Where did you learn to tell a story?

Until adolescence I read Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, the classical Greek myths and folk and fairy stories obsessively. Perhaps this gave me a feel for narrative structure.

Have you ever stolen a book?

Alas, yes, a chemistry textbook when at school from another boy so that I could then sell it secondhand for cash at Foyle’s in the Charing Cross Road. The fact I remember this very clearly fifty years later, even the boy’s name (whom I disliked) shows, I hope, a certain sense of shame. I don’t think I have ever stolen a book from a bookshop or from anybody else since then. I have stopped lending books to other people because they are never returned. There is a strange Ukrainian saying: ‘It is no crime to steal a man’s wife or his book.’

Where was the last place that changed your perspective on travel?

I have always had very mixed feelings about travel – the pleasure of it is largely the happiness of anticipation rather than actually arriving or being there. On the whole I deplore ‘holidays’. I travel abroad many times a year (preferably to obscure countries – I will be in Albania in two weeks’ time) but it is all related to work. One of the many privileges of being a doctor is that you can, if you want , find colleagues who become friends all over the world. My perspective changed twenty years ago when I met my colleague Igor in Ukraine and realized that I could combine travel with work, and no longer be a tourist. I could travel and be important! It has not changed since.

If you were in a band what would it be called?

I am old and grey and going bald, and although I am as silly as my patients and feel I am ‘young inside’ despite the evidence of the mirror and the difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings, I cannot imagine myself being in a band.

What’s your favourite bookshop?

I live in Oxford at weekends and haunt Blackwell’s. They used to send me solicitors’ letters threatening to sue me over my unpaid bills forty years ago when I was an undergraduate at the university and I would then sell the books back to them secondhand to pay off the bills. I prefer small bookshops in cathedral towns but there seem to be few left so I had better say Blackwell’s.

If you could cross into another artistic genre what would it be?

Woodblock engraving.

Do you know why you do it?

Do what? Writing? If writing, it is both to draw attention to myself but also to relieve the intense stress of my work. Every day at work is a human drama, often tragic – I do not want it to disappear unremarked. Surely so much excitement and suffering must mean something? If only a story?

What are you working on now?

Struggling to give a structure to all the stories I have written about my work over the last twenty years.


Our New Voices series highlights the most exciting emerging talents on granta.com. The latest in the series is Henry Marsh, a brain surgeon turned memoirist, whose piece describes an operation on the deeply buried pineal gland. You can read it here.

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