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The novel-writing pharmacist

Malcolm Brown tells C+D how he made the unusual transition from pharmacist to author – and how others could follow in his footsteps

The disciplines of writing and pharmacy may seem worlds apart. Writers are seen as creative types, while pharmacists are often stereotyped as scientists with little artistic flare. But for 69-year-old Malcolm Brown, combining the two careers seemed a natural choice. He started out as a pharmacist at the tender age of 22 and has just published his second book, Winning Words, which aims to offer inspiration to budding writers. As he explains, it was not a straightforward career path, but one that has proven both challenging and rewarding.


A conventional start


Malcolm qualified as a pharmacist in 1968. His career choice was driven by a combination of factors – he was interested in the different sciences that pharmacy encompassed and had also heard it was “a good money ticket”.


Opportunities in pharmacy were more widely available than now, Malcolm remembers. He started out in the hospital sector and quickly progressed to a managerial role. By 1994, he was working at district level. But he was soon delivered a shock that would change his career direction dramatically. “There was a big reorganisation, so all the people at my level were made redundant,” he remembers. “That happened out of the blue, so I was then thinking, what on earth am I going to do?”

The redundancy made Malcolm vow to work on a self-employed basis. He now believes his reaction was “perhaps a little bit like burning down the house to roast a pig”, but it was the start of a fresh new approach to work. Malcolm spent some time working as a community pharmacist locum – a stint he enjoyed because “patients wanted to listen to you” – before working in industry.


Finding a passion


Soon, his thoughts started to wander back to a management course he had completed as a hospital pharmacist. On the course, the lecturers suggested he broadened his horizons. The overriding question was: “What do you really want to do in life?” For Malcolm, the answer was writing. This may have been unusual for a pharmacist, but he remembers feeling he wanted to do “something a bit different and, dare I say, creative”. Writing wasn’t the dramatic departure from his day job that some may imagine, he says, as he was used to writing reports.


The idea of creative writing, though, was a fresh challenge. Malcolm decided to stick to what he knew as much as possible by writing a fictional novel about a pharmacist. It was a “big task” and took him two years to complete – during which time he experienced doubts. “There were definitely some hard times and I struggled with part of it – just thinking what an enormous task it was and wondering whether it was completely bonkers,” he says. “You’ve committed this chunk of time and will there be any recompense?”


Just rewards


Finally seeing his book, Drugs and Desire, in print made the long process worthwhile. This spurred him on to write his second book, Winning Words, published last year. The book is filled with phrases you may find in a writer’s notebook – snappy, intriguing or thought-provoking snippets designed to stimulate the imagination of would-be authors.


Malcolm said he wrote the book to help people like his younger self, who are keen to take the plunge into the world of writing but may be unsure of where to start.


He is adamant that pharmacists should not discount themselves as writers simply because they work in a scientific domain. Pharmacy may not be traditionally thought of as an arty profession, but this shouldn’t hold back keen writers. “This is a healthcare profession – it’s not just a science, it’s also an art and it’s about talking to people,” he stresses. “Pharmacists are in their own way creative and artistic.”

Malcolm’s 5 top tips for budding writers


1. Keep a writer’s notebook

“Keep a notebook of anything at all – especially things that affect you emotionally. Make sure you get it down because that’s your future gold.”

2. Make it personal

“Write about what you have a passion for. If it affects you emotionally, that’s what you should be writing about.”

3. Read as much as possible

“Read anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it’s especially useful if it’s outside your comfort zone.”

4. Hone your writing skills

“There are academic creative writing courses, but they’re an enormous commitment. You could join a writers’ circle.”

5. Consider the market “You have to think: is there a gap in the market for what I’m writing?”



A Kindle version of Winning Words retails at £4.50


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