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Q&A with Rebecca Barrow - And Don't Look Back

By Lucy Parry

We are thrilled to welcome Rebecca Barrow to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release And Don't Look Back released on the 3rd of October 2023.

After her mother’s death, a teen pieces together the truth of her family’s past and what her mom was hiding from in this thriller that’s perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Tiffany D. Jackson.

Harlow Ford has spent her entire life running, caught in her mother’s wake as they flit from town to town, hiding from a presence that Harlow isn’t even sure is real. In each new place, Harlow takes on a new name and personality, and each time they run, she leaves another piece of herself behind.

When Harlow and her mom set off on yet another 3 a.m. escape, they are involved in a car accident that leaves Harlow’s mother fatally wounded. Before she dies, she tells Harlow two things: where to find the key to a safety deposit box and to never stop running. In the box, Harlow finds thirty grand in cash, life insurance documents, and several fake IDs for both herself and her mom—an on-the-run essentials kit. But Harlow also finds a photograph of her mom as a teenager with two other girls, the deed to a house in a town she’s never heard of, and a handful of newspaper clippings discussing the disappearance of a woman named Eve Kennedy, Harlow’s grandmother…relics of a part of Harlow’s life she never knew existed.

With these tantalizing clues about her mother’s secrets and the power to choose her own future for the first time, Harlow realizes she has two choices: keep fleeing her mom’s ghosts or face down the nebulous threat that’s been hanging over her for her entire life.

And Don't Look Back

Which books/authors inspired you to become a writer?

I grew up reading Jaqueline Wilson and Malorie Blackman, so I think they were a big part of my love for reading, and then later I got really into YA coming out of the US like Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson. When I actually decided to try pursuing publication, I wrote an adult book before I realised I should probably write what I enjoyed reading, and that was YA, so that’s how I ended up here!

Can you tell me about your writing process. Has it evolved as your career has progressed?

I think my writing process will always change depending on so many things—the idea, other things going on in my life, whether I’m writing under contract or not, and a million other things I could list! I work best on a schedule, but that really helps the most when I’m drafting, and then revision is a different game, as is time spent thinking about new ideas or plot issues, working on proposals and outlines—sometimes things come easily and sometimes it’s pulling teeth. I think career progression definitely impacts the process in some ways but not in the way most people probably think. Being five or six books into a career unfortunately doesn’t mean you have the process down pat and can just sit and write and everything goes perfectly. There’s always some new challenge that reveals itself and then it’s almost like starting from scratch learning how to write around it.

How did And Don’t Look Back get published?

And Don’t Look Back came to life as a proposal first—often when publishers buy one book, they ask to see your next work too, and so when the time came for my US editor to be looking for that next book, I started to work on the idea. It took a little bit of back and forth and ironing out some changes but then my US publisher bought it and so did my UK publisher shortly after! It has probably been the most straightforward publication process I’ve experienced so far.

You live in England, so why did you choose to set And Don’t Look Back in the USA?

I think so much of the formative media I consumed was American, and the YA market was so rich in the US with so much great writing that I took in, that when I started writing myself, these American stories were the ideas that came naturally to me. I also have this thing with distance in my work—I write in third person and I often describe it as writing as though I’m observing the scene from the corner of the room. I enjoy the distance that writing stories set outside of the UK brings, and I also just find the US to be a fascinating place and/or idea to study (you would never guess I just graduated from an American Studies degree!)

There are multiple sapphic characters and relationships in And Don’t Look Back. Was it important to you to have queer representation in your book?

Yes and no. I like to write queer girls because I am queer and I know myself how it feels to be represented in the stories I consume and I like the idea of being a part of this expanding category of YA books. Primarily, though, I want to write interesting, complex stories about interesting, complex girls who often are queer. I don’t like to put too much pressure on any idea of “representation” because I find it can be very limiting, and what for one person really resonates will for another be so alien to their own experience. I also in the past have found it limiting in that I would worry so much over whether my characters were going to be seen as Good or Bad that I let that fear influence what I wrote. I don’t want things to become so limiting that I feel I cannot write a complex girl who acts in interesting ways that serve an interesting story for fear that the character, or I myself, will be labelled Bad. It is my hope that as more diverse stories continue being presented to the world, we no longer have to cling quite so much to ideas of good or bad representation, because we have such a breadth of stories that any and all narratives can be found.

Identity is a big theme in this novel as Harlow has spent so much of her life not knowing where she came from and having to hide the real Harlow. Why did you want to explore this theme in And Don’t Look Back?

I think as a teenager you spend so much time internally figuring out who you are, and experimenting with ways you present yourself to the outside world—I find this very interesting to think about in general, and then to wonder what happens when that exploration isn’t being solely driven by you but is being influenced by outside factors. Harlow has to adopt new identities in each town she and her mother arrive in, and so there’s not a lot of space for her to inhabit herself. I think this is also something a lot of queer people or neurodivergent people deal with as teenagers and beyond—how do you get to know yourself when you are potentially hiding parts of yourself because of fear, or societal expectations, or because you simply haven’t had the opportunity to discover those aspects of yourself yet? How can you be your authentic self in a space that isn’t safe or doesn’t allow you to be that, or a space that you feel doesn’t deserve your identity? I think Harlow is dealing with all of that to such a heightened degree because of the stakes of her world and I really enjoyed exploring all of that with her.

Can you explain why you included ‘Before’ chapters and how you decided where those chapters should be placed in the narrative?

Including the Before chapters was a really easy choice—they belong to Cora, Harlow’s mother, and I actually wrote a version of Cora’s story years before I wrote And Don’t Look Back. It was very different in some ways to the story that now plays out, but it shared the same roots and so I knew that POV needed to exist and what needed to be told in those chapters. As for where they’re placed—I try not to be too calculated in my writing and so those chapters really fall wherever it felt like they needed to go.

You said in an Instagram post that And Don’t Look Back is the best book you have written so far. Do you think that is because your skill as an author has improved or because this is the best idea you have had?

I think at this point in my career, I am the most certain I have been about what it is I want to say and how I want to say it, and that’s what makes me say this is my best work so far. I also think this happens to be the most commercial book I’ve written, so in a sense I hope people read it because I think it will live up to the genre expectations placed on it more than some of my other books. I am always actively trying to be a better writer, whether that is on a sentence level or a structural one, and so in theory maybe the book that comes next will be the best one I’ve written then, but for now it’s this one.

Which books have you loved in 2023?

I have been reading some older crime fiction—I am working my way through Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series, and the first book A is for Alibi is a really great read. I really enjoyed The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi is a really interesting, surreal story about a woman who pretends to be pregnant at work. On the YA front, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me by Jamison Shea is a great speculative thriller about cutthroat ballet dancers, and a sweet one to finish is With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo.

And Don't Look Back

Rebecca Barrow is the critically acclaimed author of Bad Things Happen Here, This Is What It Feels Like, and several others. She is a lover of sunshine, Old Hollywood icons, and all things high femme. She lives and writes in England.

Rebecca's Instagram: @rebeccakbarrow


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