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  • Writer's pictureMairi Chong

Why I began to write

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Doctor Detective

I think being a doctor is all about stories and detective work. When a patient comes in the room, you are immediately assessing a whole number of things without even knowing you’re doing it. I worked with an orthopaedic surgeon once who claimed he could decide what operation a patient needed just by watching them walk up the corridor! Although it was an arrogant statement, he probably wasn’t that far off the mark. As a doctor, you unknowingly begin to notice things. Apart from the walk, you can see how a patient gets up from their chair, you can see who has come with them in the waiting room and their interaction thus assessing family dynamics. Before they speak, you are watching their movements and facial expressions. I used to play a game before my patients even came in the room, trying to guess what they might be coming to see me for. Again, it sounds flippant, but by and large, you recognise patterns in age groups, genders, previous contacts with the practice and you can make these guesses. That’s not to say that you become presumptive. They could be coming for something entirely different and it would be dangerous to go off on a tangent.

When Doctor Becomes Patient

So, I worked very happily in GP for many years. I found it stressful but hugely enjoyable. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and my world crashed down. Bipolar disorder (also called manic depression) is fairly well recognised now. It’s not quite what is depicted in many portrayals on the tv and it certainly isn’t simply bad mood swings. The best description I can give is of going to the extremes of emotion and feeling these to such a depth that they are impossible to find your way back home.

Writing To Heal

It was around this time when my head was a complete mess and my memory fudged, that I began to write. I found the daily activity gave me a purpose and although it was mostly nonsense, I felt I had achieved something at the end of each day if I had a page full of words. Writing therapy is a well-used tool and creativity is long known to be a great healer.

Why Murder?

When you’re at a crossroads in your career or life, people often advise you to think back to your childhood and do what you loved then. My great love was reading. The detective stories came about because that is always what I have read. When I was working, I had almost no time to read at all but in the past, I had been a big reader of Agatha Christie, PD James, Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. I’m not sure why the golden age of crime attracts me so much. Maybe the lack of gore and the promise of justice, that good will always overcome evil and when our own lives are turbulent, this can be a genuine comfort. I like the thrill of a puzzle too and at the beginning of a story, it is almost as if the reader and author are squaring up and seeing who is the cleverest.

As a doctor, I had a few things published in journals but having done this, I had some confidence I could write something of length. I decided to write a murder mystery because it was what I wanted to read. I wrote about three or four awful things that will never be seen but it was a worthwhile process all the same and writing takes practice.

Happy Ending

It’s frightening putting your work out there. For me in particular this feels more so perhaps. I have laid myself bare by giving Dr Cathy Moreland bipolar. She is a conscientious GP who has been recently diagnosed, but unlike myself, she was determined to return to medicine and, as she struggles to find her feet, we see how the illness both helps and impedes her. Bipolar is like a superpower. It makes you think in a completely different way and I think having been ill, you empathise so much more with your patients. I hope it is obvious that Cathy’s mental illness has given her some of these qualities. In some ways, I’m living my medical dreams vicariously through her now. Ultimately, changing career has been such a positive for me and now, the only people I have to worry about saving are the penned victims in my books!

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