1. In 2008 you told the Herald, "For me, medicine is the girl you get pregnant behind the bike sheds and have to do the right thing by." Do you still feel that way?
No, I've fallen in love with medicine late in life and it's all the sweeter for it. Early on as a doctor there can be a lot of pressure to get everything right. There's a lot of noise in your head, "What am I going to do? Do I give them drugs? Do they need to go to hospital? Shit, could they die!" I started to realise that at the centre of the consultation were all these stories. If you just sit and let the story unfold you start to see the shape in things and you can use intuition to ask the right questions. All of a sudden medicine went from being this thing that frightened me to something full of beauty and poetry.
2. Is being a good GP as much about your personal skills as scientific knowledge?
Yes, you need to connect. If you don't connect, they won't even take the script to the chemist. And also you need to bear witness. People come in to be seen. They want you to be in their moment and truly listen to them and see them without judgment. It's like with our kids, or us with our mechanic or plumber, we want to know, "They get it! Godammit, they get it!"
3. In your poem Today I do not want to be a doctor you wrote, "The asthmatics are smoking, the alcoholics are drinking ... the mad are beginning to make sense". As a GP, what frustrates you most?
I'm more mellow about that stuff now. A certain number of bad habits is not a bad thing, I've got plenty of my own. But it is hard to watch people suffer and die from something within their control. I get angry about crap food. I see our beautiful kids walk out of the supermarket at 8 o'clock in the morning with a two litre green fizzy drink for their school lunch. Honestly, the obesity in kids breaks my heart. I grew up in South Auckland. I remember when the first KFC came and there were queues round the block. In our lifetimes we've allowed it to become culinary mainstream.
4. Would you support a sugar tax or other legislative measures?
Man, I'd screw those bastards through the floor. I reserve all my hate for them and the booze companies and the tobacco companies. They're bloody crack dealers feeding addicts and what the f*** are we doing about it? They're our kids, man! We're a small country. We can stop this!
5. How many days a week do you work as a GP now?
I do two days a week as a GP and two as a youth worker at the Horowhenua Youth Health Service we set up a few years ago. As a youth worker I have much longer appointments. One of the things that made me unhappy in medicine was having to shut people up and get them out the door before the end of the story. When the waiting room got under your skin and disturbed the consultation.
6. What achievements at the clinic have most satisfied you?
We did a survey a year ago and about 75 per cent of the kids said they wouldn't have accessed primary care if it wasn't for our clinic. I am realistic enough to know that just because they've come to us a few times you can't take that kid home and unwind 10 years of dysfunction. But you can have a chance at connecting them with the community and offering alternatives.
7. Are you making enough gains to feel your work is worthwhile?
Yeah, doctors have got to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. I get a lot of kudos for being a doctor. Every doctor knows what I'm talking about. But it costs the state nearly quarter of a million bucks to educate us. The little old lady down the road helped pay for me to be a doctor, so that I can move out of her unfashionable suburb, educate my kids elsewhere and look down my nose at people. We've made a health system that works for doctors but not for patients.
8. You left Northland to live close to your daughter Olive. Is Otaki home yet?
No. Otaki is my daughter's home and it's her mum's home. My turangawaewae are Te Tii and South Auckland. But my love for my daughter is tiger love. There's no arguing with it. I spend half of each week with her and I love it.
9. Olive is 12 now. Is your relationship changing?
Yeah man! It's the speed of change. Three months ago we were playing with plastic horses and now there's sophisticated reflections on the world, moods and silences and I'm desperate to know, "What's going on in your brain?". But I need to step away and let her sort stuff out for herself. It's a letting go, but it's also a different way of holding. I've been cruising along on auto pilot. Now it's, "Wake up, we're climbing again". You've got to learn about being a parent again.
10. Do you have any fears for the world she's going into?
I want her to develop her own sense of self so she can cope with whatever happens. The world will turn, that's an inevitability. I grew up a 7th Day Adventist - their world view is by definition apocalyptic. So it was disappointing to leave the church and find out there are real apocalypses, like global warming. We'll be defined as a species by whether or not we can get our heads round it. On the one hand we've lived a very arrogant existence but on the other we're glorious, remarkable feats of biology. Insanely exquisite. So I celebrate that too. At 51, I love my capacity for inconsistency and hypocrisy. I love that I'm a bit wrecked and doomed and that's okay.
11. Do you still get angry much these days?
The more of the story I hear, the more the rage seeps away and I just think, "What else could it be but the world turning?" There's a deep human compulsion to have answers but there are no neat answers. People have their swords drawn so quickly and I think so much of God and the devil is in the detail and in the layer after layer of the shades of grey.
12. You wrote about your marriage break-up in How we fell: A Love Story. Have you ventured into that arena again?
Yes, I did the work and got healed up. I'm in a relationship again - my partner lives in Auckland. But I believe people should be their own boyfriend or girlfriend first. Lots of people are single because it's a good option. I live alone. I can cook, clean, look after a child, and if there's no one around on a Friday night I can happily fill my night up. Being a writer you've always got something to do.