“Alison, what is your background as far as writing is concerned?” the lady in the corner asked during the book launch for A Justifiable Madness. I had anticipated this question but, no matter how well I wrapped it up, the truth was inescapable. I felt like a fraud, an interloper, a fake.
“I’ve written several poems.” There were nods around the room. I could have escaped unscathed at that point, but my husband, in a booming voice disclosed the nature of my unwholesome odes. “Not as good as Pam Ayres but much ruder.”
Desperate to win a modicum of respect, my next offering was better.
“Many years ago I wrote a play in which the vast majority of actors had no speaking parts. It was based on a silent movie of a Victorian melodrama. I was the narrator.” The crowd waited, hoping for evidence of a writer.
As was plain to witness, I had no literary credentials. I could see in the faces of the audience that they were puzzled. Where did the words come from? How on earth did the woman in front of them manage to write a book and become a published author without years of creative writing experience, entries into short story competitions and walls lined with publishers’ rejection letters?
The answer is that I am a nurse by trade and a writer by design. I write to preserve my own sanity.
We are judged by what we do and I have always been proud to say “I’m a mental health nurse”, even when they made me a manager and took me far away from the clinical role I loved so much. When my heart had a malfunction in its electrical department I was forced to slow down and eventually stopped dragging myself to work. My usual manic approach to life was severely curtailed and as my body malfunctioned, I had to find a way to preserve what brain I had left. Could I become one of those therapists, or life coaches and work from home? No, I’m not that sympathetic and understanding. I’m a down-to-earth, pragmatic, problem solver and I had to identify my strengths and use them.
I was good with words.
Nurses never stop learning and developing, and I was determined to put my knowledge, skills and experience to good use. With this in mind, I challenged myself to write a clinical guideline for the assessment of first episode psychosis. That was my speciality. If I could complete a dissertation for my Masters degree, then surely I could write an educational guide for student nurses, I convinced myself.
“Do something useful before you go bonkers with boredom.” I frowned back at myself in the mirror. “Right. I will.”
That was two years ago.
The task was a tough one, where to begin? Burning away in my subconscious was a nugget of a story that began to wriggle its way forward. Clinical guidelines are tedious. Stories, on the other hand, are entertaining and telling them had always been my gift. I love making people laugh, often recounting tales that engage and amuse, and therefore I had a verbal ability that could be harnessed and written down. The question was: could I put my factual nursing head to one side and allow my creative nature to have free rein?
When I’d served my time as a staff nurse on an acute psychiatric unit, I was prone to fanciful ideas. I still am. “What if Jesus had a second coming and was detained under the Mental Health Act because he was thought to be mad? How would he be treated?” That question smouldered for years. The flames were reignited when I was reminded of some research that had taken place in the 1970s and out tumbled the bare skeleton of A Justifiable Madness.
My knowledge and understanding of plot structure, POV, character definition and pacing was less than adequate, nearer to zero, if I’m honest. As for my recall of the rules of punctuation and grammar, that was appalling. I was used to writing reports, patient notes, academic articles, presentations, and job adverts for non-existent nurses, not dynamic narrative.
As a result, the first draft was, understandably, a lamentable muddle, but there was a refreshing premise and a defined plot. After a number of well-deserved rejections I sought advice and a critique of my efforts, only to be rewarded with months of editing and revisions before there was a manuscript worth sending anywhere else. Bracing myself for round two of rejections, I sent out the new improved version and within two weeks had an offer from Bloodhound Books. I was stunned. Delighted.
There has been so much more to learn since that moment of acceptance by the great team at Bloodhound but I’m a fast learner and studying hard, accepting advice where I can and huge support from my fellow authors. Editing, marketing, public speaking, performance events, and the world of social media – a mile away from NHS targets, and trying not to lose sight of the patients’ needs.
From the time I decided to write those first words I haven’t stopped the flow of ideas streaming from my head, raising awareness of mental health issues from an entirely different perspective and it’s very powerful. I may not construct the prettiest prose, but I can turn a phrase, and make people smile, question, gasp, and want to read the next page.
I was a nurse and now I’m an author. Neither is as easy as people imagine.
(c) A.B. Morgan
About Divine Poison:
For a community psychiatric nurse, Monica Morris has an unhealthy interest in poison, and when, on impulse, she buys an antique Ship’s Doctor’s Cabinet with a set of leather-bound journals she becomes fascinated by the content.
A few days later, she discovers the body of her patient, Jan Collins, and although police assume suicide by overdose, Monica is not convinced.
When more unexplained deaths involving poisoning occur, Monica realises they are linked and so does DS Adams who is investigating. But how are they connected? And why?
When it becomes obvious that she’s unwittingly stepped into a trap set for someone else, Monica’s career, her own sanity and her life are placed at risk. But where can she turn to for help?
Order your copy online here.