Tuesday, November 21, 2023

David Whittet the Independent Author Network Interview


David Whittet

David Whittet is a family doctor, a multi-award-winning independent filmmaker, and an author.

Storytelling has been in David’s DNA for as long as he can remember. As a child, a dramatization of Oliver Twist had a profound effect on him. In its day, Dickens’ novel reformed the poor law, which convinced David of the written word’s potential to change the world.

He decided then that he wanted to be a writer. Subsequently, A J Cronin’s novels inspired David to become a doctor, especially The Citadel, which pre-empted the National Health Service’s foundation in the UK and beyond. Further proof that books change lives.

Medicine is a constant source of inspiration for David’s writing and brings a gritty realism to his work. Like writing, general practice is about being interested in people’s stories. The colourful cast of characters David has met throughout his career––colleagues and patients alike––breathe life into his writing.

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

David Whittet: Goliath and the Gang is the second book in my Gang Girl trilogy. The first novel introduced us to Alicia, the daughter of a notorious gangster. We shared both the joy and despair of her lifelong struggle to break free from the Gang and build a new life for herself.

In Goliath and the Gang, we meet Aaron, Alicia’s beloved son. Aaron is cruelly separated from his mother when he’s just five years old. Raised by his aunt after losing his mother, Aaron’s uncle bullies him mercilessly, and his cousins treat him with disdain. His dream of making something of his life, of becoming an entrepreneur like his late father, rapidly disappears in the wake of his miserable childhood.

The sudden appearance of a mysterious Māori diviner sparks hope in Aaron’s heart. Is she the anonymous patron who will change everything? And will he win the heart of her haughty foster daughter?

Twenty years later, Aaron is the CEO of an industry-leading power company and still fighting the Godzone Gorillas—the Gang that kidnapped his mother.

IAN: Is the Gang Girl series available in print, e-book, or both?

David Whittet: All my books are available in print and e-book. Gang Girl is also available as an audiobook. I plan to make an audiobook of Goliath and the Gang.

IAN: Where can we go to buy your books?

David Whittet: This is my author page on Amazon, where you can buy copies of all my books.

The Gang Girl audiobook, beautifully narrated by Romy Hooper and Paul Harrop, is available from Audible and all major audiobook platforms worldwide.

I also sell personally signed books through my website

IAN: What inspired you to write Gang Girl?

David Whittet Gang Girl was born of the twenty-plus years I spent working as a rural doctor in a remote New Zealand community with a strong gang presence. Goliath and the Gang takes inspiration from my move south to the beautiful Waitaki District, with its magnificent lakes and hydroelectric power stations. Privatisation of the power industry remains a contentious issue in New Zealand. It was headline news when I first drafted the story in the early 2010s, with the government selling shares in Mighty River Power, as it was called back then. Power and conflict against the stunning background of the Waitaki Valley proved the perfect canvas to take Alicia’s story to the next generation.

IAN: How did you come up with the titles?

David Whittet: Goliath and the Gang begins with a mother reading her five-year-old son a bedtime story, David and Goliath, from a book of Bible stories. After finishing the story, Alicia is abducted by the gang and cruelly separated from her beloved son, Aaron. Left in shock and determined to avenge his mother’s kidnapping, Aaron decides then and there that he has two sworn enemies, Goliath and the gang. I chose matching titles for the series to ensure continuity. The first book is Gang Girl, followed by Goliath and the Gang, and the final book will be Godzone and the Gorillas.

IAN: How much of the boos is realistic?

David Whittet: While Gang Girl and Goliath and the Gang are works of fiction, Alicia and Aaron’s struggles reflect those of themany extraordinary men and women I have met in the course of my work as a family doctor in rural New Zealand. Alicia’s plight, in particular, has resonated with readers. At the heart of Gang Girl, we have a strong woman determined to take charge of her own destiny. In these remote communities, many women battle to escape poverty and build a new life for themselves. Their courage is my inspiration and the lifeblood of the story.

IAN: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

David Whittet: While my second novel, The Road to Madhapur, is also fictitious, it draws on my personal experience of family medicine in both New Zealand and India. My first-hand knowledge of medicine in the raw and many real-life events helped shape the story. I have relived these episodes while writing the book. My time at a remote township in the Mayurbhanj district of India was during a period of considerable unrest following the recent murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines by Hindi militants. The community remained in crisis, with the tension between the Hindu and Christian communities threatening to ignite at any moment. Graham Staines’ widow, Gladys, stayed on in the Mayurbhanj and continued to provide a home for leprosy victims. I was privileged to meet Gladys and witness her extraordinary work caring for the poor and the destitute.

IAN: What books have most influenced your life?

