I am Sebastian Kalwij and I did my MA in Photography and Urban Cultures in 2004. This was 10 years after I graduated in medicine at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I came to London in 1994 to do an MSc in Control of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine after working in Zambia and El Salvador. Following from this I got involved in promoting Chlamydia Screening in Primary Care, GP practices, in South East London where I continue to work at the Amersham Vale Practice around the corner from Goldsmiths.
Every single day I meet a wide variety of patients from all around the world who bring in their cultures into my consulting room. This triggered my interest in doing an MA in Urban Cultures. I also have a lifelong interest in photography so the two topics came together nicely.
The idea for my novel Supercharged came from my work in promoting Chlamydia screening to healthcare professionals and patients. Many young people are at risk without realising it. Over the years I’ve seen and treated many young people who caught a Chlamydia infection. Although the infection is easy to treat, the consequences when you leave too late can be devastating. The emotional scars often run deep. Each patient has a different story to tell.
Sometimes fiction can reach more people than facts and statistics. Six years ago I started tinkering with the idea of writing a story around an engineered, supercharged strain of Chlamydia causing havoc around the world. As infections spread quickly across the globe I set the story in different cities in Europe. What the mosquito is for malaria transmission, cheap flights are for the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
At Goldsmiths, I enjoyed doing research and writing essays and I kind of missed this once I submitted my summer project. At the time my children were small and I started writing once they were asleep. I find it very relaxing to write late at night. It comes in bursts. Sometimes I don’t write anything for many weeks and then suddenly a few chapters in a few nights. The story, the plot and the characters stay with me during this time and they evolve with time. Sometimes you need to let an idea simmer for a few months before putting it on paper. Starting to write a novel is easy, to see it through to the end and editing and improving scenes and chapters can take a long time and a lot of energy.
During my student years, the author Milan Kundera had a big influence on me. There are a lot of interesting Dutch authors and I keep rereading some of these books like those by Leon de Winter or Harry Mulish. Over the last few years, I read nearly every Haruki Murakami book. Another author I admire is a fellow doctor: Michael Crichton. I never forget how during my backpacking time in South East Asia, I bought his novel Jurassic Park at a second-hand bookstall in Bangkok. I started reading this in the mini-bus on the way to a small Island, Ko Chang. I kept on reading this on the ferry to the island, and I didn’t go for my first swim until I had finished this book. I was totally hooked.
Guest post by Sebastian Kalwij (MA Photography and Urban Cultures, 2004) who currently works at Amersham Vale Practice at the Waldron Health Centre and recently appointed as a Clinical Director for Lewisham. He loves the freedom of publishing on Amazon Kindle and is planning a follow-up novel in 2016.