Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beyond prescriptions

Is there a doctor in the house? Publishing house, that is. Most successful writers have had other professions either simultaneously or at least at the start of their careers. Many have been journalists, like Ernest Hemingway, and quite a few have been lawyers. Kristin Hannah and Scott Turow fall into this category.

A select few, like Patrick Taylor, the author of An Irish Country Doctor, have been medical doctors. Of course it’s no surprise that the author of that whimsical tale about healing the denizens of imaginary Ballybucklebo was penned by an M.D. There’s just too much profession-specific detail to have been composed by a layman. Equally the medical thriller genre, which was pretty much invented in the 1970’s by Robin Cook, himself an ophthalmic surgeon, is crowded with doctor-authors, such as Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen.

But others might surprise you. Before he was a “Sir” Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes as a young GP in Portsmouth, England, waiting for his sluggish practice to grow. (It is said that he based the hyper-analytic Holmes on one of his teachers at the Edinburgh University Medical School.) W. Somerset Maugham received his medical training at St. Thomas’s hospital in London, and his first novel Liza of Lambeth was a direct result of his first year as a physician treating the poor in the Lambeth section of London. And then there’s Russian great Anton Chekhov, Scotland’s A.J. Cronin, and Jurassic Park’s Michael Crichton. It’s hard to say what the connection is between medicine and storytelling. One thing, however, is certain: a story well told certainly has the power to heal.


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