Phil Gifford is one of New Zealand’s most respected and experienced sports journalists. He has more than 20 sports books to his credit and at various stages of his career was a genuine multi-media personality. He has worked in newspapers, magazines, radio (where he became one of New Zealand’s most recognisable voices) and television. This will be Phil’s 25th book and he believes it will be easily the most important he will ever write. He talks to NZ Booklovers about his latest book.
What prompted you to write Looking After Your Nuts & Bolts?
I had a series of medical adventures with prostate cancer in 2008 and bowel cancer in 2012. Both ended well for me, thanks to prompt, efficient and caring treatment. Men I knew asked a lot of questions about what was involved in both, and I realised there wasn’t a general men’s health book to refer them to.
Men can be reluctant to open up about their health – so how did you approach writing this book with that in mind?
By telling everyone I approached that the aim of the book was to make life better, and longer, for other men. Not one declined.
How long did it take you to write?
It took me almost two years. It’s my 25th book, and most of them have been about sport. But I started this book from ground zero. Usually a 70,000 to 80,000 word book (“Your Nuts And Bolts” is about 72,000 words) would take me six months.
How did you go about doing your research, and how did you decide who to include in the book?
My GP, Graeme Washer, was one of the founding people on the committee of the New Zealand Men’s Health Trust. When I had the idea for the book I talked with him, and he gave me invaluable advice, and practical help. Graeme suggested I include first person stories, because the Trust had found men paid at least as much attention to men who been through an illness as they did to medical specialists. He then made suggestions for fields to cover, and who would be good to talk to. Some specialists I contacted myself through organisations like the NZ Heart Foundation. For the first person stories the medical experts made suggestions, and some were people I knew personally.
Was it difficult to balance the humour in the book with the factual content?
No. Without exception the medical experts all said something like, “For God’s sake don’t write it as if it’s for a medical journal. Make it readable, and when you can, make it funny.”
Was it difficult to get the men in the book to open up about their experiences?
Not really. Before we started I told every one he would see the story before it went to the publishers, and I kept that promise. Nothing was printed they weren’t comfortable with.
Which story impacted on you the most (if you had to choose) and why?
It’s impossible for me to choose. On any given day it might have been Jan Burns, a sexologist, telling me about grown men in tears because they can’t have sex with their wives. I’ll never make a joke about impotence again. On another it might be the realisation that with modern surgery my father, who died of a heart attack when I was 17, might have been in my life at least another decade.
What do you hope people will take away from the book?
That one key ingredient for staying well, especially after you turn 50, or even 40, is to have a doctor, who you see on a yearly basis, so small medical problems are detected before they’re big medical problems. As just one example, detect bowel cancer early and there’s a 99% cure rate. Get it late and only 25% survive.
What are you working on next?
Promoting “Nuts And Bolts” and then finding a nice, relaxing sports book to do.