A corner of my mind with Sonia Henry

It’s almost Christmas, you’re running out of time to shop and even worse, you’re running out of gift ideas.  I have just the thing for you.

Going Under is the knock out debut novel of Sydney doctor, Sonia Henry that has laid bare the inner workings of the medical profession and featured on the best sellers list in Australia. Apparently, when Sonia isn’t working hard saving lives, she loves to write, although after reading Going Under, it’s hard to imagine that she has any spare time at all. I’m really thrilled to welcome Sonia Henry to my blog.

Sonia Henry author
Superstar author and doctor, Sonia Henry.

Review of Going Under

Going Under follows Dr Kitty Holliday through her tumultuous first year as an intern at a major Sydney hospital.  While this is a work of fiction, it cuts close to the truth, borne out of real-life experience.

Going Under
Source: Allen and Unwin

Kitty is a bottom feeder.  The lowest rung of the food chain in the male dominated hospital hierarchy, where consultants are sharks and everyone else, is well, prey.  Intimidated, taunted and unsupported by those who should be her mentors, Kitty turns to her housemates and friends for support over a common interest, the bottle. Bouncing between lengthy, demanding hospital shifts that would be considered illegal in any other profession, and the bar, Kitty struggles to balance her fledgling career with maintaining some kind of normal life.

The strain and pressure of the job oozes from the page.  It seems that Kitty barely draws breath between life threatening patient complications and stoushes with her superiors, the tension escalating with every impossible challenge presented.  But even when Kitty seems trapped in inescapable circumstances, she forges on, head down, aiming to just get through because there is no alternative.  This is normal, this is expected from an intern.  Failure is not an option, but sadly, she learns that opting out is.

At times, Going Under is gut wrenching, it filled me with despair, but with a deft touch, Henry lifts this story from one of complete darkness to one of light and hope.  I cringed and laughed at Kitty’s self-deprecating humour and love of the vernacular, her fondness for a drink and awkward sexual encounters with men, all of which are reminders that doctors are human, after all.  Somehow in society, we imagine and expect doctors to be faultless, both professionally and personally.  But of course, that’s ridiculous.  Kitty is wonderfully flawed and relatable.  She’s also brave, and I suspect she inherited this trait from her maker.

In 2017, Henry penned an anonymous blog titled There is something rotten inside the medical profession, based on her own experiences as a junior doctor.  The post, published on KevinMD, hit a nerve and has since been shared over 22,000 times.

Sonia Henry blog post
Source: MedPage’s Today KevinMD

I can only hope that Going Under is read as widely and helps to heal a profession that is itself, centred on healing. For doctors are not super human.  They are just human.  With fears and desires, vulnerabilities and a desperate need for sleep, kindness and respect, like the rest of us.

So what are you waiting for?  Head to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy for Christmas.  No, buy two.  One for yourself and one as a gift.  I guarantee you’ll love it.

Q & A with Sonia Henry

Q. I am dying to know, how much of Kitty’s experiences closely reflects your own experiences as a junior doctor?  Are there scenes in the novel which you lived through yourself?

A. This is a very popular question! I think the best answer is that it is a book that speaks to many truths, whilst not being a direct, memoir type reflection of my own life it is certainly based closely upon aspects of it, and certainly experiences I had or friends had informed the plot and many of the scenes. It would be fair to say that nearly all of the events in the book have happened to a doctor at some point (whether that be me, people I know, or stories I’ve heard) throughout the history of medical training. And yes, some scenes I did live myself, and appropriated them into scenes for the novel. All altered in some way of course!

‘nearly all of the events in the book have happened to a doctor at some point…’

Q. In 2017, you penned an anonymous blog post about the medical profession.  I imagine that the desire for anonymity was driven by fear of retribution in the form of dwindling professional opportunities.  That blog post took off and has since been shared thousands of times.  Given that you’ve now extended on that blog with this incredible debut, Going Under, are you still afraid?

A. That’s a great question. I was very afraid initially, particularly being across national TV and radio.  I remember waking up one morning to my phone lit up with messages from friends saying ‘you’re trending!’ and there was a big photo of my head on ABC online with the words ‘Whistleblowing doctor speaks out!’ or something along those lines and I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable, and suddenly the implications of what I had written suddenly really sunk in, whereas during the writing and editing phase you’re so involved with the book and the characters you almost forget one day it will actually be being read or debated by people!  Which was a bit naïve I guess, not to realise that.  Then, however, as the months have gone on and the book has done well (it was number 9 on top ten Aussie fiction best sellers list in September, something I was really pleased by), and I’ve received a lot of requests to speak about it, I get random texts from people at big medico events where the book is being discussed and supported by very senior specialists, and that’s given me a lot more confidence.  Also I think you get to a point where you have to let go of the fear.

I’ve identified myself as someone who speaks out about issues I think are unfair and I decided I was either going to hide or I’d have to stand up and say, yes, this is me, and I think the points I’ve raised have been very valid.  That being said I now realise how much I value my own privacy!  I think the book speaks for itself, and what has been most meaningful for me has been the private correspondence I’ve received from medical students and doctors of all levels thanking me for writing it and sharing their own experiences. That has made it all worth it.  To impact upon people on an individual level, to potentially tap into something in their psyche where for a moment they realise they are less isolated or alone (something doctors hide very well, usually to our own detriment) has been enormously, enormously meaningful.

‘I’ve identified myself as someone who speaks out about issues I think are unfair…’

Q. Kitty Holliday was an incredibly likeable character, and at the end of Going Under, her story is really just beginning. If you were to write a sequel, where would it take her?

A. Well part of my next book I want to set in Portugal, so maybe in Europe!  In all honesty I do think there is room for a sequel for Kitty, but at the moment I’m working on something slightly different.  I think it’s good creatively to expand your horizons, and to write about something so closely related to my own life has been stressful in some ways, so it’s been nice to write about different things and visit different ideas in my head.

Going Under has recently been optioned for television adaptation and I can’t wait to see Kitty come to life on the screen.  Going Under was first published by Allen and Unwin in 2019 and is available from all good book stores.

You can read Sonia Henry’s blog, There is something rotten inside the medical profession here: https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2017/01/something-rotten-inside-medical-profession.html

Photo of Sonia Henry supplied.




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