Tag Archives: Let Her Go

2, 2 and 2: Dawn Barker talks about Let Her Go

Welcome to a new series on looking up/looking down. While 3, 3 and 3 features creative people, 2, 2 and 2 narrows the focus to writers—and, specifically, writers with new books. It’s exciting to see so many excellent titles recently published and scheduled for the rest of 2014, and I unashamedly hope this series will give you a few to add to your ever-growing ‘to be read’ pile!

DawnBarkerHeadshotKicking off the series is writer friend Dawn Barker, whose first novel, Fractured, was one of Australia’s top-selling debut fiction titles in 2013.

Dawn is a psychiatrist, as well as an author. Her non-fiction has been published in various magazines and websites, such as Essential Baby, Mamamia, Quartz and the Medical Journal of Australia. She is originally from Scotland but now lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and three young children.

Dawn’s new novel, Let Her Go, is part thriller, part mystery, a gripping novel about family, secrets and ethical dilemmas. Here is the book blurb:

How far would you go to have a family?

What would you hide for someone you love?

Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter, holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.

Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone.

Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices they’ve made.  Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Dawn…


2 things that inspired my book

I read two books that were big inspirations for Let Her Go.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, while a completely different genre, was the first. I’d just watched a documentary about surrogacy where the body language of both the intended mother and the surrogate made me feel uncomfortable and I wondered what was going on behind their smiles. I then re-read The Handmaid’s Tale and saw that the world Atwood 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. I 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 other book that was an inspiration is 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 my book partly on Rottnest Island.

2 places connected with my book

As mentioned, there are many sections of Let Her Go set on Rottnest Island, an island 20 kilometres offshore from Perth. Those of us who live in Perth see it shimmering on the horizon every time we drive past the beach, and as well as being a beautiful place, it’s an island steeped in history and myth.

I first heard about C.Y. O’Connor beach when I was on a friend’s boat at Rottnest Island, and so the links between the settings were in my mind from the very beginning. As we sat in a beautiful bay, eating lunch, my friend told me about a quiet beach in South Fremantle where just offshore there was a bronze statue of a man called C.Y. O’Connor on his horse, and that as the tide came in, the statue was gradually submerged. I learned that this was the beach where the real C.Y. O’Connor, a brilliant engineer who designed ‘the golden pipeline’ (which carries water from Perth to the goldfields of Kalgoorlie), rode out in to the water and shot himself. I visited the eerie beach, and then read more about the myths surrounding his death and followed his story to various places in Western Australia which made it into Let Her Go: Mundaring Weir, Fremantle Harbour and Rottnest.

View across Geordie Bay, Rottnest

2 favourite scenes from my book

There are two scenes in Let Her Go that are my favourites, because they seemed to write themselves. It’s a great feeling as a writer when you can almost visualise a scene in your mind and all you have to do is transcribe it. These two sections ended up virtually unchanged from the first draft.

The first is the scene that is now the prologue. In it, we see a woman on the ferry to Rottnest Island, crying, fearful and clutching a baby to her chest. While writing it, I could taste the salt in the air, smell the fumes and feel the rolling nausea from the motion sickness of the ferry. I could sense the desperation in this character, Zoe, to hold on to the child and the fear that someone would come after her and the baby.

The other scene is one set at Mundaring Weir, a dam in the hills of Perth. The lake below the dam wall is still, milky, and voices and the calls of birds echo through the valley. While I have set two scenes here, my favourite involves one of the main characters, Nadia, making a huge decision about her family—a decision, and a place, that will follow all the characters forever.

Mundaring, view from the top of the weir

Mundaring, view from the top of the weir


Launch celebration: at the signing table

You can follow Dawn on:
her website
Twitter: @drdawnbarker
Let Her Go is in bookstores now and you can find out more at
Hachette Australia


Filed under 2 2 and 2 (writers + new books)

Writers ask writers: ‘difficult second novel syndrome’

picisto-20140611023627-550765Today the Writers Ask Writers group comes together to celebrate the launch of a new book by one of the group: Dawn Barker’s second novel, Let Her Go. Fractured, her first, was a page-turner, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one. Dawn will be talking about Let Her Go here next week, the first in the new series 2, 2 and 2 on looking up/looking down.

The topic today is, well, topical: the so-called ‘difficult’ second novel.

If you google difficult second novel syndrome you’ll find pages and pages of angst and counter-angst from writers who have suffered from it, writers who haven’t, those with advice and those with analysis. Causes are multifarious, but most seem to fall generally into two camps: exhaustion (the first novel has drained the imaginative life from the writer) and expectation (the first novel has to be ‘bettered’—whether in terms of sales or critical reception or self-defined success).

I don’t remember feeling exhausted of ideas or energy for writing my second novel—possibly because I knew it was going to involve a lengthy research phase before I entered the writing phase. I began that before my first novel was published, so there was a period of overlap between them, in which I was editing The Sinkings and researching Elemental. One seemed to balance the other.

picisto-20140611032418-617083As for expectation: I wasn’t conscious then of specific ‘second novel’ pressure; I was too busy coming to grips with what I was trying to do conceptually and narratively with Elemental. Danielle Wood summed up this distinction brilliantly when it was put to her that, having written one novel, she now knew ‘how to do it’. She responded that all she had learned was how to write the novel she had written; she would now have to learn how to write the next.

Among the many things I had to learn in the early stages of Elemental were how to write a sustained work in the first person, how to structure a long novel covering a life of more than eighty years, how to pace past and present, immediacy and reflection, and how to create an unfamiliar world through memories not my own. And I learned in the way that works for me: through immersion in the past, through instinct, through questioning, through trial and error.

If you’d asked me then if I knew what I was doing, I’d have shrugged, I’d have shaken my head. There are times I might have cried, but there were not too many of those. Frequently I reminded myself that I had felt the same when writing Little Jock and Willa in The Sinkings, and somehow I’d managed in the end.

picisto-20140611033435-692936In retrospect, I can see that some of the pressure associated with publishing a second novel was circumvented by Inherited, a collection of short stories published between the two novels. That came about more by stealth than design—a gradual accumulation of material through a felt need to actually complete a few sprints during the marathon of the novel!

However, I’m prepared to rewrite history and call it a smart move.

You can click on the links below to read my friends’ views on the difficult second novel:

Annabel Smith found that the first gave her confidence to write the second. The biggest difference between them, she says, was the marketing.

Emma Chapman is still in the process of writing her second novel, and is finding it more relaxed but full of challenges.

Sara Foster was a new mother when she wrote her second novel and found the former more scary than the latter!

Dawn Barker found inspiration for her second novel from such disparate sources as Florence and The Machine and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

PWFC author collage


Filed under Writers ask writers