Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Author Interview: Donna Douglas

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Donna Douglas back to the blog to tell us about the latest book in the Nightingales series, Nightingales Under the Mistletoe

Eagle eyed followers may recognise this series as I have previously reviewed the first five books in the series last year but due to work and personal commitments I'm behind on reviews at the moment so still have both of this year's books, Nightingales at War and Nightingales Under the Mistletoe, to review. I've also downloaded a copy of Donna's free short story Little Girl Lost which I'm also hoping to read before the end of the year... can someone find me a few more hours in a day ;-)

Can you tell us a little bit about the latest in your Nightingale series, Nightingales Under The Mistletoe?
Nightingales Under The Mistletoe is a bit different from the rest of the series, as it’s the only one not set in London. My previous book, Nightingales At War, ended with the Bethnal Green hospital being half destroyed by a stray bomb. By the time Nightingales Under The Mistletoe begins in the winter of 1941, many of the nurses and patients have been evacuated down to a hospital in the country. Among them is Jess Jago, a character we first met in an earlier Nightingale book. She’s a feisty East End girl, and the last thing she wants is to move to the country. But village life proves anything but dull with the arrival of an RAF squadron and her old friend Effie O’Hara, who’s determined that a war isn’t going to stop her fun! 

This book also features another of my favourite characters, Lady Amelia Benedict. Readers last met Millie in Nightingales On Call, when she married and moved to the country. Sadly, life hasn’t been kind to Millie; she’s lost her husband and her father, and her family’s estate has been requisitioned by the RAF. Lost and alone, Millie takes refuge in the only place she ever felt useful – working as a nurse. As she rediscovers the friendship and camaraderie of her fellow nurses, she begins to find a new purpose in life. 

It’s a festive feel-good read, with lots of drama, romance – and a few tears!

Where did the inspiration come from to write about a group of nurses in an East End training hospital?
Not me! Before the Nightingales came along, I’d only written contemporary women’s fiction. But then my editor suggested I might like to try my hand at writing something historical. She suggested nurses in the 1930s. At the time I knew nothing about the subject, but once I started doing some research I realised there was a terrific story to be told – and I wanted to be the one to tell it! 

How did you go about researching the medical practices of pre-war Britain to enable you to start writing this series?
First of all, I had a great deal of help from the Royal College of Nursing. They have a fantastic archive of first-hand accounts from nurses going right back to Florence Nightingale, so I was able to take a lot from those about general hospital life. When it came to the specific medical practices, I have been lucky enough to get my hands on a great many original medical and nursing textbooks.  Thanks to them, I now know how to make a linseed poultice and where to apply a leech! 

Which character throughout the series have you had the most fun creating?
That’s a difficult question! They’re all my favourites. And the good thing about writing a series is that I can dip in and out of their lives whenever I like. As far as the readers are concerned, I think the three original Nightingale girls – Dora, Helen and Millie – have proved to be the firm favourites. I suppose out of those three, Dora is the closest to my heart, because she comes from a no-nonsense, working class background like me. Her family, particularly her outrageous grandmother, Nanna Winnie, reminds me of my own relatives when I was growing up!

What can we expect next from the Nightingale girls? Or are you working on something different?
There is certainly another Nightingale book in the pipeline, which is out next Christmas. But before that, I’m writing the first book in a new series, which I’m very excited about. It’s called The Nurses of Steeple Street, and it’s about a group of district nurses in Leeds in the late 1920s. It’s very strange to be creating a whole new world, but I hope readers will take them to their hearts as they did the Nightingales. 

How did your writing journey start?
I began my career writing photo love stories for a teenage magazine. It was a terrific job, and it taught me lots about storytelling, writing snappy dialogue (you couldn’t have enormous speech balloons that covered people’s faces!) and meeting tight deadlines. The downside was coming up with three new stories every week, which was exhausting!

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Don’t get it right, get it written. I don’t know who said it, but it’s absolutely true. Get your story down first, then start tinkering with it, otherwise you’ll never finish. 

What essentials do you need to have to hand whilst writing?
A cup of tea – always! And my old medical textbooks. My favourite is The Complete System of Nursing by Millicent Ashdown. 

What writers inspire you?
I love books on writing. My two favourites are Stephen King’s On Writing – lots of down-to-earth advice from a master storyteller – and Save The Cat, by Blake Schneider. It was written for would-be screenwriters, but the advice on story structure is spot-on for novelists, too. 

If you could write another style or genre, what genre would it be and why?
I love crime and thrillers, so I’d like to write a whodunit, but I’d probably give the game away halfway through! I also adore ghost stories. I have a few ideas, but they’ll have to wait!

Do you get much spare time for reading? If so, what is your favourite read of the year and why? 
I’m afraid much of my time is spent background reading for research, but I do love to get lost in a good book. I know everyone else read it ages ago, but my favourite book this year was Longbourn, the retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants. It’s very clever, wonderfully written, and it certainly made me see the Bennett family in a different light!

When you’ve finished writing or have just published your books, do you treat yourself to a reward? 

As my deadline approaches I generally decide to rewrite the whole book, which means a stressful couple of weeks where I’m working 20 hours a day. So by the time my deadline is over, the only reward I want is sleep!

Christmas 1941 and the nurses at the Nightingale are facing their toughest winter yet.

With shortages everywhere, and every news bulletin announcing more defeats and losses, the British people are weary and demoralised and The Nightingale Hospital is suffering too. 

Millie is recently widowed and dealing with the demands of her family’s estate. It’s not long before her old world of The Nightingale begins to beckon, along with a long-lost love…

Jess is struggling with her move from East London to the quiet of the countryside.

Effie finds herself exiled to a quiet village, but the quiet doesn’t last for long as she soon finds excitement in the shape of a smooth-talking GI. 

As Christmas approaches, even the shelter of the countryside can’t protect the girls from heartache.

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