When Dr David Whittet is not writing prescriptions, he is writing scripts and making films.
Dr Whittet, who works as a general practitioner at the North End Health Centre, has started a new chapter this year by debuting his first novel, Gang Girl.
Growing up in London, Dr Whittet’s family never went to the cinema. One day, a teenage Dr Whittet and his brother defied that pattern and holed away into a theatre to watch Lawrence of Arabia.
“It was this miserable flea-pit of a cinema that we were in and this film started – suddenly you were transported into this desert,” he said.
“It lived with me long after the closing titles faded away.”
After that, he was set on making films.
In his last year of secondary school, he and some classmates made a short film which won an award at an amateur film competition.
Since then, Dr Whittet has made about 20 films, including a few feature-length movies.
He did so between training to be a doctor in Scotland and in the years after qualifying in 1977, with the aim of making one film each year.
Dr Whittet first moved to New Zealand about 30 years ago, and spent 17 years living in Gisborne.
He took a break from film-making for a couple of years, while he acted as the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ deputy president.
That was until 2010, when he made the film Amiri & Aroha – a New Zealand version of Romeo and Juliet, but instead of rival families, it featured rival gangs.
He had plenty of material to draw upon, as many of his Gisborne patients belonged to gangs.
In his research, he interviewed a well known gang member, who told him about a tattoo he had done as a teen and the ceremony involved.
The gang member also told Dr Whittet about the story of a gang member’s daughter who wanted to escape that world.
Though Dr Whittet did not use all the material from that interview for the film, he stored it in his memory and turned it into Gang Girl
Set in the 1970s in a fictional West Coast town, the novel follows the story of teenage Alicia after her family emigrates from London and her life-long struggle to escape from gang life.
“The art of being a really good GP is you’re interested in other people’s stories and I think you have to be able to see their problems through their eyes – in a waydoing with a book,” he said.
Dr Whittet, his wife Siriporn Whittet and children Rebecca and Mark, moved to Waitaki in 2011.
When he first came to New Zealand, he did a short stint as a locum in Kurow and knew he would like to come back.
So he did.
He and his family lived in Kurow for for 18 months before moving to Oamaru, where he started working at the health centre and wrote his novel.
Gang Girl has been recorded as an audiobook, something Dr Whittet hoped would be released by the end of the year.
The novel is available online at davidwhittet.com or realnzbooks.co.nz.