David Whittet The art of storytelling has been part of my being for as long as I can remember. As a nine-year-old, I looked forward to Sunday evenings and the classic serial on television. A dramatization of Oliver Twist inspired me to become a writer. Dickens’ novel brought enormous social reform and forced the repeal of the poor law in Britain and beyond. The written word could change the world, and I knew then that I had to be an author. Books also influenced my career choice. A J Cronin, a doctor and a writer, is now largely remembered for the popular TV series Dr Finlay’s Casebook. But it was his early novel The Citadel that inspired me to become a doctor. Cronin’s book exposed inadequacies in the health system and shamed the British government into launching the National Health Service. A model subsequently replicated throughout the world. Proof positive that books change lives.

IAN: What book are you reading now?

David Whittet: Of all the incredible books I’ve read this year, Homecoming by Kate Morton stands out with its captivating multi-generational story and exquisitely crafted writing. Kate Morton wrote the book during the Covid-19 lockdown, having returned to her homeland in Australia, much like the story’s protagonist. This gripping story has stayed with me long after finishing the book.

IAN: Do you see writing as a career?

David Whittet: With three books published and three more in progress, am I ready to hang up the stethoscope and become a full-time writer? Not quite. Medicine is a constant source of inspiration for my writing. Like writing, general practice is about being interested in people’s stories. Without the colourful cast of characters that enter my consulting room each day––who knows? My words might dry up.

IAN: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

David Whittet: I am a New Zealander, and my debut novel, Gang Girl, is set in our beautiful country. However, my second book, The Road to Madhapur, has a much broader scope, spanning rural New Zealand and the vast plains of India. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted my plans to revisit Madhapur to research the book. My current work in progress, Threepence on the Carpet, also has a vast canvas. The story follows Tommy, a would-be Kiwi musician, on his overseas experience in London in the swinging nineteen sixties. Although much will have changed from the novel’s setting, I would love to return to London for inspiration.

IAN: Who designed the covers?

David Whittet: I am fortunate to have found the incredibly talented New Zealand designer Holly Dunn. I have worked with Holly on the covers for each of my novels. She has a gift for capturing the spirit of a book in her cover designs. Holly’s expertise has helped me develop an author profile, which is crucial in the present indie publishing environment. We are already working on the covers and internal design for my next two books¾before I have finished the manuscripts!

Like editing, cover design can make or break a book’s success¾and an author’s career. I’m so glad I found Holly.

IAN: What was the hardest part of writing your books?

David Whittet: I’m not sure if my research for Gang Girl was the hardest part of writing the book, but it was definitely the scariest. Determined to make the novel authentic, I fronted up to a notorious gangster’s house. My heart beat even louder than the rottweiler that greeted me at the gate. I banged on the door. No reply. Muffled voices came from inside. Then, a nine-year-old boy gingerly put his head around the doorframe. 

‘Is your father at home?’ I asked.

‘I’ll go and ask him,’ the boy answered.

A loud voice boomed from inside. ‘Is it the cops?’

‘No,’ the boy replied. ‘It’s the doctor.’

‘The doctor? We didn’t call the doctor. Are you sure it’s not the cops?’

‘Positive. It’s the same dude that stitched my hand.’ He shot me an evil look. ‘And it bloody hurt.’

When the gangster finally emerged with his full-facial tattoo, he told me about his daughter’s lifelong struggle to escape the gang and forge a life of her own. I have endeavoured to capture that brave woman’s spirit in every page of Gang Girl.

IAN: Do you have any advice for other writers?

David Whittet: Seize the moment! It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I was nine years old when I decided that I wanted to be a writer, but I published my first novel in my sixties. Age is no barrier! Take every opportunity life affords us, and remember, in years to come, it’s the missed opportunities we will regret most.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

David Whittet: If only there were more than twenty-four hours in the day! I am currently working on three new books, each competing for my time. The buzz surrounding the launch of Goliath and the Gang has inspired me to complete Godzone and the Gorillas, the final book in the Gang Girl trilogy. I feel a great responsibility to the many readers who have told me how much they have enjoyed the first two books. Alongside Godzone and the Gorillas, I am working on my next stand-alone novel, Threepence on the Carpet. Tommy is a Kiwi musician caught up in the hippie movement while on his overseas experience in Britain in the 1960s. During the day, he works for a South African-owned bank. But at night, he writes and performs anti-apartheid folk songs with his flower power girlfriend. There’s trouble when his two worlds collide. Writing Threepence on the Carpet has been a blast—it’s full of real-life occurrences from the sixties, like the Aldermaston marches, the ban-the-bomb demonstrations, the political scandals, and, of course, The Beatles. This was truly the decade that changed Britain and sent shockwaves around the world.