Dr Mark Sanford-Wood interview: The GP novelist

GPC member and portfolio GP Dr Mark Sanford-Wood relaxes by creating powerful fiction.

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

I've always enjoyed writing, whether it be a collection of poems for personal consumption, an opinion piece in the trade press or an editorial for my Devon LMC newsletter.

There is something deeply satisfying about communicating clearly through the written word. It is a medium of immense power and can strike a resonance in the receptive reader, just as a plucked guitar string can cause a tuning fork to vibrate.

I have been lucky enough in my GP career to have worked with some remarkable patients, whose stories almost defy capture.

Their experiences gestated slowly in my mind, but in a modern age where values appear to change with the wind, the impulse to recall events from a time driven by conviction and stark moral choice was irresistible.

Where did you find inspiration for your debut novel?

During my GP training, I worked in psychiatry for the elderly, which in 1991 in Hackney, east London, meant being the medical officer for wards that were populated with many Holocaust survivors.

The consequence of talking daily to people with such experiences led eventually to the kind of honesty that can only come with personal trust. I was struck by the deep sense of guilt and shame that arose from people who struggled to come to terms with what they had been forced to do to survive.

I was also fortunate enough in my GP work to attract more than my share of survivors of the Eastern Front to my list. This may in part have been a product of my willingness to talk in detail about those times, but nevertheless, I consider myself very lucky to have met such people.

The context of these conversations was different from those on the wards, but no less poignant as they too struggled with their earlier experiences.

The bravery of all those people, whom I consider heroes, to give voice to their darkest memories has been my inspiration.

Their stories demanded to be told and after 20 years of reflection, I finally decided that the time had come to pay them the honour they deserved.

I sincerely hope that I have done them justice.

What is your book about?

My debut novel is called Godforsaken and is set in World War Two. Superficially, it is a story of the survival of one man, Freddie Zamoyski, as he escapes the captivity of Stalin's gulag and his torturer, the evil Volkov.

At a deeper level, it is an examination of the mind of the survivor. I wanted to explore the phenomenon of survivor guilt from the perspective of first-hand accounts, which taught me that this is so misunderstood.

The climax of the narrative comes as readers are invited to ask themselves what choice they would make if they were faced with the opportunity for revenge.

The decision is thrown into starker relief through the main character's deep religious faith, which is therefore also tested in the denouement.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Writing is an amazingly relaxing activity. The challenge of creating a world within a book that fits perfectly with the historical record, but which provides the freedom of a backdrop on which to paint one's story, is very satisfying.

There is huge pleasure in recrafting a sentence until it flows in just the right way, the narrative building phrase by phrase.

Of course, the ultimate goal of any writer is to have an impact and make people think about their assumptions.

The most satisfying part of the whole process has therefore been to hear how Godforsaken has changed people's views and perceptions.

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

I have a number of projects on the go and my next priority is to finish writing a book on philosophy and physics, which will be called A Treatise on Truth and Nature.

I hope to publish that by Easter, after which I will be launching into my second novel, Gemini Lost, which I hope to publish early next year.

The plot is worked out and the synopsis completed. All I need now is the time. But I dare say that is a sentiment common to us all in our pursuit of our love of general practice.

Godforsaken is available via Amazon in e-format, paperback and hardback.

* Download our iPad edition to read an exclusive excerpt from the book.

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