GP Interview - Dr Carol Cooper: The GP novelist

Newspaper adviser and London GP Dr Carol Cooper has published her first novel.

Your last book was an award-winning GP textbook, so what made you turn to fiction?

I've enjoyed writing all of my non-fiction books, and it was great co-authoring the textbook. At heart, though, I'd always wanted to write a novel.

For years I couldn't get it right, hence a rag-bag of attempts, including a rites of passage book set in Cambridge, a children's book about a dog who saves East Anglian railways from closure, and a novel about a female surgeon.

Her problem was that she spent too much time horizontal and never made it to the top (just like my manuscript, which is still languishing in a drawer somewhere at home).

Finally, I figured out that I ought to write the kind of book I would most like to read for pleasure. And that's One Night at the Jacaranda.

Is there a health theme to the novel? Who is it aimed at?

One Night at the Jacaranda is about a colourful group of Londoners who are each looking for someone special. The action kicks off with a speed-dating event, where everyone's telling lies to make themselves appear more desirable.

Sanjay has terminal cancer. Karen, a mother of four, is dating again after her husband walked out.

Dan is a traumatised ex-con, and stressed GP Geoff isn't dealing well with his own symptoms.

Freelance journalist Harriet is after a byline, not a boyfriend. She's only there to research an article, but soon she finds that she too has to make some tough choices.

There's a strong medical strand as well as some darker issues, so it's not typical chick lit. It is aimed mainly at women, who tend to read more novels than men, but half of the book is written from a male point of view and it's had a great response so far from men who've read it.

From where do you draw your inspiration for your writing?

I draw inspiration from real life.

Who doesn't?

It's a great privilege being a GP. You get to see the best in people, and sometimes the worst.

I left a GP partnership in Hertfordshire several years ago and I now work as a locum in London, on average for one day a week.

I enjoy the variety of clinical work that I see in general practice and there's always plenty of food for thought.

But when all is said and done, the characters and situations in my book are completely fictitious. It would be wrong to put patients (or colleagues) in a novel and I'm sure every medic would agree with that.

How does writing help you combat stress and retain a good work/life balance?

Writing helps me to unwind because I love it, and it fulfils my creative side. It's very satisfying to write non-fiction.

The Sun newspaper is a terrific forum for any writer, and obviously I was delighted when General Practice at a Glance (the textbook I co-authored) won a BMA award. But fiction makes a better hobby and exercises the imagination a lot more.

Novels also tend to have more sex and a better plot.

I usually start off with paper and pencil, so I can write almost anywhere. The snag is that there are lots of other things to fit in.

As well as writing for The Sun and doing some TV, I teach medical students at Imperial College London.

Blogging is for me a minor activity and it's the first thing that goes out of the window when I'm under pressure. Let's face it, things like appraisal are more important.

Would you ever give up being a GP to focus on writing and media work full-time?

I suspect that most middle-aged GPs daydream about giving up clinical practice. I'd have more time for media work if I did. But the kind of work I do demands that I keep up to date. Besides, I'd miss it too much.

Do you plan to write further fiction or non-fiction?

Many people have said that they want to read more about the characters in One Night at the Jacaranda, so I've already started on the sequel.

The prequel is also begging for attention. It will go back to GP Geoff's student days.

I loved undergraduate life and I'm in contact with students at Imperial from my teaching and with students at King's College London, when I locum at the health centre.

That fictional surgeon may also get her novel one day. One thing's for sure - there's going to be a doctor in every book I write.

  • Dr Cooper's novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, is published by CreateSpace.

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