Michelle Johnston says after almost three decades as a doctor, she’s at a point in her career where she can be creative publicly. Photo: Ryan Ammon

Perth doctor finds success with fiction

Thursday, 5 July, 2018 - 08:58

Royal Perth Hospital emergency doctor Michelle Johnston has leveraged her career in medicine to drive the direction of her first novel, establishing her credentials as an emerging author in the process.

Having signed on with UWA Publishing, Dr Johnston’s debut novel, Dustfall, was released in February this year and is anticipated to be the publisher’s bestselling fiction title for 2018, according to one of its publishing officers.

The novel tells a story of a doctor trying to come to terms with a single mistake made on the job. She leaves Port Hedland and drives south, eventually arriving at the abandoned Wittenoom Hospital, after which she delves into the town’s local history involving asbestos.

Dr Johnston told Business News it was the idea of a doctor making a mistake that fuelled her desire to write the story.

“One of the big themes of the book is that juxtaposition of an individual making an error, a doctor making an error, versus what happens when those in charge, corporate and government, make errors,” Dr Johnston said.

She said the ability to tap into factors of the human condition was the essence of good writing.

“And of course there are a lot of human stories in the people I come into contact with in the emergency department, which are incredibly valuable when it comes to understanding the human condition.

“It’s also a very sensory rich environment full of amazing detail that you don’t always get if you’re walking the normal streets.”

Having been writing for some time for the collective medical blog Life in the Fast Lane, Dr Johnston said she had been approaching the blogs in a literary way in an attempt to find a balance between her passions for critical care and creativity.

“How do you navigate that line so you can have both? I don’t know yet, but I think I’m just starting to understand,” she said.

Dr Johnston said only now, after 28 years of being a doctor, did she feel she had the confidence and ability to take on the challenge of publishing her work.

“I think it’s much harder earlier on in your career when you have this sense of needing to prove yourself in one stream, you don’t want to rock too many boats early on,” she said.

“And personally, I wouldn’t have been capable of writing to that depth or to be honest enough with myself.

“It’s really difficult to write to a literary standard and it takes a while to realise you’re not as good as you think you are and you need a lot of feedback.”

It took about six years and many rewrites for Dr Johnston to become published after beginning her first draft.

“The journey to publication has been very slow, painful, tiny steps up a ladder and achieving ground every time,” she said.

Dr Johnston is currently working on her second novel.