Friday, September 09, 2011

How you make a writer

I have been asked how I came to be a writer. Can I call myself a writer? Counting this blog I have written about 2500 articles, books, scripts, chapters, abstracts and scientific reports including over 700 that other people have published; so yes I can call myself a writer.

I began by writing poetry. I had a good grounding at school in Latin and English grammar, but I never studied English literature until I was 17 and had free time in the sixth form. I had always been a good reader, though, and as a child had rapidly read through the schoolday adventures of Frank Richards, the military adventures of Captain W E Johns, the detective and horror stories of Peter Cheyney and Dennis Wheatley and the lawyer and doctor stories of Henry Cecil and Richard Gordon. I remember being asked by my headmaster at the age of 13 which authors I read. When I volunteered H E Bates (of the Larkin stories) he had never heard of them. He claimed to be one of 6 Englishmen who had read the whole of Cervantes in Spanish.

At seventeen I was heavily into the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester and Frederick Pohl. Later in my life I discovered Tolkien and his lineage: Robert Jordan and Stephen Donaldson. Meanwhile Graham Greene, John LeCarre and Raymond Chandler had captivated me.

When I started writing poetry, my biggest influences were John Donne, Wilfred Owen and Gerrard Manley Hopkins.

After I was married I virtually stopped writing poetry until after I retired. Medicine is a demanding mistress. Someone told me that if I wanted to become an expert on something I should write a book about it. So I did. I wrote the first book about Plasmapheresis. I also wrote a funny article for the Christmas BMJ called Mononucleosis and the Miniskirt about a girl with glandular fever, cold hemaglutinnins and a miniskirt who got a rash on the outside of her thighs on a cold night. This gave me an appetite for writing for a Freebie doctors' journal called World Medicine. I wrote about medical politics and about funny things that happened to me on the lecture circuit. To be honest it was an easy way to make money. I could dash off 500 words in about half an hour and make £100. When World Medicine closed (Jewish businesses refused to advertise in it after someone wrote a pro-Palestinian article) I started selling my wares to other journals, but my research fellow Ghulam Mufti (now Professor at Kings) persuaded me that no-one would ever take me seriously unless I stopped the frippery. Thereafter my writing apprenticeship served me well for writing serious articles.

However buried in one of my CLL articles in B J Haem. is a joke that I as editor would have put the blue pencil through. It would probably be excluded for bad taste in these PC days.

It goes like this. In Bournemouth there is no male excess of CLL patients. Why? Like elephants seeking their burial ground, the old ladies come to die, but whereas elephants have prodigious memories, the old ladies become senile and forget what they have come for.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should write about evolution.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to explain, Dr. Hamblin.

Your apparent incredulity about human behavior, particularly that of aboriginals (of which I am one), causes me to wince. If you write a book about evolution and thereby “become an expert” on the subject, you will plainly see why many Irish, Scotts, Welsh and other aboriginals both in the UK and around the world behave as they do. Other aboriginals are represented in populations we know as Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and many more, including Africans.

My monthly blood test rightly discriminates with separate ranges and proves that “. . .it’s more than skin deep”:

eGFR Non-African
eGFR African

More importantly for me and my conditions (genetically, three-quarters aboriginal Irish and German familial CLL), my hobbled immune system coupled with the pharmaceuticals I endure destroy many of the microbes that invade me. The most virulent microbes are distilled in the process of evolution, however, rendering me nearly as ill as I was at the outset and making me a public health hazard for my trouble.

Surely, as influential as you are, you must first reconcile yourself with these facts of evolution and then press public policy makers accordingly. There is much to be done.

Anonymous said...

Prof Hamblin,
Sad to hear you are "under the influence" of chemo again; really do hope you get through and well. Your mention of World Medicine rang a bell; I was one of their sub-editors beck in the early/mid sixties, a young German/English/Scandinavian speaker who needed a work permit; was dirt cheep labour, enjoyed it though. Good practice translating too. Am one of the CLLers, kept sane through Chaya, your friend I think. Great lady! Get well soon! Mette, (still no treatment needed.) would I had never found out about illness.