The Doctor Calling by Meredith Appleyard

In brief: Laura has escaped to the small rural town of Potters Junction from a world of pain. When she becomes involved in the care of her next door neighbour Neill, a number of secrets are revealed. One: she’s a GP. Two: Neill’s family, especially his son Jake, have their own skeletons. Can they help each other?

The good: I adored this story, following Laura as she starts to regain confidence in herself.

The not-so-good: Neill’s deterioration – I knew it was coming but it was so sad.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Penguin Australia for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 384

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: South Australia

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’m still mentally kicking myself as I write this review for not reading Meredith Appleyard sooner. If you don’t get anything else out of this review, remember this: go and read The Doctor Calling. It’s a wonderful story that ticks off the right boxes for a great read for me: personal growth of the heroine, friendship, a dash of romance, secrets, some medicine and a happy ending. I adored this story. If it were a person, I’d buy it dinner in gratitude and we’d probably become best friends. There’s just something intangible about the story that I just ‘got’ and the book ‘got’ me.

On the surface, there’s nothing earth-shattering about the content of The Doctor Calling, but it is written with such tenderness and understanding that the book can’t help but find its way into your heart. The protagonist is Laura, who has retreated to the cottage she inherited from her great aunt after a number of devastating losses. Laura feels like she’s lost everything from family to career and renovating the cottage is her way of trying to heal. Her main contact is with her neighbour Neill, who is terminally ill with metastatic cancer but she hides a secret even from him – she’s a GP from the city. Then Neill’s son Jake appears on the scene –he’s come to see Neill one last time, tie up some loose ends. Sparks fly between Laura and Jake, but it’s a slow burning relationship. The main focus of the story is Laura’s healing, returning to work, making friends and opening her heart to love.

It was heart-warming to see Laura grow and Meredith Appleyard handles each step of Laura’s return to society tenderly and with skill. The reader is there as she makes her first consult as a GP (once Laura’s profession is revealed, the local doctors are like a moth to a flame because of the dire shortage of rural GPs) and as she struggles with her feelings for Jake. Running parallel to this is the secrets of the Finlay family as Neill and Jake skirt around a decades-old issue and Jess (Jake’s sister) faces devastation as her own world collapses around her. It sounds callous, but another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was that there were no easy fixes for any of the characters. They all had to work through their problems and that look time, with stumbles along the way.

If you are looking for a story where romance is the primary focus, you may be disappointed with The Doctor Calling. I’d say the story is more rural fiction than rural romance. Sure, there’s some hot scenes between Laura and Jake but this story is about Laura. Deep down, she’s strong but she has suffered some horrible events that she needs to recover from. Looking after Neill (who is an absolute sweetheart) helps her to do so, as does working (and standing up to local GP Milt) and friendship with Jess. The story shows the many sources in our lives that we can draw strength on.

Meredith Appleyard also does brilliantly with the aspects of medicine in the story. I love reading medical stories, but I’m a harsh critic when it comes to getting it right. I couldn’t fault any of this – the language used when talking to Neill about palliative care was perfect, as was Laura’s diagnostic suspicions and discussions with her patients. Neill’s deterioration was also handled sensitively and realistically – so much so that his passing brought a tear (or three) to my eye.

The Doctor Calling is a perfect rural story, and if you’re after more of Meghan (the GP of Magpie Ridge), her story can be found in The Country Practice.

Guest post: Meredith Appleyard, author of The Doctor Calling

Today I am absolutely delighted to welcome Meredith Appleyard, who wrote the 100% brilliant novel, The Doctor Calling, to Sam Still Reading. The Doctor Calling is set in rural South Australia and deals with many issues unique to country life that the protagonist Laura (herself a GP) sees daily. Being West Australian and the term FIFO (fly in, fly out – often done on mining and oil jobs in the country) being synonymous with life in our state, I asked Meredith to discuss working FIFO and for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). Thank you Meredith for your time and your great answers to my random questions!

FIFO is a word that’s now ingrained in our culture here in the West. What’s it like to work FIFO? What are the highs and lows?

Being a FIFO worker suited me. My job as a paramedic in the oil and gas fields meant working fifteen days on and thirteen days off. Work and home life seemed to evolve into two discrete entities. When you were at work, you worked. Your days off were like a mini break, which was terrific. I got lots done. The downside was all my friends were at work when I was home and they resented me for having so much time off! The fact I worked fifteen ten-hour days and was on-call when I wasn’t working seemed to escape them.

Then I met and married another FIFO worker and when our shifts clashed I quit and found a ‘normal’ job again. For ten years I experienced the other side of FIFO and being the one at home was challenging at times. With one job, I’m sure they thought I didn’t really have a husband because they’d never met him. I do understand the pressure it puts on families and relationships.

Has anything outrageous happened on a swing? If so, please do share 😉

Many outrageous things happened, although they probably didn’t seem outrageous at the time. We were all so far from home, we lived in single men’s quarters, and there was always someone playing a practical joke on someone else. I remember one of my coworkers went back to his room after work to discover it had been stripped bare — all the furniture, his belongings, everything gone. Not sure where he slept that night but when he went to his room the next day, everything had been put back! Another favourite was throwing bits of cheese onto the tin roof of your quarters — you’d be woken at first light by the raucous sound of the crows clattering around on the roof scavenging the food. Not the best way to start the day!

How does regional nursing differ to the big city? What are the frustrations and benefits?

In small country towns the nurses often know the patients they’re caring for. Mostly that’s a positive — it makes for more holistic care because the patients’ home circumstances are often known and care can be tailored to meet their needs. I believe less things ‘fall through the cracks’ because of this, there’s a greater sense of community and people are willing to help each other because they realise they might be the one needing help the next day.

I learned very quickly not to gossip — country hospital staff usually stay put in one job, and they are often friends and/or relatives. I was always an outsider! In one place that I worked, the wife was the cook, the husband the maintenance man; a nurse and a cleaner were sisters; a mother and daughter were both nurses. You had to be oh so careful what you said!

-On your website, you mention that you’ve worked for the RFDS. I’d love to hear a story about your time with them!

Back then it was a dream come true. When I saw the job advertised in the paper I just had to apply, never really expecting to be the successful applicant. I’d just finished a twelve-month post graduate certificate in critical care nursing and I was raring to go. My first experience was a clinic run to stations out from Broken Hill. I felt like I’d stepped onto the set of The Flying Doctor!

Thank you again Meredith – tomorrow I’ll be posting my review of The Doctor Calling (I think you can already guess that I loved it). If you’re interested in reading any of Meredith’s books (and I highly recommend you do), check out the following links:

The Doctor Calling: Amazon AU | Amazon US | Booktopia | Kobo

The Country Practice: Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Booktopia | Kobo