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 through ill health a decade ago, and is now preparing for the publication of her first novel.
After training in Dundee, Mairi moved to Aberdeen and became a partner at a GP clinic, before working as a locum in the city’s homeless practice.
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 explained.
“Even when you’re going through to the waiting room, you’re making little assessments [about the patient] – who is with them, and about 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.”
At this point, Mairi says it’s more important to listen first than immediately start diagnosing and interrupting with questions.
“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 [than asking direct questions].”
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 – and I can’t paint to save my life.
“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 added: “As I got more well the words started to make a bit more sense, and they started to form sentences and paragraphs.
“I probably 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 took early retirement and decided to use some of her personal experiences of medicine to begin penning 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.
Death By Appointment is based in a GP surgery, and Mairi describes it as “a cross between Miss Marple and House”.
She added: “I was always a real fa of the golden age of crime writing.
“And now we’re in a turbulent time and people want a happy ending, where good can overcome evil.
“I’ve always loved this – and there are problem solving elements as you pit your wits against the author: Can I solve this before their big reveal?”
‘We can still accomplish truly great things’
Mairi decided to give the titular doctor the same bipolar diagnosis, showing how it “impedes but also offers advantages” with a different way of thinking.
“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,” Mairi said.
“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.