Gavin Francis, Edinburgh-based GP and author of the best-selling Adventures in Human Being, is once again attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, but this time with new release Shapeshifters, which explores the perpetual change of human life.
Gavin spoke with The Fountain about what influenced him to write Shapeshifters, what he hopes to catch at the Book Festival this year and also about how to handle an event as an author (wear your favourite socks).
TF: After the success of Adventures in Human Being and the new release Shapeshifters, you are reading at the book festival this year, what can we expect from that?
I’ll be presenting Shapeshifters on the opening Saturday the 11th, and talking about it with Allan Little. We’re up at 10:30, and the pair of us are thrilled to be hosting what I think will be the inaugural event of the new Spark Theatre in George Street. Edinburgh Book Festival is finally breaking out of Charlotte Square! I’ll present some of the ideas of the book, which aims to explore and celebrate the dynamism of human life, do some short readings from it, and then Allan and I will discuss it for fifteen or twenty minutes. And being Edinburgh Book Festival, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for questions (and observations) from the audience.
TF: Shapeshifters certainly sounds intriguing, what influenced you to writer about these subjects?
As a doctor, people come to you because they want you to invoke or to influence some change in their lives. Adventures in Human Being looked at the body as a kind of cartography that you can explore from cultural and philosophical angles, as well as from medical and anatomical ones. What I wanted to do with Shapeshifters was reflect more on the body as a space that constantly transforming, moment to moment, week to week, year to year. And so there are chapters about the great way-stations of life, such as conception, birth, puberty, pregnancy, menopause. There are chapters that look at crises that afflict us – those issues I see in clinic such as hormonal transformation, cancer, injuries. There are chapters that look at the way our conscious experience is in perpetual flux, with the focus on issues such as dreaming, memory, mental illness, and even jet lag. And finally there are those transformations we effect consciously, through willpower – such as bodybuilding, body art and tattooing, cosmetic surgery. It’s a broad landscape, but that’s the way I wanted to write this book – to let it show the wealth of diversity I’m privileged to see and engage with across a normal day in a GP surgery.
TF: And what are you personally excited yourself about seeing at the book festival this year?
What I can go to see is not the same as what I want to see, sadly, as the book festival starts while my kids are still off school, and I’m in my own clinic working when many of my favourite authors will be on. But of those I’ve figured out I can make it to, Stefan Collini is always a treat to read in the London Review of Books, so I’m looking forward to hearing him speak. Ali Smith is always wonderful too, and I’m looking forward to Brian Dillon and Sigrid Rausing’s events. I’ll be chairing three events, chosen because they’re about subjects particularly dear to me – Caroline Elton and Sam Guglani will be talking about how they’ve explored the toxic pressures of medical practice through non-fiction and fiction, on the 17th. I’m also chairing Peter Dorward and Christie Watson on the 16th – both have published fascinating, nuanced and beautifully written memoirs about day to day working in the NHS. On the 23rd I’ll be chairing a health debate, and on the 27th I’m co-presenting the finale to this year’s Freedom Papers project.
TF: And having read at the book festival prior, are there any tips for first time writers getting up there this year?
Just enjoy yourself – you’re there because you’ve written something of substance, something other people can savour, or learn from, or be transported by. Wear your favourite socks.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Shapeshifters and EIBF, are you presently working on something else?
Always… I’m always working on several things. And sooner or later, one of them will ignite in my imagination, the pull to sit down and write the thing will get stronger, and more of a pleasure. When the writing of a new book takes off it is a little bit like falling in love – it has its own unstoppable momentum.
Photo courtesy of Paul Musso/Hay Festival.
Gavin Francis will be speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sat 11th August, 10:30, Spark Theatre on George St. Click here for tickets.