Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler interview: The GP author

North Lincolnshire GP Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler has recently published his debut novel.

Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler: poetry and short stories, and now a debut novel (Scunthorpe Telegraph)
Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler: poetry and short stories, and now a debut novel (Scunthorpe Telegraph)

What was it that first made you turn to writing fiction?

I have had a life-long passion for books, to the point that my bibliophilia is in danger of becoming bibliomania. Writing has been a natural extension to that passion.

For many years, I was in awe of the authors on my bookshelves, and that gradually turned into a desire to see my own work among them.

I started by writing poetry, then short stories. I was inspired to progress further when I won the Lincoln Book Festival Prize for Fiction in 2005, followed by the Fathom Prize for poetry in 2010.

My first collection of poetry (A Journey with Time) was published in 2008. An academic book (The Law and Medicine: Friend or Nemesis?) followed in 2013, but by this time, my debut novel, Lamplight in the Shadows, was well on its way to completion.

The truth is, I write because I have to. Ideas for poems, short stories or novels flit into my consciousness and then burn away until I simply have to write them down.

Where did you find inspiration for your debut novel?

Inevitably, writers often draw on their own experiences when writing a story. Lamplight in the Shadows was born out of the privilege and experiences of being a rural GP for 25 years, along with exposure to the tapestry of interwoven complexities of many people's personal lives.

Combined with my own multiple and diverse interests, and a lifelong struggle with my sense of religious vocation, a story gradually evolved to link these many strands and the two professions of medicine and the church. However, I must say that no one character represents any specific person in real life!

What is your book about?

Lamplight in the Shadows is set against a backdrop of conflicting human desires and relationships, and I like to call it a thinking person's love story, an intellectual romance - but with the occasional touch of humour.

The book explores the complex tensions between perceived duty and misplaced loyalties, passionate love, and the inner drive and yearning of priestly discernment. With a cast of characters richly drawn from rural society and religious settings, the story is one of diverse desires.

Set in the early 1990s, Dr James Armstrong, a young, newly qualified GP, lives with his wife, Janice, in Barminster, where he is busy laying out plans for their future. However, his search for a medical partnership is complicated by a long-term and persistent sense of being called to ordination in the Church of England.

While exploring the possibility of a dual professional life as doctor and priest, he accepts a position as a locum GP in a practice in the quiet market town of Bishopsworth.

Once there, his world is thrown into chaos when he finds himself powerfully drawn to a beautiful young woman, whose own marriage is failing. The result is an emotional drama that brings into focus the underlying difficulties of his own bleak relationship.

Torn between loyalty to his wedding vows and the unexpected discovery of true love, James is left battling powerful emotions that make him question all he has previously stood for.

He needs to make some difficult decisions, which will mean winners and losers. But what is he prepared to sacrifice and at what price?

What do you most enjoy about writing?

First, there is the almost primitive delight in crafting something new and seeing it mature from a single random thought into something complex and special.

Then there is the pleasure in knowing that what one writes sometimes acts to bring pleasure to others, or trigger thoughts of their own.

Finally, there is the very simple delight in seeing someone reading a book in public and quietly knowing that it is your novel.

What other projects do you have in hand at the moment?

Life is quite busy at present from a writing perspective. I am in the process of writing an MA dissertation on the role of physician-priests (spirituality, theology and health), at Durham University.

I also write weekly health-related columns for two regional newspapers (the Scunthorpe Telegraph and Grimsby Telegraph), and a light-hearted monthly medical column for a glossy magazine (The Journal). I also write restaurant and hotel reviews for The Journal.

However, as if that wasn't enough, I am currently editing my second collection of poetry (On Quarry Beach) and hope to see that published later this year. And, yes, I have started writing my second novel. It is a sequel to Lamplight in the Shadows, but that is as much as I am willing to tell you at present.

  • Download our iPad edition to read an exclusive excerpt from Lamplight in the Shadows,which is available in paperback and as an e-book from www.troubador.co.uk, and internet and high street booksellers. Dr Jaggs-Fowler's website is at www.robertjaggsfowler.com

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