The Notes of Doctor Newgate
By Alan Franks
Coming across these, we soon find they are not medical notes about Dr. Newgate’s patients, but writing of an even more private sort. This is the chronicle of a middle-aged suburban GP whose life is undergoing a series of crises. The youthful ideology he brought to the profession has been replaced by despair at the reality of his work with an ageing but seemingly immortal caseload.
His home life is a set of estrangements from his troubled wife Imogen, his angry student son Ricky and the aupair Inez, whose presence in the house he can’t quite explain.
William Newgate is himself recovering from the serious condition of alcoholism and noticing that his peers in Alcoholics Anonymous have a better grasp of it than his medical colleagues. Though a non-believer, he finds himself immersed in a programme of spiritual renewal, whether he likes it or not.
His life is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a young patient called Serena, who is convinced he has the answers to her confused and abused life. In unspairing detail he records the development of their relationship – a dangerous and reckless liason which will almost certainly spell the end of his career, and more, if it comes to light – as it surely will.
The Notes of Dr. Newgate is a richly comic but profound study of addiction in its myriad forms – not just drink and drugs but also the lethal lures of gambling, power, lust, even love and faith themselves.
It is a subject that the author Alan Franksknows from the inside, having recovered from alcoholism and working with other sufferers over the past twenty five years.
His previous fiction includes the classic newspaper comedy Boychester’s Bugle, which the novelist Tom Sharpe found “brilliantly comic,” the Sixties family sagaThe Sins of the Sons and the award-winning Going Over. Among his many plays are The Mother Tongue, which starred Prunella Scales, Previous Convictions and The Edge of the Land, set in the great East Coast floods of 1953.
He wrote for The Times for more than thirty years, covering a wide variety of arts subjects and social issues. He interviewed such major music stars as Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie; world-famous authors including James Baldwin, Arthur Miller and Muriel Spark; leading actors and directors including Ian McKellen, Peter Hall, Judi Dench and Woody Allen.
In the 1980s he wrote a regular column for the paper, Alan Franks’s Diary, which became a book and then a Radio 4 series, which he read himself. He has twice been nominated for a British Press Award.
His poems have won several awards, including the Wigtown Prize, Scotland’s largest. Jo Shapcott, former president of the Poetry Society, has described his work as “intensely musical.” With the singer Patty Vetta he has recorded five albums of his own songs and given hundreds of performances at clubs and festivals throughout Britain. One of the songs, The Wishfulness Waltz, became the title track of a CD by the veteran English band Fairport Convention. The late Jake Thackray called his compositions “lovely, true, complex and addictive things.”