by Michelle Guillemard
Dr Dawn Barker is a child psychiatrist and author. She studied medicine in the United Kingdom before moving to Australia in 2001 where she completed her psychiatric training – winning the RANZCP’s Maddison Medallion in 2009. In 2010, Dawn’s first novel,
In 2010, Dawn’s first novel, Fractured, was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s manuscript development competition and it was published in 2013. Her second novel, Let Her Go, will be published in July 2014. Dawn has published non-fiction articles/features on parenting and psychiatry for various magazines and websites, including Mamamia, Essential Baby, Quartz.com, Artlink and the Medical Journal of Australia.
How long have you been writing about health?
I began writing non-fiction when I was a junior doctor completing my psychiatric training – about ten years ago now. I started writing short articles for psychiatric newsletters and websites, and then when I had my first child, I began blogging. At the same time, I began writing fiction, albeit with a heath focus: my first novel, Fractured, explored postnatal mental health, and my second, Let Her Go (which will be published in July 2014) focuses on the psychological impact of fertility and assisted reproduction.
What motivated you to focus on health?
It’s the obvious choice for me: having a medical degree and psychiatric speciality training, I’ve spent my whole adult life working in the health system. Writing about medical issues allows me to combine this professional background with my love of the written word.
What other writing do you do?
The majority of my time is spent writing fiction, but I’m trying to build up my non-fiction profile. I still maintain a blog on my website too, though the focus has shifted more from parenting to the experience of being an author.
What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?
For me, the hardest thing is making myself – and others – treat it like a real job. I have three young children and love the flexibility that working from home gives me, but people often assume I am free to run errands during the day! I try to leave the house and work from my local library when I have childcare, otherwise I tend to get too distracted by chores around the house.
Do you prefer writing novels or articles, and why?
They both have their own attractions. My passion lies with novels: I love getting lost in a new story and exploring ethically complex issues through fiction. I love seeing my book on the shelf and connecting with other writers and readers. But novels are a long term project; the process from writing the first sentence to finishing editing takes years.
Writing articles is satisfying in other ways: seeing the finished product takes far less time, and I enjoy knowing that I’m combining my medical training with my writing skills to communicate complex health issues to a general reader.
I wrote an article once about some personal experiences I’d had with my newborn baby in a medical ward. What I found most interesting was the reaction of readers: there were hundreds of comments posted in response. It reminded me that writing is a strong communication tool, and also that when I write about personal issues, I must remember that people out there will have an opinion that I may or may not like!
What’s your number one tip for those who are considering a career as a health writer?
You have to put your work out there to build up your writing CV. Most editors will ask for samples of your work, so publish articles wherever you can to start with: on a blog, on websites or in magazines that accept unsolicited manuscripts, and try to build up a body of work. I’d also recommend making as many connections in the industry as you can, either face to face at writers festivals or conferences, or through social media.