Author Interview: John Walker Pattison

Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome the author of Me and My Shadow: Memoirs of a Cancer Survivor – John Walker Pattison, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.

About The Author

John Walker Pattison

John Walker Pattison was born in the wonderful seaside town of South Shields 65 years ago. He is a dedicated Newcastle United supporter since 1969 when he took his steps through the clackerty clack of the turnstiles at St James Park; however, there is little doubt that the crucial hinge in John’s life is his beautiful wife, June. “Nothing is more important than family,” says John.
He retired from his post as a senior clinical nurse specialist and head of service in haematology at his local hospital, partially due to his chronic illnesses as a consequence of the salubrious chemotherapy and radiotherapy he received decades ago, this being the same hospital that established his cancer diagnosis almost 50 years earlier; at that time his parents were told that he would not survive, yet here he is today, humbled to be one of the longest living cancer survivors in the UK.
He has written dozens of articles for national and international nursing and medical press-presented lectures the length and breadth of the country on many aspects of haematology and cancer management. He is honoured to have won numerous awards both locally and nationally for his work in haematology.

However, Pattison knows that being one of the longest cancer survivors is his greatest achievement.
John Walker Pattison recently completed his memoirs, ‘Me, and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor’ and which was published on 31 st October 2022.
In addition, following the completion of his memoirs and in retirement he is now focusing on children’s fiction. John declares, “I have always been an elasticated Grandpa – relaying exaggerated stories to my grandchildren for many years.” These unbelievable tales are now the basis for his children’s books. In 2021, his inaugural title, ‘Strange Trips and Weird Adventures’ was published, as part of a series of adventures of Daniel and Papa. ‘Blenkinsop Blabbermouth and the Ghost of Broderick McCaffery,’ is due to be published on 16 th December 2022, ‘The Fastest Water
Pistol in Splodge City’ has a target publication date of May 2023 and the fourth title, ‘The Kingdom of Huckleberry Jam,’ is likely to be released late 2023.
Meanwhile, Lunar von Buella the Mystical Mouse from Missoula is a work in progress. Pattison enjoys the solitude and escapism of fly fishing and photographing Native Americans. More significantly, he found solace throughout his cancer journey in the history, and spirituality of the Lakota Sioux Nation. In 2018, he would spend time on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with the indigenous people of South Dakota, the people who, unknowingly, supported him through his, and life’s greatest challenge, cancer.

You can connect with author John Walker Pattison here:
Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | Email | MeWe


Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin. 

I am 65 years young, married to June and live in an old Victorian house, built in 1867 in South Shields.
South Shields is nestled on the north east coast of England and is our home. We have three daughters and four grandchildren, all living locally, “Nothing is more important than family.”
I left school with a handful of worthless qualifications and started working life as a welder in a local shipyard. Early in life, my aim was to join the Royal Navy, however, when cancer gripped my life in a deathly stranglehold, that goal was lost.
In 1997 I returned to college to get the qualifications required to start my nurse training.

Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?

My book, ‘Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor’ had a number of high profile celebrities ready to write a foreword. However, I decided not to offer any of them that opportunity as I wanted the book to stand on its own merits. I did not want to be seen to be relying on a celebrity in order to raise the book’s profile as I believe the three-dimensional and inspirational story, will stand up to scrutiny and critique.
I am honoured to reveal that his Royal Highness King Charles III has a copy of ‘Me and My Shadow -memoirs of a cancer survivor.’

Why did you choose this particular theme for your book? What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?

