The doctor turns another page

Fred Simpson with a copy of his new novel, ‘The Sunflower and the Sparrow’.

Cambridge’s Fred Simpson – family doctor, wordsmith and a man with his roots deeply embedded in Africa – will launch his second novel ‘The Sunflower and the Sparrow’ at PaperPlus Cambridge from 5.30pm on Thursday February 25.  The book is set in Cambridge and Hamilton, and all are welcome.

Other than his accent, which to the untrained ear places Fred Simpson somewhere in southern Africa, there is little time in your standard doctor’s appointment to reveal much about the man.

Yet here he is, a whippet-slim semi-retired doctor with a ‘secret love’ of writing, a published poet and novelist about to launch his second novel, ‘The Sunflower and the Sparrow’.   The book follows on from its predecessor, Ted’s Urn, this time weaving its storyline through Cambridge and Hamilton.

“Risk and challenges are at the heart of this story,” he said. “All four of them have to take risks in order to move forward.  There is a lot of complexity in there, unexpected linkages … and a comedic, satirical element.”

Fred’s own story reflects some of the same. He was born in South Africa, raised and educated in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia – that’s the accent few can pin down.  He started writing poetry at school, inspired by the penmanship of fellow student and lifelong friend, award-winning author and poet, John Eppel.

The pair remained close as Fred shifted through his early adulthood, moving from a brief foray studying geology to completing a degree in English and history, then teaching for a while before taking off to Europe where he picked up labouring jobs and sold pots and pans in Germany.

“That was rough … I nearly starved over there. I sold almost nothing for a few months.”

He retreated to a sparse existence in London. One evening, while pondering his future over a few Newcastle browns, John suggested medicine might be a good fit for his unsettled friend. Certain he didn’t have a hope in hell of getting into the programme, Fred applied.  “No-one was more surprised than me when I was accepted.”

Six years of study in Cape Town were followed by several more working as a doctor in Africa’s rural areas. “In terms of pathology and sociology, those were places unlike anywhere else I have been.”

He moved with his family to New Zealand, becoming a GP in Tokoroa in 1987. Together with his wife Pat and their children, Fred moved to Cambridge in 1996 but continued commuting to Tokoroa until 2011 when he began working at the Leamington Medical Centre.

His writing has continued throughout. He has had a number of individual poems published in New Zealand, mainly through Poetry NZ, as well as in Australia and South Africa. A collection of his poetry was self-published in 2011, and along with ‘Ted’s Urn’ is available online as an ebook.

Fred’s own journeyings, the characters he has met and mended along the way have become almost by osmosis part of the rich diversity of characters he creates.

“As a GP, I have seen many thousands of people … every permutation of humankind you can imagine.  I’ve delivered babies and dealt with terminal cases, and through it all learned about every nuance of human existence.  At the end of the day, you never just deal with a condition – you deal with a person.”
Fred’s latest book, “The Sunflower and the Sparrow’ is available online and through Cambridge PaperPlus.

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