A graduate of Glasgow (Medicine) and Wolfson College, Oxford (Anthropology), Anne Pettigrew was a GP interested in psychiatry and women’s health, a BMA Press officer, EEC Committee Member, book reviewer and writer of medico-political/humorous articles to The Herald, medical newspapers and periodicals. Now retired, after a spell wedding planning for a charity theatre, she took writing classes at Glasgow University and now participates in a critical writer’s forum there. After winning short story and article trophies, Not the life Imagined was runner up in the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable Silver Stag Award 2018. The book was originally called No Sinecure, a title abandoned as no one in her class understood what ‘sinecure’ meant, though some thought it was about ‘sin’ in those who ‘cured!’ Her second book No the Deaths Imagined was a sequel, but her third is on a divorcee mature student embroiled in a murder at Oxford. Anne has two grown up children and lives with her husband in North Ayrshire.
Where did you grow up?
On the south side of Glasgow near Queen’s Park in a family where education for girls was thought as important as for boys. I only became aware this wasn’t the norm in the sixties when my English teacher at Queen’s Park Secondary School advocated teaching as the only sensible career for a woman- she would be home to make the tea and supervise kids’ school holidays. Luckily, he was balanced by my classics teacher, Miss J.C Muir, a Miss Jean Brodie, who continued to regularly meet ‘her gals’ for encouragement in Wendy’s Tearoom. Her dream that I should go to Oxford was partly responsible for my departure age 52 to Wolfson College for a Masters’ in Medical Anthropology. You’re never too old!
Have you always wanted to write?
Age eight I wrote a medieval mystery, Bridget’s Key fully illustrated in pen and ink with a home-made cellophane wrapper to imitate a library book! When my children were small, I tried writing children’s books but after one rejection, shelved them.
Is reading important to you?
I practically lived in Langside Library as a child. Unlike many, I don’t remember childhood as being all sunny days, but rainy ones curled up with a book! My umbrella-wielding granny once tackled a librarian accusing me of swopping books for the sake of it. ‘Of course I’d read six books in a week and was entitled to take out ‘adult’ Compton Mackenzie!’ My father introduced me to many stirring authors from Ernest Hemingway to Nigel Tranter, and to poetry; John Masefield’s sea poems and Coleridge were favourites. Now I read widely. I also loved art, though the school insisted I took History instead. To compensate, my Dad arranged Saturday classes at Glasgow School of Art, where I studied drawing, painting and History of Dress and Design.
So, loving writing and art, why did you do medicine?
Being asthmatic as a child, I met many fantastic doctors. One told me that women could become doctors (though then I never met one). I wavered, applying for an MA in English Literature at Glasgow as well, but decided on medicine. No one in my family had been to University and it was very scary. My parents were delighted when I won the Women’s Graduate Prize and a handful of medals (including one for surgery though its was all theory – I’ve never stuck a scalpel into anyone!)
What is the story behind Not the Life Imagined?
After retiring as a GP, I stopped and started several novels, eventually deciding that ‘writing about what you know’ was probably good advice. My son gave me Stephen King’s inspiring ‘On Writing’ then I enrolled for Creative Writing Classes at University of Glasgow’s Centre for Lifelong Learning and was enthused. Finding few novels written about women doctors, I decided to write about female medics in the sixties, but found my male characters also hit discrimination and ethical dilemmas. Characters take over.
Is NTLI autobiographical?
My story would have been boring. Thankfully, I never had colleagues as awful as Conor and Frank, though as with any writing, there are ‘really experienced’ incidents. The book has scenarios which will be familiar to all medics. The novel’s discrimination was common in the sixties in all walks of life. One truth is that the intense working practices of medicine forge deep life-long friendships which stand medics in good stead when facing personal disasters and mental illness. It is also true that sixties students were unbelievably naïve about life and sex compared to the present day.
What do you do when not writing?
Paint landscapes, lunch, travel. Before Covid we were fortunate enough to visit far flung lands such as Patagonia, the Galapagos, Namibia and the Far East. We’ve been privileged to be able to help several girls from the Darjeeling hills through tertiary education and enjoyed visiting them In India whenever we can.
Will there be more books starring Beth Slater?
There is a sequel: Not The Deaths Imagined. Further books featuring women in peril are planned.
Who are your favourite authors?
Too many to mention! A mix of serious stories for dark nights and frivolous delights for planes and holidays. Fiction? Christopher Brookmyre (aka as half of Ambrose Parry along with his medic wife, Marisa Haetzman), Steig Larsson (skilful depiction of women, abuse and socio-cultural problems), Joanne Harris (evocative portrayals of identity and women’s issues), Philippa Gregory (the best for historical novels on women), Stella Rimington (a great spy storyteller), Peter May (a page turning expert), Sebastian Faulks (again great women) and Andrea Camilleri (Italy, food, wine, sun, idiosyncratic characters- it’s all there). In biographies, the timeless Moon’s a Balloon by David NIven and Michelle Obama’s Becoming stand out. For non- fiction, Guns, Germs and Steel by US professor Jared Diamond is an eye-opening read.
Two past authors I’ve loved whom you rarely hear about now are Taylor Caldwell (Dear and Glorious Physician (St Luke) and The Arm and The Darkness (Cardinal Richelieu) who wrote rich, well-researched atmospheric novels. And John Verney, kid’s books well ahead of their time with environmental themes and his own spidery delightful illustrations.