‘Despite the initial upheaval, despite the fact that writing can be torture, despite my beginner writer clumsiness, I have a deep sense that this is what I’m here for — that this is what I should be doing with my life.’
Fiona Robertson writes short stories and lives in Brisbane with her husband and two teenage children. Her short fiction has most recently been published by Kill Your Darlings (Feb 2017) and she was the grateful recipient of a Katharine Susannah Prichard Fellowship for 2017.
Like many writers, I loved words as a child. I cried over Charlotte’s Web and laughed out loud at My Family and Other Animals. I kept a diary from age seven to seventeen, full of riveting details such as the salami sandwich I’d had for lunch. I fancied myself as the next Laura Ingalls Wilder—but a contemporary version. My father told me I was wasting my time on ‘fairy tales’, that I should be learning the countries of the world (I still can’t name them all). But I continued to be lured by fiction, reading under my desk at primary school, and in high school pretending to study with a novel wedged inside my textbook.
My favourite subject was always English, and in high school I was excited to go to English lessons. But I never considered becoming a writer. Students with high marks were expected to do law, or medicine, or dentistry. I studied medicine at university, eventually becoming a general practitioner.
As a family GP, I loved my role—preventing illness, treating disease, and providing emotional support to ease the suffering of my patients. The work was stimulating and fulfilling. But about twelve years ago, when my youngest child was a toddler, I began mucking around with words again. I started an anonymous blog, recording silly stories about my kids, or relating (de-identified) experiences from my work life that had touched my heart. I found a spark inside myself that years of studying science-based subjects had extinguished. And once that spark flared, it grew brighter and stronger every day.
‘I found a spark inside myself that years of studying science-based subjects had extinguished.’
I went to a one-day writing workshop. I took an evening short story course, once a month for six months. I wrote at night, and on weekends, and on my days off in between grocery shopping and hanging washing. I began to dream and create, reverting to the fanciful person that I used to be.
It was exhilarating, and I was happy to be writing again, but I became nervous, too. I was devoting so much spare time to writing fiction that I worried I wasn’t keeping up with my medical reading. I started tinkering with the idea of stopping work as a GP and finding a medical job where I could walk in and walk out, so I could focus on writing. I didn’t truly think I’d leave my long-term career — this was more an idle fantasy.
Several months passed. But then two things happened, quite close together. I saw a ‘surgical assistants wanted’ ad in the local paper, and cut it out. Surgical assisting would be a ‘walk in, walk out’ job. I also received a card from my husband for our anniversary. At the bottom of the card, separate from his anniversary message, were three words: ‘Follow your dreams’. The words gave me chills. They also gave me permission to make a change. Within a month, I’d given notice to my boss, and three months later I left my safe, stable job. I’d been a GP for seventeen years.
In December, it will be four years since I walked away from my old life of medicine and into my new, writing life. I’d like to say it’s been all roses, but the truth is it’s been terrible and wonderful and mundane, too. I’ve cried my eyes out at my own incompetence (both as a writer, and as a beginner surgical assistant). I’ve jumped for joy (literally) when I heard my first short story would be published. And I’ve struggled with the loss of validation. These days, my world is rejection emails and only very occasional positive news about my writing. As a GP, I got smiles and ‘thank-you’s every day from the lovely patients I had the privilege to care for.
‘I’d like to say it’s been all roses, but the truth is it’s been terrible and wonderful and mundane, too.’
But I wouldn’t go back for a second. As much I enjoyed my life as a family GP, I am loving my life as a writer and surgical assistant. The storytelling part of my brain has expanded and ideas flow thicker and faster than ever before. I have time to imagine, think and write.
My writing is getting better. I’ve had a few stories published, a few competition placings, and I was thrilled to receive a Katharine Susannah Prichard Fellowship for 2017. I still cry now and then, and I still doubt myself every day, but I’m determined. My next goal is to have a book of short stories published.
Despite the initial upheaval, despite the fact that writing can be torture, despite my beginner writer clumsiness, I have a deep sense that this is what I’m here for — that this is what I should be doing with my life. Writing stories, to share with others.
If you’d like to write a post for Writers in the Attic or would like to know more about writing one, please contact me. I’m going to take a break from early December, but I still have a few spots to fill before then.
The topic is anything to do with writing—your writing life, what writing means to you, or what has influenced your writing. 600-1000 words is a good length, and I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
If you have any questions or would like more information, feel free to contact me.
Doctors Who Write
If you’re a doctor or former doctor or a doctor-to-be who writes or wants to write, you might be interested in joining the Facebook group: ‘Doctors Who Write‘. There are quite a few of us over there, including Fiona and myself, and we’re getting to know each other, talking writing and poetry and a few titbits on the side.