Hybrid author Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist and president of the Guild of Health Writers. She contributes to The Sun, broadcasts on TV and radio and has a string of trade-published non-fiction books to her name. Now she writes and publishes novels, the latest being Hampstead Fever, a contemporary tale of urban life.
1. You are a Cambridge-educated GP and president of the Guild of Health Writers, known for non-fiction titles such as Twins and Multiple Births and your participation as a media medic on various platforms. After achieving all of this, what made you want to write novels?
I’ve always been a storyteller. I embarked on a novel when I was at university, but it got nowhere. No surprise really, since I knew nothing of life at the time except how to pass exams. As a doctor and a mother of three, I was drawn to journalism and non-fiction books because there seemed to be so much health and parenting information I could usefully share. But a more creative urge was still there, and it eventually lured me back. I reckoned that, with a bit of hard work, a synthesis of my medical and non-medical experiences might make a good read. Luckily I’ve never been afraid of hard work.
2. How does your writing process differ between non-fiction and fiction?
While good grammar is good grammar across all forms of prose, the reader’s expectations are poles apart and I find the writing process very different, especially in terms of what I put in and what I leave out. Just imagine a fact-packed page: it’s heaven in a non-fiction book, but it would be coma-inducing in fiction readers. There’s also the little matter of plot… In many ways fiction stretches me more, because my aim is to say more with less.
3. How did your decision to self-publish your novels come about?
All my non-fiction was commissioned, but no publisher asked for my novels. Although I am represented, my kind of fiction isn’t quite my agent’s thing, so it was obviously going to take a long while to place my first novel, if indeed that was possible at all. At the same time, self-publishing was becoming far more professional and respectable. It seemed the obvious way forward for me.
4. As one of many writers who juggle a busy day job with their passion for writing, how do you do it? What does an average working day look like for you?
I’d love to regale you with tales of furious scribbling while I’m between patients, but that only happens occasionally. There’s really no typical day. I work part-time as a GP and teach medical students at Imperial College, London, which should leave chunks of time for writing books. That time gets punctuated by writing for The Sun, and by TV and radio, charity work and other projects. I’m The Sun’s doctor, so I pen expert comments on breaking stories involving health, whether it’s a radiation leak or a celeb injuring themselves as they fall out of a nightclub. It’s huge fun as well as a responsibility, and I never know what’s next – just like working in Accident and Emergency. Come the end of the day, there’s usually some unfinished business. I try not to neglect my family, but I expect I do.
5. What are the biggest takeaways from your experience as a hybrid author thus far?
The reader is the most important person. Put a quality book in their hands, and they won’t care if the book is self-published or hot off the press of one of the Big Five. Readers don’t ask bookshops for the newest offering from a particular publisher. They’re after the latest from their favourite author. Every author just needs to deliver quality that satisfies readers. That means an indie author needs a great book cover, as well as professional editing and proofreading. To the trade-published author, my message is that it is still your book. There’s often the assumption that the publisher will take care of everything, but authors can and should have input. And they need to check their proofs with an eagle eye. It’s the author’s name on the cover, after all.