Medicine and life
Ballina Boy is now up and running in three dimensions.
After some publishing hiccoughs, my book is now available in all three forms; e-book, hard cover and paper back. When I posted its arrival a month or so back, only the e-book was out. I think you will find it an enjoyable read which says a lot about how society and medicine has changed.
There is a lot of humour in it, some of it black as it shows life from the point of view of a boy growing up in the household of a country general practice.
The website www.ballinaboy.com is now up and running. The book is available from www.amazon.com
Finally Ballina Boy is finished, after eight years and many drafts! The reason it took me so long is two-fold; firstly I am a busy doctor and secondly, it was difficult to write dispassionately about my father who was the dominant character of the book. However, I think I finally pulled it off but I shall leave that judgement to my readers. As he died in 2003, it took me another six years before his memory like a good wine, had matured into a palatable vintage.
This book has many layers and is allegorical as what happened to me, had a broader meaning. After some opposition by family members, I decided to include footnotes which in a way are a parallel story in their own right, particularly as many things I allude to are facts pertaining to medical practice or unique to Australian history. In the e-book they appear as endnotes which are not as easy to follow as footnotes in my opinion.
I have adopted a simple year by year chronological layout to make it easy to follow. The book opens in 1951 with the death of my grandmother just before I was born and ends on the equator on the Indian Ocean the day after I turned nine in 1960. However, the epilogue brings us to the present.
I think there are few autobiographies which span the first nine years of a child's life. Indeed I think this may be the first. It is difficult to remove the overburden of adult perceptions and ideas, and to dig down to the bedrock of childhood. However, I was blessed with a very visual memory which has allowed me to recreate snapshots of my childhood, many of which my mother cannot remember as a child has a unique view of the world quite different from that of an adult. However, I am indebted to my mother for details in the earlier chapters when I was very young. The sub-dominant theme of religion also traverses the story which captures a boy's attempt to wrestle with Faith on one hand and Science on the other.
When writing the book I decided that turning memories into pictures would enhance it, particularly for younger readers and from those overseas. Hence I commissioned Don Braben, a renowned Brisbane maritime artist to create, with my input, the 20 pictures and the front cover with scenes including the vessels all of which are historically accurate. I also included 24 photographs of members of my family to convey their personas to the reader. I also commissioned a Brisbane editor, Helena Bond, to produce a more polished end-product. Working with an editor is an education in itself and surprisingly enjoyable. However, she took pains not to detract from my words; just to enhance them usually by deletion which is what the editor means in Latin.
Writing a book for me has been the most demanding thing I have ever done. It was harder than doing medicine or my PhD thesis but so much more enjoyable. It is wonderful thing that authors experience when the book starts writing itself with the author on a roller coaster hanging on for dear life and somewhat sad when he has to get off as it slows to the end.
Finally, I wrote this book not only to preserve what I see as a childhood now lost to the invading forces of modernity but to distill my father's brilliant and restless mind. I also felt compelled to recount the lost dignity of the Australian aborigines whose fate was so similar to most aboriginal cultures confronted by European civilization. I also tell of the Tweed shield volcano which has dominated Northern New South Wales for hundreds of millions of years. I pay tribute to my family members who served in WW2 and our indebtedness to the one million Americans who helped keep our shores free from Japanese militarism.
This book recounts medicine and general practice as it was in the fifties, the foibles of doctors and mores of nurses and of the great demands placed on the country doctor then as he was expected to be a Jack of all trades. As a doctor myself, I was fortunate to have insights unique to my profession, and at times convey this in the black humour of medicine.
I have striven to retell my story with both compassion and humour as humour is what overcomes even the darkest experiences of life. I hope that my family members will not judge me too harshly for my portrayal of their loved ones. It is easy to speak unkindly of the dead but I have tried to show people as I saw them. I have adopted the aboriginal idea that each person in their culture has his own Dreaming. My totem I suppose was the kingfisher or perhaps the owl. The story was my Dreaming and it was story of my childhood. There are no sex scenes or scandals. Childhood memories are not usually like that, so to some the story may seem tame. However, it spanned one of the most dynamic decades of the 20th century which saw the advent of the space race and in Australia, the invasion of American culture through the television; a phenomenon which changed life as we knew it forever. I think therefore this book will appeal to both Americans and Australians as its message is universal and perhaps unique.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed being its narrator. I will look forward to feedback. Happy reading.