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Pat Barker | Biography

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Early Life

Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in Yorkshire in northern England on May 8, 1943. Barker was born to a single mother, Moyra, and raised in a working-class family. Barker's mother and grandmother were housekeepers and the family's only breadwinners. When Barker was seven, her mother left the family home to get married, but Barker chose to stay and be raised by her grandparents because she did not get along with her stepfather.

Barker's mother claimed Barker's biological father was killed during World War II (1939–45), yet Barker continued to imagine he was still alive and hoped he and her mother would reunite. As an adult Barker has said her mother told a lot of "incredible stories" about her father. When Barker's mother was on her deathbed, Barker learned her mother had never known the identity of Barker's father.

Although her early life was difficult economically and personally, Barker was much loved by her grandparents. As a youngster she helped her grandparents run their fish-and-chip shop, wrapping up meals in newspapers. She became an avid newspaper reader, and her grandmother encouraged her to do well in school. After completing high school, Barker attended the London School of Economics where she studied international history. She later attended Durham University.

In 1969 she met David Barker, a professor and neurologist 20 years her senior. They married in 1978 and had two children. David Barker encouraged and supported his wife's ambition to be a writer.

Becoming a Writer

Barker began to write when she was in her mid-20s. Her first three novels were never published. Barker admits they "didn't deserve to be." Her first published novels describe the difficult lives of working-class women in northern England. The first of these, Union Street (1982), won the Fawcett Society Book Prize. In 1983 Barker was named among the Twenty Best Young British Novelists. Her second novel, Blow Your House Down (1984), was adapted into a successful stage play. Other novels followed, such as The Century's Daughter (1986; published in the United States as Liza's England in 1996) and The Man Who Wasn't There (1989).

World War I Novels

Barker was inspired to write about World War I by her grandfather, who fought in the trenches of France. He acquired a serious bayonet scar that he had for the rest of his life. The first novel in her World War I trilogy, Regeneration (1991), won high praise. A film version released in 1997 was originally given the same name but later retitled Behind the Lines. The novels Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995) complete the trilogy. The Ghost Road was awarded the highly prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1995.

Barker has said her World War I novels can make for difficult reading because she tackles distressing subjects directly. Her vulnerable characters and the horrific wartime experiences they endure make these works emotionally wrenching as well as engrossing and deeply humane.

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