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Antigonish author Graham-Pole takes a different path with cancer story

The creative cover artwork for Blood Work, a new novel by Antigonish author Dr. John Graham-Pole.
The creative cover artwork for Blood Work, a new novel by Antigonish author Dr. John Graham-Pole. - Contributed

Through the eyes of the young patient

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

Local author Dr. John Graham-Pole has followed up his medical memoir book with a totally different style of writing. And to provide an even greater challenge, he made his protagonist - the voice of the book - a 16-year-old girl.

The fictional young adult novel Blood Work follows up last year’s Journey with a Thousand Heroes; A Child Oncologist’s Story. Released late last month, Blood Work is available through HARP: The People’s Press (harppublishing.ca), as well as Pole’s personal website (johngrahampole.com) and Amazon.

In person, it can be found at the 5¢ to $1 Store on Main Street in Antigonish. 

“This time, I’ve turned to fiction to describe 16-year-old Moraig’s ‘Raig’ true-to-life journey through the ordeal of cancer and the rigours of its treatment. It is also a life-and-death adventure and a coming-of-age romance,” Pole said in promotional material for the book.

Dr. John Graham-Pole holds up a copy of his latest book Blood Work; a fictional account of a 16-year-old girl’s battle with cancer.
Dr. John Graham-Pole holds up a copy of his latest book Blood Work; a fictional account of a 16-year-old girl’s battle with cancer.

“As a pediatric cancer specialist for 30 years, I wrote this novel to take my readers inside the world of a vibrant teenager suddenly faced with life-threatening illness.

“I believe my book is at once an engrossing read and a chance for both teens and adults to learn about the remarkable advances in the care of young people with cancer.”

In talking to the Casket Oct. 4 about the change in writing styles, Pole said he wanted to reach people in a “different way.”

“Still, very much, coming from the voice of a pediatric cancer specialist but written from the point-of-view of a 16-year-old Nova Scotian girl, as a novel,” he said.

“That’s a little daring as an Englishman of 70-plus, plus [years]. I tired and hope I succeeded. I had several teenage young women from the school read it and say nice things. They thought the voice was alright in terms of catching the right teenage-way of talk.”

With a little spoiler’s alert noted, Pole said the end of the book arrives with a few questions still unanswered – purposely.

“She is, at the end of the book, still alive and apparently well,” he said.

“Then there is her parents’ marriage which was on the rocks, as can happen a lot when their children have a very serious illness, and a boyfriend; it appears to be a serious relationship but she has had that experience before.

“So we’re left with a number of questions; will that relationship survive and last? Will her parents’ marriage survive? And, lastly, will she survive and grow to have children of her own? We’re left with, I hope, a certain sense of – I wonder what is going to happen, rather than just tidying it up too neat.”

Memoir follow-up

Graham-Pole talked about whether this fictional book came to him as he was writing his memoir.

“I began to realize; it’s one thing to write about one’s own journey, in this case as a physician looking after children who were very seriously ill. But then, yes, I realized there was a story to tell from the patient’s point of view… the subjective as opposed to the objective,” he said.

He also talked about the setting, noting it’s mostly Halifax and a hospital reflective of the IWK Children’s Hospital, although not precisely depicted as the IWK.

“Essentially based in Halifax, most of it, because the young woman spends most of her time in, not necessarily, the IWK, but it could be,” he said.

“We went up there and talked to them about it, but I decided I don’t want to try and describe the IWK … that would not be a good idea. It’s clear she is going to Halifax for her treatment – there wouldn’t be any point in disguising that I didn’t think, but, on the other hand, that’s all. I don’t try and mimic the particular hospital she is in.”

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Provincially based too because HARP is a local publishing house.

“Having our own publishing house based here in Antigonish, it seemed to me I wanted to write a locally based book, anyway,” Pole said.

While an exact date hadn’t been arranged at the time of the interview, Pole said he expects to hold a book launch event at the People’s Place Library, sometime before the end of October.    

  

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