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Podcast: Tales of a town in turmoil

Books & Poetry

Set in Mount Barker, Adelaide writer Rebekah Clarkson’s ‘Barking Dogs’ is described as a peeping tom guide to a regional town in turmoil. But there’s one thing she wants to make clear: “This is a work of fiction.”

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“If you recognise yourself in my book, it’s not you,” she tells The Message Pod’s Nicole Haack.

“There were a couple of things that did happened in real life that triggered certain stories, but no, I create my characters from the ground up.

“My process of writing is one of discovery.”

Barking Dogs, published this month by Affirm Press and already garnering impressive reviews, is a “novel in stories” – each story is self-contained, yet inter-connected with the others.

It’s a book that seeks to make the reader question how well they know their friends and neighbours, with tales of “wayward sons, of widows who can’t forgive themselves, of children longed for and lost, of thwarted lust and of pure, incorruptible love”.

“I love it when readers are moved in some way,” says Clarkson.

“I write to challenge before I write to entertain … there’s a lot of pressure in our society to entertain people, and of course I want this to be a great read, of course I want it to be compelling.

“There is a lot of humour in the book, there’s a lot of satire in the book … but there are some very awkward passages.

“I’m not afraid to go to some difficult places as a writer.”

And while Barking Dog is an imagined representation of Mt Barker, rather than a factual one, Clarkson tells Haack she drew inspiration from changes and friction in her home town – particularly over the expansion of housing development.

“I’m very, very interested always in the land that we’re on. Non-Aboriginal people have lived in the Adelaide Hills for, what, 175 years? We’re on Peramangk land up there – I’m very aware of that.

“And so in this discussion in Mount Barker about expansion of housing developments – I think the Government made a decision in 2010 to allow new housing developments on agricultural land and that caused a lot of controversy in the community and this was around the time that I was writing – I can see that that is embedded in my writing; just the tension of that is there.

“I think that that is a tension that goes to the heart of living in Australia … we are not a reconciled national and those tensions swirl around us.”

Barking Dogs, by Rebekah Clarkson, published by Affirm Press.

Barking Dogs, by Rebekah Clarkson, published by Affirm Press.

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