it is usually the mother who brings the child along, while the father is often at work. However, I always try to meet the father too as whatever their role, they are a huge part of a child’s life too. When I talk with young people, they talk about their fathers as much as they talk about their mothers, and sometimes it is the fact that fathers aren’t as present as they could be that preoccupies young people – and this is one of the central issues of Hawley’s The Good Father.

While reading the book, I found myself wondering what I would do – as a mother – in this situation. I wondered whether men and women, fathers and mothers, deal with stress and grief differently. We traditionally expect men to externalise their emotions, to need to do something, whereas women tend to internalise more, although these stereotypes are not necessarily true. This novel is interesting because it does focus on the role and emotions of a father: Daniel’s mother plays only a very small role in the book. While Dr Allen does experience many strong emotions, including guilt and denial, he also uses his usual coping mechanisms of intellectualisation and logic – useful in his medical role – to avoid dealing with his true emotional journey as he tries to find out what happened to his son. This is mirrored for the reader by some short chapters which are quite factual with little emotional content. We do however start to see more of the emotional impact on Dr Allen as he has to accept that there is a limit to what he can control, and it is at this point that the book really captured me and was genuinely moving.

I have written before about Donald Winnicot’s concept of the ‘good enough mother‘, a well known concept in psychology. Mothers do not have to perfect, they just have to be good enough at giving their child what he needs, and recognising that this changes over time. At some point, a mother has to stand back and allow their child to become independent, make choices, and learn from the consequences of them. I wonder if this theory is what Hawley had in mind when he chose to call his book The Good Father. Ultimately, Dr Allen is not so much concerned with whether he has been good enough, but in a much more black and white way, whether is he a good father. By inference, if he is not good, then he must have been bad. In the same way, Daniel must be either good or bad. This is what keeps the reader interested: will this father be able to reconcile with himself and accept doubt and shades of grey? Will we find out the truth about whether his son was good or bad? Or is he, like most people, somewhere in between?

You can find out more about the author at http://www.noahhawley.com

*This book was an Advance Reading Copy provided by Random House/DoubleDay (US publisher). The book is published in Australia by Hodder & Stoughton

I’m pretty fed up with reading stories in the papers from those who are either pro-midwife or anti-midwife, and as a result, anti-obstertrician or pro-obstetrician. When I wrote an article recently for Mamamia.com.au, I was shocked at the amount of comments it received, many of which were telling tales about ‘horrible midwives’, and others hitting back at these comments. Some were downright nasty, and others accused me of making up the story. Yes, my article talked about a particular interaction I had with a particular midwife whose views I didn’t agree with, but that wasn’t the point of writing it.

Recently, there has been huge debate in the media about homebirths, fuelled perhaps by the tragic death of a mother in Victoria while birthing at home (reported here in The Age) and Danni Minogue’s failed home birth (which required her to be transferred to hospital – reported here).

Recent laws passed here in Western Australia regarding recognition of the unborn baby as a legal life led to statements from the WA Australian Medical Association (WA AMA)* calling for the criminalisation of mothers who insist on a home birth despite prior knowledge of pregnancy complications (reported here). This week, there was a story highlighting the lack of obstetricians available in Western Australia and suggesting that more GPs (as well as midwives and specialists) need to be trained to help cope with the growing number of births each year. This led to letters in the papers suggesting that we don’t need more doctors, just midwives…you get the idea.

The two camps seem to be divided by their philosophy of birthing as either a ‘natural’ event or a ‘medical’ event. Those who feel it is ‘natural’ blame the medicalisation of birth for causing more intervention and resulting physical and emotional trauma.

The only thing that this polarisation does is risk alienating mothers, who are often confused and vulnerable about such a major life event as having a baby, and make them feel that they have to choose between the options and wave their flag firmly in one camp. It also splits staff in both the public and private health care sectors, causing overt and covert tension between ‘nurses’ and ‘doctors’ rather than encouraging cohesive team work and coordinated care for patients.

I am a doctor and of course recognise the value of medical intervention in pregnancy. Personally I would not choose to have a home birth, but I do not believe in unnecessary medical intervention either. I have had obstetric-led care for my three pregnancies, and have been very happy with it. However, I also see a midwife at every antenatal appointment, and my two labours so far have been largely managed by fantastic midwives. I have also had potentially serious medical complications which have required medical input, but have every confidence that even if I hadn’t chosen to be managed by an obstetrician, I would have been referred to one by my midwife when the complications became known.

Perhaps it is because I am medically trained that I believe that while childbirth is natural, it was previously a major cause of morbidity and mortality of newborns and mothers, and still is in many developing countries. In 2010, Australia had a maternal mortality rate of 5.1 deaths per 100000 live births, but the rate in Afghanistan was 1575.1/100000 and Malawi 1140.1/100000 (reference here). Our access to good, integrated midwifery and medical care makes childbirth as safe as it can be.

We need — and have — great midwives and great doctors who all work towards making our pregnancies and births as safe and enjoyable as possible. Let’s stop asking people to choose and be grateful that we have such easy access to both.

*While I have been a member of AMA WA, this statement does not represent my views.

Me on mamamia….

I had an article published today on mamamia.com.au – you can read it here.

I wrote the post not long after my first child was born – over two years ago now, and finally submitted it a few months ago to mamamia. It’s essentially the story of an experience I had on one night in hospital after my daughter was born, and my feelings of powerlessness after an interaction with one particular night nurse. It’s been really interesting reading the comments on the article, particulalry to hear about others’ experiences – good and bad. I do want to point out that I am definitely not ‘anti’ hospitals or ‘anti’ midwives at all, but rather I wanted to share one experience that I had to highlight how hard it can be to ‘speak up’ and follow your instincts when you are exhausted and vulnerable.

I have had lots of positive experiences too and with my second child, my experience was far better. The midwives caring for me at the moment with my third pregnancy are great and I am having my third child in a hospital too. With each child though, I am of course more experienced and secure with my plans and choices.

Do feel free to comment – it’s an important area to discuss I think…



I have just spent a lovely weekend at the Perth Writers Festival, which was held on the grounds of the University of Western Australia, a great spot. I’ve only ever been to the odd event here and there at writers’ festivals, but this time I went for the whole three days. There was a great mix of sessions from emerging and established authors, as well as some more thought provoking and ‘political’ sessions on religion, food and ethics.

The writing sessions I enjoyed most came courtesy of writers Rohan Wilson, Favel Parret, Janette Turner Hospital, Craig Sherbourne, Craig Silvey, Jo Nesbo, Johan Harstad, Charlotte Wood, John Birmingham, Eliot Perlman and Cate Kennedy.

I also went a particularly harrowing session by Nigel Brennan, a photojournalist who was kidnapped in Somalia, and a more delightful and hunger-inducing session on good food by Matthew Evans

The only down sides? The 15 minute wait for coffees, and the very rare Perth rainshower during Women of Letters which meant a move from the beautiful outdoor venue to a tent! And of course the amount of money I spent on a huge pile of new books…

If you went along, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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