I write for businesses all over the world. I also write for fun.
My first novel is called The Nurse Diaries – The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. It’s a black comedy by The Nurse, my evil alter ego, a book of great sweariness and violence, and it is not for the faint hearted.
In this post I talk about my relationship with The Nurse, her origins, what inspired the character, and the creative writing process. You can read the Diaries for yourself, serialised here in this blog.
Question: Who is The Nurse?
Answer: You know those old cartoons where someone has a mini-angel on one shoulder and a micro-devil on the other, both egging the poor bugger on? The Nurse is the devil on my shoulder.
I obey the signs, The Nurse walks on the grass with a grin on her face so scary nobody challenges her. I stick, limpet-like and anxious, to the speed limit while The Nurse roars past at 100 miles an hour, steering one-handed, fiery-eyed and careless. I say please, she grabs. She takes mountains of terrifying drugs, I fall over after three pints of cider. I avoid confrontation, The Nurse maims and kills. I am basically kind, with keen sense of injustice, while The Nurse is a first class shit. You get the picture.
Question: Is this your first book?
Answer: Yes. I’ve never had a story to tell, even though I’ve spent years trying to dream one up. I honestly didn’t think I had a plot in me. Not a whisper.
Question: What inspired the character?
Answer: Three things. One, an old friend whose swearing is sheer perfection in the best British tradition, and whose stash of tall tales is rich, broad and varied but always filthy. Two, wearing a black morph suit and orange afro wig at a festival, feeling so liberated from my usual reserved self that I scared myself in a good way. Three, discovering it’s infinitely easier to write creatively as a fictional persona. Writing as The Nurse is like wearing a virtual morph suit.
Thanks to all that plus a lifelong passion for good, honest, full-fat swearing, The Nurse arrived, fully-formed and horrid, in my life. One day there was no Nurse, the next she was gagging to express herself. More than a decade later, she decided to write her Memoirs. I had no choice but go along with it.
Question: How did you write the book?
Answer: I didn’t. It felt a lot like The Nurse wrote it. It took three months, from September to November 2019, grinding out anything from no words at all to five thousand words a day and keeping a running list of ideas to weave into the story.
I kicked off with a beginning I wasn’t sure about, an end I loved, four main destinations, a gang of evil friends, a few other characters I’d had bubbling away in my head for years, collections of limericks, overheard conversations, and outrageous stories.
I used people I know for inspiration, because it made the characters easier to visualise and flesh out, then changed their names afterwards. The writing itself felt easy. It unrolled, it unfolded, it flowed, I didn’t think much. Weird. The thinking part only started when I edited the book. I’ve edited it many, many times myself, and had it professionally edited, and I’m still spotting tiny improvements to the ‘final’ version (in late 2020, for goodness sake!)
Question: Why Brighton, Middlesbrough, Devon and Dunbar?
Answer: It is easier to write about places I know. I was brought up in Middlesbrough, spent childhood holidays camping near Dunbar in East Lothian, went to art college in Brighton, stayed there for 35 years, then moved to Devon. It was incredibly helpful to see the settings and locations clearly in my mind’s eye.
It was great fun using actual street names, routes and places, so readers can trace The Nurse’s journey for real, assuming anyone ever reads the fucker. (whoops, The Nurse slipped through for a moment. Back in your box, madam)
Question: Why trepanning?
Answer: The Nurse and I both like the idea that she became a serial killer by accident rather than design. Her victims only die when her trepanning experiments fail. The successes are left alive, just a bit fucked up. This is The Nurse’s only saving grace.
Trepanning itself is fascinating, used for thousands of years to get rid of evil spirits, or ease deadly pressure on the brain from an injury or illness. And old trepanning tools are uncannily beautiful. In the end the choice of weapons for The Nurse and her gang was a no-brainer. Pun intended.
Question: What’s next for The Nurse?
Answer: The Nurse has a lot more to say, something I never expected, and she’s busy saying it in a second volume of her Diaries. This time the writing process itself feels even easier and smoother, and I’m more confident about what I’m doing. It’s a pleasure. I am hardly suffering my way through a thorny creative process.
Trusting the story is there, waiting to unfold, although I don’t know the plot, is the bunny. I love the ending, two sentences that inspired the entire second volume, and there might be a third volume in the pot. We’ll see. In the meantime the second volume is 24,000 words into the target of 90,000, the deadline is ‘whenever’, and all is well.
I’m serialising The Nurse Diaries in this blog, one chapter at a time until 1st December 2020. I planned to have it in print and on Kindle ready for Christmas but who knows what’s going to happen – we’ll see.
Have a read if you like. I’m serialising it on this blog.
In the meantime, as she would say, “The Nurse salutes you. Now fuck off.”