Hazel McHaffie

Prizes and plaudits

The super-observant among you will have noted that my blog comes a few days late this week. There’s a very good reason for that. Simple really: I wasn’t here to send it.

Right to DieI’ve known for several weeks that my 2008 novel, Right to Die, had been shortlisted for a prize in the Popular Medicine category of the British Medical Association’s Book competition, but we’re asked to keep it confidential. Wahey! What a surprise.

As some of you know, I had a similar experience back in 2003 when my academic book, Crucial Decisions at the Beginning of Life, won first prize in the Basis of Medicine category, and then went on to win the overall prize, Medical Book of the Year. I confess I still find that hard to believe, but when confidence starts to plummet I sneak a wee look at the trophy and tell myself I must be able to write really.

Anyway, it’s no longer confidential information because on Tuesday of this week the award ceremony took place in London. I duly invested capital in travel and accommodation, (regular employees please note: no expenses accounts for lesser speckled authors), dug out something decent to wear, and off I went … braced against the cold wind and rain of a typical Scottish September morning … only to be hit by a steamy heat-wave at Kings Cross!

BMA House is a palatial venue, but well used to muggy days, and to my relief the initial drinks reception spilled out into the courtyard. Aside from the temperature problem, it’s daunting knowing only four people in a crowd of about three hundred – two of whom I didn’t get close enough even to wave to. Bit like standing on a crowded London tube station trying to find your granny.

A record 684 books were entered into the competition by publishers this year, in nine categories. Shortlisted authors are invited but none of them know who’s won, adding an element of excitement and tension. But it has a downside: lots of winning authors were absent, including the duo who won the big overall prize. Somehow one can’t applaud quite so energetically when the certificate is collected by the publisher alone.

Right to Die didn’t win but it was the only work of fiction shortlisted and it got a good press. It feels like a real coup to have the endorsement of medicine’s most august body for my efforts to make ethics accessible and enjoyable.

Advance warning: no blog next week because I’m abroad – recovering from the excitement!

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