The storyteller

Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

“You know dad, I hate to say this, but I really like it.”

While this was not the most flattering of all comments that Dr. Alex Lyttle has received about his book From Ant to Eagle, it remains one of his favourites. His daughter, who had originally refused to read the book, offered the praise just as the Lyttle family was preparing to attend a ceremony where Dr. Lyttle was receiving the Silver Birch Award for the young adult book.

When he’s not writing, Dr. Lyttle, BMSc’07, MD’11, is a paediatric allergist living in Calgary with his wife and four children. He was born in Texas and grew up in London, Ontario. The second eldest of four children, Dr. Lyttle spent his youth playing sports and attending summer camp in Georgian Bay, eventually becoming a camp counsellor. And if you are familiar with his book, you may just recognize some of the location descriptions as Bayfield. It’s where Dr. Lyttle and his family would spend their summer holidays.

While growing up, becoming a doctor was the furthest thing from Dr. Lyttle’s mind. He saw himself pursuing a business career. But a love of science, particularly biology and physiology kept a tight hold on him and he eventually applied to medical school.

Looking back, Dr. Lyttle has many fond memories of his time at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. The close friendships he developed and the influential faculty members such as the late Dr. Francis Chan and Dr. Faisal Rehman are what he carries with him today. He also remembers the anxious and uncomfortable feelings of taking his first patient history and engaging with patients for the first time. But most of all he remembers the camaraderie of his class, as they jointly experienced many firsts together.

It was during the summer between his second and third year of medical school that Dr. Lyttle began to explore writing and first thought about writing a book.

“The summer after my first year of medical school, my mother was on my case to do something other than play video games, something that she said would better my chances at getting a good residency,” Dr. Lyttle said. “I first tried painting and I was really awful. The next summer, I told my mom that I had an interest in writing a book. I recall hearing a bit of groan from her, but decided to give it a try. I spent the whole summer working on my writing,” he added.

It took Dr. Lyttle nearly seven years to write From Ant to Eagle. The story of two brothers Calvin and Sammy and how deep sibling love and affection is, even if it isn’t always obvious to others.

“When I first sat down to write the book, I wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a sibling and the love/hate relationship that can exists between brothers,” Dr. Lyttle said. “Then building on that I wanted to show how that relationship can change when one sibling becomes ill.”

While the setting for the book draws upon Dr. Lyttle’s childhood memories, and the main characters are based on his brother and himself, some of the most poignant scenes and interactions are drawn from his own residency training experiences.

One character, in particular, Dr. Parker, is based on an oncologist Dr. Lyttle worked alongside. It was during a rotation working with the physician while he was in training that Dr. Lyttle watched as the physician shared the news of a cancer diagnosis to a young family.

“It was one of the biggest teaching moments for me. He was so good at speaking with patients – he was optimistic and realistic at the same time,” Dr. Lyttle said.

For Dr. Lyttle, writing is a release.

“Medicine can be tiring and draining,” he said. “For me, writing is a form of catharsis, it helps to lift me, and it’s never something I have to motivate myself to do.”

With a thumbs up approval from his daughter, Dr. Lyttle’s second book is now safely in the hands of his publisher. It’s a fantasy book entitled The Rise of Winter, which will be available in the spring of 2019.

“I’m not a naturally gifted writer,” said Dr. Lyttle. “But I absolutely love to do it, and if you have a story to tell, you just need to share it.”

During the interview with Dr. Lyttle, he asked that we extend an invitation on his behalf to medical students, residents and other physicians who have an interest in writing and want to chat about getting started or getting published, they are welcome to contact him through his website.