Saturday, 7 March 2015

Nursing just after WWII - Fetch Nurse Connie

I am thrilled to welcome Jean Fullerton to my blog today, to chat about her latest book and the way in which she researched and wrote the story. Known for her wonderful Powerpoint presentations about East End London life, Jean brings all her research and life experience in the NHS to her books about 1940's and 50's nursing.
Fetch Nurse Connie - Cover 18th Feb th Jan 2015..doc
Fetch Nurse Connie will be the fifth book in the East End Nurses series. How have circumstances in healthcare changed for Millie and Connie since the first book?

I purposely set Call Nurse Millie in the years after the end of the WW2 and before the introduction of the NHS in 1948 so people could see what the system of health care before the NHS was actually like. In the first book of the series Millie and Connie are employed by a local Nursing Association which is a voluntary organisation supported by subscriptions and fundraising rather than central funding. The second book All Change for Nurse Millie starts on 5th July 1948, the day the NHS came into being so I could show the changes to the new system and some of the problems it had from the very start.

As Connie is Millie’s closest friend and we meet her a great deal in Millie’s story it seemed natural to tell her story in Fetch Nurse Connie, during the same time period. Like Millie’s, Connie’s story starts on VE-Day 1945 when the old health system was still in place so we see Connie  not only grappling with the her patients illnesses but also the social conditions of the time.

Your books are impeccably researched. What are the two most valuable resources you use for discovering about medicine in the 1950's?
jean1 web picture
Thank you for saying so, Deborah. Unlike my previous 19th century books the East London Nurses’ Series is within living memory so I have the great privilege of being able to speak to nurses who worked in East London during that time.  However, my most valuable research resources are my collection of 1930s, 40s and 50s nursing and midwifery text books. These include books on child health, contraception, midwifery, nursing dictionaries and a 1945 doctor’s prescribing dictionary, all of which I have to hand all the time. The most valuable of these books is the 1947 edition of Merry and Irven’s District Nursing. This was the text book all trainee Queen’s Nurses’ would have bought. It has everything from clinical procedures to the various charitable institutions of the time like the Sick Children’s’ Fund and the Destitute Relief Board. It also sets out how fees were calculated and the proper administration of a local Nursing Association. It was totally invaluable in helping me breathe life into district nursing during that period. There is also a breakdown of the way the new Welfare State was to be implemented and how much the individuals had to contribute in to the National Insurance Scheme before they were entitled to receive benefits. I also think I must have every nurses biography of the 20th century and a few before.

Apart from Millie, who is your favourite character to write? Is he/she constructed around a real person from the past?
I actually enjoy writing her friend Connie, who is the heroine of the new book.  She has a very different story and other issues in her professional and personal life to cope with. Unlike Millie she is part of a large East End family, very like my own. After her fiancĂ©’s home-coming takes and unexpected turn Connie finds herself spending a great deal of time trying to put her heartache behind her and convince her mother and two sisters that there’s more to life than marriage and children.
I never consciously construct a character around anyone in particular but I hope Connie, like Millie, is a little bit like the nurse I strive to be.

What would surprise Connie and Millie most about nursing  today?
As a registered district nurse with 20 years’ experience working in East London I’m sad to say that today ‘care’ sometimes seems missing out of the equation. Not by nurses’ I might say. I teach nursing at a London University and can assure you the vast majority of the nurses I nurture through their 3 year’s training are kind and compassion and I’d be happy for them to nurse any of my nearest and dearest. Sadly, it’s the overburdened NHS full of targets, statistics and research that sometimes put unbearable pressure on them. In Millie and Connie’s day a nurse was responsible for all their patients’ needs. This included housework, personal care and nutrition along with the more obvious nursing tasks such as dressings and medication.  However, I’m sure she’d be amazed at the range of drugs now available – especially those to regular body systems such as diabetes, high blood-pressure and pain relief  plus being able to undertake such complex operation as open heart surgery and joint replacements.

How carefully do you plan your books? Do you have a strong outline, or do the characters know where they want to go?

Because I weave at least six patients’ stories through Connie’s over-arching story I plan my novels very carefully on a colour coded table. This allows me to space out Connie’s meeting with her patients, family and her ex-fiancĂ© Charlie. I can also see, for example of there are too many scenes with her family bunched together or if there’s too much space between her patients as we see their stories.
Of course it changes as I get to know the characters and ideas come to me but it gives me a place to start.

Thanks for asking me to drop by Deborah and for anyone who might want to read Connie’s story here’s a quick insight.
Fetch Nurse Connie.
Connie Byrne, a nurse in London's East End working alongside Millie Sullivan from Call Nurse Millie, is planning her wedding to Charlie Ross, set to take place as soon as he returns from the war. But when she meets him off the train at London Bridge, she finds that his homecoming isn't going to go according to plan.
Connie's busy professional life, and the larger-than-life patients in the district, offer a welcome distraction, but for how long?
Available from Orion Fiction on kindle, paperback and hardback on 4th June 2015
Click on the bookcover to pre-order.
Easter with Nurse Millie out 19th March
Fetch Nurse Connie out 4th June 2015.
All Change for Nurse Millie
Christmas with Nurse Millie e-novella.
Call Nurse Millie.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What have Kate Bush, Alison Moyet and Led Zeppelin got in common?

Answer - they are all artists I listened to whilst creating Past Encounters.

I need to be able to access certain states in order to write well, and music helps me do this. What I was trying to capture in Past Encounters was a kind of longing – a longing that borders on nostalgia, but is not that sentimental. It is at the edge of things. We have no English word for it, but the German word is sehnsucht. For this novel I was looking for transparency and intimacy, to keep the words simple so you could almost see through them.

I remembered Mary Chapin Carpenter’s John Doe #24 ,which does just this, with its simple tune and narrative arc, telling the story of a blind, deaf and dumb man stripped of identity, the ultimate loss, yet still the character haunts us. In Past Encounters, Peter becomes a prisoner of war, just a number, so I went back to the track and listened again. In the song, sensory detail becomes enormously important, his toes feeling the streetcar rails underfoot, the scent of jasmine.
If you want to know more, about my writing process you can read the rest here, and discover more about music and the writing process from Roz Morris's other guests on Undercover Soundtrack.

Pic from