Welcome to The Nurse Diaries – The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer, a black comedy novel by The Nurse, my evil alter ego. It is a book of great sweariness and violence, not for the faint hearted.
In this post I talk about my relationship with The Nurse, her origins, what inspired her character, and the creative writing process.
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 class A drugs, I fall over after three pints of cider. I avoid confrontation, The Nurse maims and kills. I am basically kind, The Nurse is a first class shit of the finest order. You get the picture.
Question: Is this your first book?
Answer: Yes. I’ve never had a story to tell. I’ve spent years trying to dream one up. I honestly didn’t think I had a plot in me.
Question: What inspired the character?
Answer: Three things. One, an old friend whose swearing punctuates his conversations to perfection in the best British tradition, and whose stash of tall tales is rich, deep, 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 than as myself. Writing as The Nurse is like wearing a sort of virtual morph suit.
Thanks to all that, and a lifelong passion for 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 to go along with it.
Question: How did you write the book?
Answer: I didn’t, really. It felt 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, plus 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 most of 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.
Question: Why Brighton, Middlesbrough, Devon and Dunbar?
Answer: It proved 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 also 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 liked 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 a lot more confident about what I’m doing. It’s a pleasure.
I trust the story is there, waiting to unfold, although I don’t know the plot. I love my ending, two sentences that inspired the entire second volume, and there may 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. After which it’ll be available in print and on Kindle ready for Christmas. Have a read if you like. In the meantime, as she would say, “The Nurse salutes you. Now fuck off.”