It might seem an unusual career move to switch from GP to crime writer, but north-east author Mairi Chong says they’re more alike than you might expect.
The 43-year-old moved away from general practice a decade ago after her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And now she’s publishing her first novel.
After training in Dundee, Mairi became a partner at a GP clinic in Aberdeen.
And while she didn’t realise it at the time, she was already honing her investigation skills.
‘Everyone has a story’
“As doctors, we are constantly doing detective work – and everyone has a story,” she explains.
“Even when you’re going through to the waiting room, you’re making little assessments [about the patient] – who is with them, their interactions and the dynamic between them.
“You watch how they move, if they seem to have mobility issues, and as you walk along the corridor – maybe asking them about the weather – you can get idea of your rapport and their state of mind.”
Mairi says it’s more important to listen first than immediately start diagnosing.
“When they sit in front of you, they have the have the freedom to speak.
“They might have rehearsed what they’ll tell you, and if you allow someone a chance to speak, you get a better story.”
Writing through ill health
Mairi began writing after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder which, for her, causes “constant” music to play in her head.
One day, however, it had been replaced with spoken words and she started jotting them down.
“It was really a writing therapy,” she said.
“I was advised to do something creative. In the beginning it was nonsense, but it gave me purpose.
“After working full-time, it was almost impossible for me not to work. So if I filled a page at the end of the day, it was an accomplishment.”
She adds: “As I got more well the words started to make more sense.
“I wrote four or five full length novels when I was unwell.
“They’re not things anyone will ever read but they got me into the way of writing.”
‘House meets Miss Marple’
Mairi uses some of her personal experiences of medicine in the Dr Cathy Moreland Mysteries.
Described as crime fiction “with a dose of medicine,” she took inspiration from the murder mysteries she loved reading as a child.
She has now signed a multi-book deal with Bloodhound Books – one of her “most respected” publishers.
The titular doctor has a bipolar diagnosis, showing how it “impedes but also offers advantages” with a different way of thinking, Mairi says.
“It is a murder mystery, so it’s meant to be an enjoyable read but, by giving her the diagnosis, I hope people see it’s not always a negative.
“Because it’s so personal and I’ve gone through it, the readers know it’s not a lie and it’s from a reasonable, well-rounded perspective.
“Sometimes people want to be like Sherlock Holmes with his powers of observation.
“I hope with this, the psychological issues are almost seen as a truly great thing, and we can still accomplish truly great things as well.”
The first novel in the Dr Cathy Moreland Mysteries series, Death By Appointment, is released on January 11 with Bloodhound Books.