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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February 2005, 00:39 GMT
'Patients influenced my writing'
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Dr Suhayl Saadi
Working in Glasgow provided lots of material

Patients in the Govan area of Glasgow are unlikely to recognise themselves in the work of their former GP Dr Suhayl Saadi.

But some may have influenced the work of the writer, whose novel Psychoraag has just been short-listed for Britain's oldest literary award - the James Tait Black Award.

Previous winners include EM Forster, DH Lawrence and Graham Greene.

Dr Saadi said his 20 years in general practice had certainly had an influence on his writing, including 'Psychoraag'.

Influences

"I do draw on my medical work. I draw on it quite a lot subliminally. I have been a doctor for 20 years now," he said.

You see all sorts of a client base and it does infiltrate your consciousness, and without realising it you do draw on it without knowing.

"I used to be a GP in Govan, at an inner-city practice with all the drugs and alcohol. It is quite an extreme place and that is good for writing. There are allusions to Govan.

I draw on the patients emotions and the extremes
Dr Suhayl Saadi

"I draw on the patients' emotions and the extremes. As a GP you see both death and human desperation and if you are a good doctor you are a good listener.

"But that means at some level you are remembering and that you can draw on it even if it is unconsciously. Consciously it would not work or it would be unethical.

"As a GP you are also exposed to every social class which is not the case with every job. As a GP you cannot get too pompous."

Psychoraag tells the tale of a radio DJ and his descent into "lucid madness". It also features a nurse and someone with pre-senile dementia living in a nursing home.

For their character development, Dr Saadi said he drew on his medical expertise.

"In Psychoraag the character becomes a little loopy and my work with psychotics helped. After a certain point he starts hallucinating and I draw on my experiences of mental states," he said.

"It is quite useful to have access to scientific terms. I use genetic memory quite a lot. I am fascinated by that and I use that in Psychoraag.

"I have access to things that someone not medical would not have access to."

Disciplines

Dr Saadi said he also used the disciplines learnt as a medical student to help order his writing, which he has to sandwich in between his work as an occupational health doctor.

"I do three days a week in medicine to put food on the table, which is not an ideal situation. It is all right writing a short story, but if you are writing a first draft of a novel or a stage play you need time.

"It takes me about a day to get into that work. I spend a day just reading my novel and then the next day I can write it again.

The short listed novels
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
'Psychoraag' by Suhayl Saadi
GB84 by David Peace
Havoc in its Third Year by Ronan Bennett
The Afterglow by Anthony Cartwright

"The positive spin-off is that I never get writer's block - the ironing will pile up while I do the writing.

"Writing has imparted on me a sense of discipline, because as a GP you have a deadline every 10 minutes. You have to send out a patient with a diagnosis.

"My aim, if I could generate enough income, would be to give up medicine because I have done it for 20 years. I enjoy writing but the chances of generating enough income are low.

"Now that I am slightly distant to it, as I am not a full-time GP, I am not averse to writing about it."

He has also written a poem for the 500th anniversary of the Royal College of Surgeons in Scotland, drawing on experiences as a student.

"I went to the anatomy museum and it brought back memories from 20 years ago that I had sublimated. If you imagine a 17-year-old going into a hall of bodies it is quite freaky.

"My work inspired by this is called Ned Black's Dream and it is about a body snatcher and set in an anatomy hall. "

He added: "The good thing about having this profession is that mentally you have to remain in the real world and do not become a writer with a big W. You are able to create real characters and retain a sense of humility."

Dr Saadi is delighted to have been short-listed for the award, but said he was not expecting to win as there was strong competition.

"Although Psychoraag works and I am proud of it, I am capable of better. It would be great to win, but I am not expecting it - it would be a bolt out of the blue."

Award judge Professor Colin Nicholson said the shortlist for the novel section had been compiled by post-graduate students at Edinburgh University, where he teaches 18th Century and Modern Literature.

He said it was a strong field this year and that he had not yet selected the winner.

"By the time they get through to me they are all very good novels and there is a stage when you think all of them are potential prize winners."

The competition winner will be announced in May.


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