My inspiration for Mine came from a nightmare. One of my writing teachers had encouraged us to record our dreams. I dutifully keep a dream diary, recording the scenes and imagery that came to me during REM sleep.
One night, the dream was atypical. It felt visceral in a way many other dreams do not. In the dream – or nightmare, as it surely way – I was holding my baby in my arms, showing it to a crowd of faceless people around me. ‘This is not my baby,’ I exclaimed, over and over. They all refused to believe me. They stepped away, leaving me clutching the baby that I was sure was not my own.
On waking from the dream, I had a haunting, lingering fear; and beneath the fear, there was a sense that there was something critical in this dream that demanded to be honoured, to be told. I knew I had to write about it.
Around the time of the dream, I had been fortunate enough to be awarded a place on a writing workshop for doctors, held at Varuna, a writers’ retreat in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney. The original owners of the house were a famous Australian writer Eleanor Dark, and her GP husband Dr Eric Dark. After their deaths, their son Mick Dark generously gifted the house to the Australian public. It is now used as a writers’ retreat.
In that magical space, surrounded by other doctor-writers, I got down on paper the bones of what became one of the early chapters of Mine. It was rough, but it felt intriguing enough of a story for me to continue working on it when I returned home. Over the following five years, I wrote and workshopped, edited and rewrote the story, trying to fine-tune it into a page-turning thriller. Every time I got stuck, I tried to elicit my memory of the dream, especially the fear I experienced, which morphed into the horror and tension in the book. And when I lost heart, there would invariably be a media report of a baby swap somewhere in the world, or a patient telling me about a relative’s baby swap story, that spurred me on and showed me how important this story really was to tell.
Erroneous baby swaps are uncommon, but they still occur, in every country in the world. I am convinced that they will continue to occur, no matter how good the systems, no matter how honourable the intentions of the people entrusted with their care. The reason: we are human beings. We make mistakes; all of us. My hope is that, when mistakes or human error occur, forgiveness and compassion can prevail. That we can learn to forgive each other, and ourselves.
Have you read Mine by Susi Fox yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below – and head over to the Penguin website to read an extract now!