Barker exposed

February 02nd, 2017
Barker exposed
A Mount Barker author has made her debut with a novel about the growing pains of an Adelaide Hills town.

While Rebekah Clarkson has been writing short stories for years, the release of Barking Dogs marks her first full novel.

Even in novel form, Rebekah has embraced her love of short form writing, with the book made up of 13 separate short tales each linked by the setting.

“Everything is set in and around Mount Barker, that’s the common thread that ties everything together,” she said.

“It follows the lives of people in the town, with many story threads, so there’s a dog which barks incessantly which drives one character over the edge, and then a teenage girl who goes missing.”

While Barking Dogs will be published as a full novel in February, many of the tales in the book have been published as award winning short stories across the globe.

Bringing all the stories together has enabled Rebekah to tell the complete tale of Barking Dogs, but in the process the story has shifted from her original concept.

“I always knew I wanted the stories to be linked together, but what I’ve found interesting in putting together the novel is that the order they’re placed in can greatly change the understanding of the story,” she said.

“I’ve even discovered some links I’d never considered as I was writing each story.”

“The idea of a collection of stories is a very old one, and I think people can really enjoy finding the pieces that bind everything together.”

The novel is the result of more than five years work on the part of Rebekah, who started writing the first story in 2010.

The inspiration came after a neighbour threatened to kill her own barking dog.

The horror of that event made Rebekah think about what could drive someone to make that threat, and the story grew from there as she explored the issues facing the people of Mount Barker.

“The frisson and energy in the town are things I’ve found very interesting,” she said.

“I wanted to write about Mount Barker because I’m really fascinated by the history but also contemporary issues, such the population boom we’ve been having.

“One of the key ideas I wanted to explore was that gap between generations – that divide between the old and the new.”

“All of the characters are completely fictional, so if anybody recognises themselves that’s a complete accident, but I wanted to write something about the growth of the town and the issues that arise when we live near each other – we spill into each others’ lives.”

Despite the fictional nature of the families in the novel, writer Patrick Allington, who will launch the book, said they still captured the nature of South Australia.

Reading the novel, he was surprised, and at times discomforted by the mirror the novel held to everyday life.

“It’s like looking at your reflection, but you can see every pore and every flaw,” he said.

“As a book it sits in a very interesting space, and I’d recommend people read it an order and see how everything fits together, like a mosaic.

“As a writer I’m very aware of the nature of South Australia, and what’s striking to me is how much of a local feel there is to it.”

Part of that local feel comes from the setting – Barking Dogs draws on many of the locations around Mount Barker and readers might recognise places like the local hotel, cinema and the Laratinga Wetlands.

But the Mount Barker in Barking Dogs is also partly based in fantasy, with a blend of streets both made up and real, and a fictional trophy shop.

“I purposefully went for that merging of imaginative with real, because I wanted to create a sense of the town as I and other people saw it – I’ve always started writing my stories with a feeling or an ambiance,” Rebekah said.

As a result, while Barking Dogs is set in Mount Barker, the ideas explored could be translated to any sattellite town.

That’s according to Pip Williams, who has seen the book grow from a single short story to the novel of today.

“I think the story and the issues of people living on the outskirts of a city are ones that will be familiar to anyone in Australia, and even overseas,” she said.

For Pip, one of the joys of reading Barking Dogs in its completed form has been seeing each of the story threads, which she had seen in individual tales, tie together.

“You get a sense of how the lives of these people are connected, and it’s really quite beautiful and unique.”

“Think about walking down the street, you see all these houses, but no idea what could really be going on in each one, or the connections between each of them.

“Rebekah gives you a glimpse behind each of those doors.”

Barking Dogs will be released on February 1 online and in local bookstores including Matilda Books, Dymocks and Dillons.

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