Book launch with a difference at Dunedin Public Hospital

Mira Harrison and Roger Steele at the launch of Admissions.
Mira Harrison and Roger Steele at the launch of Admissions.
A collection of short stories about life in a crumbling hospital was officially launched at Dunedin Public Hospital, on Thursday, December 13.

"Admissions" is the first work of fiction by doctor-turned-writer Mira Harrison, who worked as an obstetrician gynaecologist for many years, in hospitals in NZ and the UK. The eight stories in Admissions are the tales of doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners who keep a struggling institution going, while navigating the highs and lows of their own supposedly ordinary lives. Mira drew on her own experiences in different hospital jobs, to create these fictional tales. At the launch she told the audience that early review by friends and colleagues suggested she had got it right: a nurse - who had worked as a theatre sister for thirty years - said she felt she knew every character in Admissions; a pathologist commented that she knew these intimate stories were truthful; others told Mira their own personal stories reflected the experiences of the eight women in this book.

Over 70 people attended the launch, held in the Barnett lecture theatre, where Dunedin medical students, university academics and hospital doctors gather regularly. Dr Mavis Duncanson, from the Department of Women's and Children's Health was invited to launch Admissions in this very medical setting, with many guests commenting that it was a book launch with a difference!

In her speech Dr Duncanson said, "For many of us who have worked in hospitals, this setting is integral to much of our professional formation, as receptionists or academics, cooks and cleaners, nurses and doctors. Looking back on my own training, I realise that although medical school was a good preparation, I really became a doctor in those early years of hospital practice." She also commented that she was "enthralled at the way Admissions captured the breadth and depth of life within and around the institution of a hospital".

Admissions' publisher Roger Steele (Steele Roberts Aotearoa) flew in from Wellington to attend the launch. Roger told the audience of local GPs, nurses and hospital workers, that he attends about 40 book launches a year and has published over 600 books, but this one was the first in a hospital. He said of Admissions, "Mira's book is a bold and innovative approach to fiction — a daring concept, to delve into the minds and private lives of eight very different women, in a spectrum of administrative and clinical roles within a hospital. It's taken considerable insight, ingenuity and writing skill, but I think Mira has pulled it off."

Roger Steele also commented that some readers will be challenged by several of the stories, saying "I know I was." The tales may be read independently, but they are subtly linked and themes run through the book, from birth and beginnings, to the end of life and death. “Readers will find the book hard to put down, they'll be wanting to know what happens next, and how the stories interweave. Not all have happy endings either — another way in which they are true to life."

Mira's family were the catering team for her book launch, with husband Jonathan Woolrych (a GP at Mornington Health Centre) and her children Alexander and Katharine Woolrych preparing a colourful vegetarian buffet for the guests to enjoy in the foyer outside the Barnett theatre. Mira said afterwards, "It was a joyful occasion, with family, friends and colleagues here with me to celebrate the publication of my first work of fiction." While she has written two medical books (Medicines for Women and an Introduction to Pharmacovigilance) she loves writing fiction best and has plans for more stories to come.

Admissions, by Mira Harrison, is now available at University Book Shop, Dunedin and online at: http://steeleroberts.co.nz/product/admissions/

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