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On Michael Crichton

I’ve been a Michael Crichton fan for more than twenty years, ever since I got my hands on Jurassic Park in high school. And no matter what I’ve been doing since that time, he keeps cropping up in my attention. I’ve read, with one or two exceptions, every book he wrote. I loved almost every one. I remember where I was when I heard he’d died in 2008. I’ve heard many disparaging things said about him – that his work isn’t serious, that it’s ‘airport fiction’ – I’d dispute them all, but I really don’t care about that now. I loved his stuff, and I want to talk about is two particular places that he influenced my life, and what they meant.

jurassic-parkWhen I was a first-year med student, one of my (probably well-meaning) consultants had a go at Michael Crichton out of the blue one day. I don’t remember what prompted it … something about usefulness of professions. The consultant was indignant that someone who graduated medicine and hadn’t stuck with it. More or less, consultant said, “I mean, he’s not helping anyone.”

At the time, I mumbled the usual non-committal assent of the lowly student. But afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe it. The consultant didn’t know how many times I’d read MC’s stories, and other favourite authors’. The enjoyment I’ve had from them, the comfort, and the insight. The consultant may have felt medicine’s way of ‘helping’ is the only, or perhaps the most noble, one, but it isn’t true. Good stories help. They enrich, inspire and prompt discussion. Writing matters. And what this one person wrote is still with me long after his death, and will continue to be so. I wish I could go back to that moment, be braver, and say so. Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Years later, when I too decided not to pursue clinical medicine, I would often hear in my head people like that consultant who looked down on me for my choice. And I was comforted because I knew others, like Crichton, had done the exact same thing before me. When I finally got around to reading his early-career memoir, Travels, I found the med school experience he described eerily similar to my own, even though our medical education was 30 years apart. And it was interesting to me that all his bios imply he’d completed his internship before leaving the profession. Travels made it clear this wasn’t the case, just like me. Another comfort.

Fast forward many years to this week, and I’m in the post-completion of a manuscript turmoil. I know it needs lots of work. Lots of work. And out of the blue, my friend Bek sent me this:

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”crichtonbooks

And who said it? Michael Crichton. And from a writer I’ve admired so much, this was like a removalist that packed away my apprehensions. Yes, it needs work. A lot of work. And it can be done.

Next week, fingers crossed, I’ll be unpacking my long-boxed books in a new apartment. And I’ll be running my fingers over the stained, dog-eared and much-loved pages of Crichton’s books, and thinking about what a profound influence someone I never met had on me, and how special that is. The magic of stories. My friend KimWilkins describes it as an ordinary magic (which is lovely). Just the kind we often need.

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