Inspiration! I felt passionately that not only should my unique story be heard but, that it would offer inspiration and hope to anyone in society, but especially to anyone touched by a cancer diagnosis.
Statistically, 1 in 2 of the population will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives, a scary thought. Each and every one of us knows someone, friend, relative or loved one who has been affected by the scourge of society, cancer.
Everyday makes me realise how fortunate I am, humbled at being one of the UK’s longest cancer survivors at almost fifty years post diagnosis. But, it is not just my story – the fact that my parents, way back in 1978 after 3 years of treatment and multiple relapse’s, were told that I would not survive is a blessing in itself.
Yet eight years after my unexpected recovery, my daughter was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia – like her father she too would unexpectedly survive, going on to become an international swimmer, gaining two silver medals at the ‘World Swimming Championships’ in New Zealand in 1998.
However, the third aspect of this three dimensional chronicle details my return to college and then a subsequent meteoric rise to the top of the clinical nursing ladder, becoming a haematology nurse consultant at my local hospital, the same place that made my cancer diagnosis decades earlier and where I would prescribe chemotherapy and break bad news diagnosis to individuals with the same cancers as my daughter and myself.

What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?

When, last year I retired due to chronic long term illness due to the salubrious chemotherapy, I just felt compelled to share my story

How long did it take you to write this particular book?

Although the story is almost fifty years in the making; the actual writing of the book took around six month. This did not include the time I spent requesting, then gaining access to my medical records in order to ensure I transcribed the correct chronological order of the many treatments I received.
Occasionally, my memory would recall the many thoughts of my journey and, often during the middle of the night, when this happened, I had no other option than to get up, and start writing. Even today, after publication, there are one or two anecdotal stories that were not included in the book because I simply did not recall them.

What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today? 

At the risk of sounding blasé, I would hope to be sitting on a best seller, delivering inspiring author talks to patient groups, health care professionals and any other reader groups that are prepared to listen.
I have also played around with the idea of a follow up chronicle, so that would not be beyond the realms of possibility. Ultimately, in response to the question and with total sincerity, I will settle for just being around in five years.

Are you working on any other stories presently?

Yes, my fifth children’s book, ‘Lunar von Buella the Mystical Mouse from Missoula.’

Do you also dabble in Fiction?

I certainly do, following retirement I wanted to keep active and, being an elasticated Grandpa I decided to write children’s fiction.
I have always told my grandchildren about the adventures I have undertaken during my past years; such as, the time I climbed Mount Everest barefoot and captured the Abominable snowman, before letting him go again or, the time I built a sherbet fuelled rocket and blast off to Jupiter or, the time I won the world’s greatest steeplechase, the ‘Grand National’ on donkey called slowcoach or, my fights with lions, tigers and salt water alligators during the time I spent in the jungle teaching Tarzan how to survive or, the time I saved the King of England from being robbed of the crown jewels by masked robbers when I squirted them with salad cream and, the stories go on.
I published ‘Strange Trips and Weird Adventures’ in 2021 and this was followed by ‘Blenkinsop Blabbermouth and the Ghost of Broderick McCaffery’ only this month. My third title, ‘The Fastest Water Pistol in Splodge City’ is on target for publication in May 2023 after which time I will submit the fourth title called ‘The Kingdom of Huckleberry Jam.’ As highlighted in a previous question, I am currently working on ‘Lunar von Buella the Mystical Mouse from Missoula.’

When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you to follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way? (feel free to give us your story, we love hearing author stories!)

Following my retirement, my wife suggested my elasticated stories would make good reading for children. I therefore, set about formulating a series of adventures of Daniel (my grandson) and his best friend Papa (me). Despite having never written a book previously, I decided the key ingredients should be intrigue, escapism and a splattering of magic, leading the child to feel as though they are participating in the adventure themselves.
Ultimately, I think all children’s authors will agree that we are all children in a part of our hearts and I believe we never lose that childlike sense of fantasy and adventure. In that respect, I am no different to anyone else. It is that fantasy imagination that allows me to conjure up my stories.

What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?

To be honest, I do not have a specific writing ritual. Like most writers, there are times when the thoughts and ideas are free flowing. But, of course there are many times when I come up against the inevitable wall. In that situation, as I am extremely lucky to live on the North East coast of England, I can simply walk out of the door, stroll along a beach or, amble through a serene park and often a sudden splurge of ideas will enter my mind.
I tend to try and write a little each morning, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Do you believe in Writer’s Block? If you do, how do you overcome it?

