Noel Stuart was born on the Isle of Man and studied veterinary medicine in Dublin. After qualifying, he practised in the UK and Canada before settling in Helston, Cornwall. Having retired in 1994, he joined a creative writing group and he has written two books about his life.
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What made you write the books?
It really was a reflection of the sheer enjoyment of my life in practice. I started writing in about 2000 as I missed the all-embracing pleasures of practice so much in retirement. The first book, written in 2006, was ‘It's a Dog's Life’ and it was followed by ‘Man and Beast’ in 2012.
What are they about?
They basically follow my life story, while allowing for the concept, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’.
The first book begins in my last year of college, fishing trips, Guinness and an exciting romance, followed by problems with the IRA and a murder. I then returned to the Isle of Man to join the resident practice. As a new graduate, I was told to call on my employer for help day or night. I have carried this good advice on in practice ever since.
I was married on the island to my old sweetheart and had many exciting episodes in the next two years learning how to handle animals. I knew all about veterinary science, including using my senses in diagnosis as we did not have biochemical diagnosis. I also developed the veterinary art and became skilled at handling people. After two years my boss married our female assistant so I decided that the time had come to move. After working in Canada, I joined Campbell Mackellar in Devon, but for that story you must wait for book three!
Tell us about your veterinary career
After graduating I had no problems making job decisions and returned the Isle of Man. After two years, my wife and I went to Canada – to cure my itchy feet – where I worked temporarily in meat inspection and then joined practices in Manitoba and British Columbia. Two years later we returned to the UK, and joined Campbell Mackellar in Tavistock. We spent six years on Dartmoor, which was a tremendous experience. After that my main aim was to enter a partnership where I would have complete trust in a new partner. This opportunity came in 1968 when I joined Charlie Head (a true gentleman) in Helston, Cornwall. Here, I could develop the practice and indulge in my interests of fish medicine and homeopathy.
When did you retire?
In 1994 retirement was forced when my sins caught up on me. Too many nights lying out in the rain replacing prolapses, too many slipped disks after wrestling large animals. No longer could I stand for periods in small animal consultations or sit on the floor talking to cats. I had hoped to continue until the age of 70.
What did you like best about working in practice?
Communication with owners and animals was my forte. I still call into the practice 19 years later, to make people smile and laugh, or to have animals mug me for yeast tablets. I have always felt humble that I had a wonderful vocation, as I come from a family of carers. What we must have as successful practitioners is compassion for animals in our care and also for those working with us.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing?
I was lost until I joined a creative writing class run by a gifted lady who developed a lot of give and take between her students. I quickly learned that I possessed, like Alphonse Daudet, a gift for comedy. As a beginner, write your favourite passages and try them out on a critical friend.
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
To use an idiom: ‘Do as you would be done by’, and play life with a straight bat. This opportunity was given to me by my first employer.
What was your proudest moment?
In my professional life, it was acceptance of The Veterinary Record's William Hunting Award for an ‘outstanding paper written by a practitioner’. It was my offering to a profession, which has figured greatly in my life.
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