Today we welcome award-winning author Jean Fullerton, whose latest novel Fetch Nurse Connie was published yesterday.
For those of you who don’t know me I was born within the sound of Bow Bells in Whitechapel – Jack the Ripper country – and I absolutely adore my birth place of East London. My family has lived in the area since the 1820s. I use real East London locations and have my characters walking past actual shops and houses that once existed. I have also drawn on my family for many of my stories, such as the charity school, public houses and market.
I’m a qualified District Nurse and now teach nursing studies at a London University. I live with my hero of thirty-eight years just outside London in Epping Forest and have three grown-up daughters.
When did you know you wanted to write?
Unlike many of my fellow authors I am a relative latecomer to writing. In fact, I didn’t know I could write until I was sent on an NHS stress management course – yes, fact can be stranger than fiction.
I thought it was just a hobby until I got my first Romantic Novelist Association New Writers’ Scheme report back. It said I had what it took to be a published novelist because I wrote pacey stories with believable characters and sharp dialogue. Of course my reader also said I didn’t know the first thing about story structure, punctuation or presentation.
It was then I knew I had to write but it took 5 years of learning my craft before I finally got my big break.
I’ll continue to write until they prise the keyboard out from under my cold dead hand.
How long does it take you to complete a manuscript?
My novels are somewhere around the 135,000 word mark so the first draft takes me 5 months to pull together then a month re-working it before it goes off to my agent. She has been in publishing for a long time. Firstly, she was an editor with HarperCollins, Heinemann and Penguin before moving into being an agent so she always gives me insightful comments. Having incorporated those, in another month or so I’m happy to send the manuscript off to my publisher. So all in all from typing ‘Chapter one’ until hitting the send button to Orion is about 9-10 months, after which I collapse in a heap on my desk.
Can you tell us something about your ‘road’ to publication?
I’m dyslexic and when I went to school (at about the time when the Beatles were tripping off to India) the condition wasn’t recognised so English was always tortuous.
As a teenager I consumed Historical fiction of all kinds and I’d thought over the years that one day I’d write a historical novel. To my utter amazement a story tumbled out and after three months I had a 90,000 word manuscript and another story screaming to be told.
After writing over a 1,000,000 words my eleventh book, No Cure for Love, won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006. I signed with my lovely agent, Laura and was offered my first two-book contract with Orion Publishing.
My first four novels were set during the Victorian era but my latest series featuring Nurse Millie Sullivan and her friend Nurse Connie Byrne are set in post-war East London. They are nurses in the pre-NHS St Dustan and St George’s Nursing Association.
Although the Nurse Millie and Connie books are stand-alone novels they have some of the same characters. How do you ensure your story lines don’t contradict each other?
It’s not easy and sometimes I end up flipping through my own book to find an answer. I have a plot grid of all my books with a timeline and notes as you can see below and I have that to hand.
|1||VE day Millie delivers a baby as street prepares for a Victory party.||blancmange pilchards||8/5/45|
|2||Gets back & has to take over as the superintendent is drunk.|
|3||Argues with one of the nurses. Phone rings to say her father’s ill|
|4||At her father’s bedside with her mother as the peace is announced.||Churchill spoke at 3pm|
|5||Calls her Aunt Ruby.||King at 9pm?|
|6 Ch2||Goes back to work and meets her friend Connie|
If you could give one piece of advice to budding authors what would it be?
Firstly, if it took me three years to become a nurse, another two to qualify as a district nurse and a further three to become a lecturer so why on earth would I think I could learn the craft of writing overnight? Very few first books are of a publishable standard. Mine wasn’t. Learn your craft!
Secondly, Write what you love. If you’re chasing a bandwagon by the time you’ve jumped on its left town.
And lastly persevere. Getting published is a long, hard road but you’ll never succeed unless you stick with it.
Thank you, Jean, it’s been lovely talking to you, as always.
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.
Praise for Call Nurse Millie:
‘A delightful, well researched story that depicts nursing and the living conditions in the East End at the end of the war’ (Lesley Pearse)
‘…The writing shines off the page and begs for a sequel’ (Historical Novel Society)
‘…you will ride emotional highs and lows with each new birth and death. Beautifully written with some sharp dialogue.’ (THE LADY)