I don’t think writer’s block as an entity is real, some authors, of course, will disagree and that’s fine. 
Admittedly, there are times when you struggle to find the vocabulary needed to further your work. But, at the outset of your project, you have a direction and a route map of how that work will progress. You know how you want the work to flow, so it’s not unusual to find that ideas dry up. 
But, I feel it is important to realise that if it were as easy as just writing and writing without the occasional stoppage or the need to gather your thoughts, redirect the project, and perhaps even make a major change to the story, then everyone would be an author. 
It is of course important to recognise this and put the pen down (or remove your fingers from the keyboard) and do something else for a few hours, possibly a few days. I have, certainly when writing children’s fiction left my work for up to three weeks. What is significant is, that eventually, you will continue the thread from where you left it.

Is writing your profession or do you work in some other field too?

I guess as I retired from my senior cancer nursing post last year, yes, writing would now be considered my profession.

Can you recommend a book or two based on themes or ideas similar to your book? (You can share the name of the authors too.)

That’s an easy one and relates to my memoirs, ‘Me and My Shadow.’ My inspiration during the difficult challenges of cancer treatment and the ultimate psychological battle I faced; was the history and spirituality of the Lakota Sioux nation.
Early in my diagnosis I read ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ by Dee Brown, a history of the indigenous people of America and their oppression and how they were almost destroyed beyond recovery. Yet their strength, pride and humility were such an enormous inspiration to me that eventually, I would spend time on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota with the Lakota people who unknowingly supported me through life’s greatest challenge, a cancer diagnosis.
In addition, as a children’s author I have no hesitation in suggesting any book written by Julia Donaldson, in my view a phenomenal once in a life time innovative children’s author.

How do you deal with Writer’s Block?

I tend to put my work to one side, just go for a walk, or, pick up my camera and head out to seek stimulation and a thought that will allow me to continue.
I have always believed that simply sitting (in a park for example) and watching the world go by, observing peoples mannerism, their interactions or listening and watching nature will yield thought provoking ideas.
Alternatively, it is not unusual for me to leave my work alone for a few days.

What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?

Decide what you are going to write, be true to yourself. Make plenty of notes (I still write long-hand before transcribing to the PC). Write from the heart but do not be afraid to re-write where necessary. Re-writes are almost always inevitable.
You must be your own critic but be prepared to accept criticism from others. Remember, family members are not always the best people to offer a critique as they are clearly bias in your favour. Join author forums and seek advice from your peers.
I tend to structure my projects, deciding in advance what each chapter will contain, but it is not written in concrete and can and often does change, but it gives me a framework.

Thank you, author John Walker Pattison, for your honest and insightful answers!

About the Book

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor, is a brutally honest account of one teenager’s struggle to understand and deal with the most feared diagnosis known to society: cancer.
At 18 years of age, John Walker Pattison was thrust onto a roller coaster ride of emotional turbulence – his innocence cruelly stripped from him; his fate woven into the tapestry of life.
After years of failed chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that ravaged his physical frame and almost destroyed his psychological stability – his parents were told that he would not survive. Yet, today, he is one of the longest surviving cancer patients in the UK.
Eight years after his unexpected recovery, the news that all parents fear, his daughter is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. Yet like her father, she too would defy the odds and go on to become an international swimmer.
Pattison turned his life full circle and became a cancer nurse specialist at the same hospital that made his diagnosis decades earlier. He prescribes chemotherapy and cares for individuals with the same cancers experienced by both him and his daughter.

Throughout his journey, Pattison’s inspirations were the space rock legends, Hawkwind. He would get to play on stage with his heroes at the Donnington Festival in 2007. More significantly, he found solace throughout his cancer journey in the history and spirituality of the Lakota Sioux Nation. In 2018, he would spend time on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with the indigenous people of South Dakota. The same people who, unknowingly, supported him through life’s greatest challenge: cancer.

You can find Me and My Shadow here:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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