Playing Ten Questions with Alex Lyttle.
Alex is the author of From Ant to Eagle, he is also a pediatrician and father of three children. How he manages to fit it all in twenty four hours I will never know, unless he stole Hermione’s time turner from Hogwarts …
If you do not want to read the review, just know that From Ant to Eagle is a tear- jerking book that focuses on sibling love.
1. What made you decide to write this book in the point of view of a sibling?
Having grown up with a younger brother that I tormented (yes, I’m the terrible older brother that invented the levels system), I wanted to write a story that showed the dynamic love-hate relationship of brothers. I also wanted to write from the perspective of a child whose sibling was diagnosed with cancer having seen firsthand how these children can be lost in the shuffle of treatment. I wanted to remind people that cancer (and other illnesses) affect everyone and that it is important to be mindful that no one is overlooked.
2. Did you run into problems while writing?
Of course! I run into problems with everything. I am a pediatrician who can’t get his 1-year-old to sleep through the night, and a husband who can’t remember his anniversary. There was no chance I was going to write a whole novel without any hitches. At first, my biggest problem was that I couldn’t write. Honestly, I am not a gifted writer by any means. But I worked at it and I got better – at least I think I did. I also had problems with the plot. I received feedback that it was “too sad” and should be changed. I rewrote it but ended up changing it back. If it is too sad for some readers, I apologize, but the truth is children suffer like Sammy and Cal every day. Opening people’s eyes to these struggles may help them empathize.
(PS, for all it’s worth, I don’t remember my anniversary either)
3. You said that From Ant to Eagle was a cathartic experience, did it help you?
Yes and no. I am happy I wrote the story so that others can read it and have insight into what some children are going through. Has it helped me feel less sad about my experiences working on the oncology wards? No. But in truth, I hope it never does.
4. How do you find time to write while working?
Caffeine and neglectful parenting. No, I’m joking. I don’t drink caffeine (not because I think it’s bad for me but because it does terrible things to my stomach) and I am a very hands-on parent. I find time to write because I love it. There’s no secret beyond that. If I have a free evening or a few hours between patients, I write. I rarely watch TV and when I do I feel anxious that I am not writing. That’s all there is to it.
5. Any hopes for another book?
Hopes for another book? Yes. Any time soon? Unlikely. I thought about writing a novel where a boy goes to a school called Horsewarts and learns magic, but it turns out that is similar to someone else’s book. And since I’m not allowed to plagiarize the entire Harry Potter series, I have decided to write a middle grade book about a girl who learns she is destined to save the entire planet. I’ve written the first draft but it likely won’t be publisher-ready for another year or two. I have also begun writing a novel that is similar to From Ant To Eagle (ie. medically related) but will likely take me even longer to finish.
6. Did you base the characters on a particular patient? Or did you draw from many?
Elements of the characters are based on real people but no one character is drawn directly from a single person. Characteristics were taken from friends, family members, myself and yes, patients, but there is no character that is directly taken from one person. Of all the characters, Oliver was most closely based on a single patient, however, even he has fictional elements.
7. Why that particular type of cancer? Was it because it was common?
I chose AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) because it is a common cancer yet not as favorable of a prognosis as ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). In truth, the disease was not very relevant. I just began writing and that was the diagnosis I chose. What was important to me was showing how the sibling was affected and the love between brothers. There are hundreds of diseases that Sammy could have been diagnosed with and the story would not have changed.
8. Was the ending entirely fictional, or was there some truth in it?
The story is completely fictional. While I had the unfortunate experience of seeing children who had lost a brother or sister, Sammy and Cal were not based on one particular patient and the story is therefore exactly that, a story. Though I can say for certain, this story and ones very similar have played out hundreds of times around the world and in that respect, it is the truth.
9. How long did it take you to complete the book?
Seven years and I wasn’t in Tibet (lame joke alert!). It took this long for a number of reasons: One, I was learning to write, two, I was still in my medical training and three, my children have very lengthy bedtimes. “One more book Daddy?” …. fine…
10. If this was a movie, any playlist or actors you want to appear in your adaptation?
That’s a tough question because I don’t watch a lot of TV. Jacob Tremblay would be a good fit for Cal since he’s the right age, Canadian and did a fantastic job with Room. At least he’d have the accent correct, eh? As for the others, I can’t think of anyone specific and besides, I’d like them to use unknown actors and give them the chance to create a name for themselves. I like rooting for the underdogs. Hence, being a Blue Jays fan.
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