I am delighted to showcase mother and daughter writing duo
Sarah and Amy Beeson
Sarah and Amy a warm welcome back to Jaffareadstoo.
You must be so excited about the launch of your latest book
Our Country Nurse
You must be so excited about the launch of your latest book
Our Country Nurse
25th August 2016
Sarah - following your career in nursing, what started you on the path to writing and how did you break into the publishing world?
During Amy’s pregnancy and after her daughter was born she and many friends wanted more information on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, weaning, sleep and someone to talk to about their feelings about being a mum. In that first year I spent hours on the phone to Amy and her friends and then friends of friends. I emailed a lot of advice to back up the conversations. After six months or so I started to work with Amy on the manuscript for a baby advice book that became Happy Baby, Happy Family. Several publishers bid for the baby book and HarperCollins offered us a three book deal for Happy Baby, Happy Family and two memoirs of my early career in nursing and health visiting (The New Arrival and our latest book Our Country Nurse). I’d never even contemplated writing about my life so it was a complete surprise – all nonfiction books but very different.
Sarah - Your latest book, Our Country Nurse focuses on Health Visiting in the mid-1970s. How do you think nursing has changed in the intervening forty or so years?
There’s been big advances in the treatment of so many illnesses; the things we can do today are simply amazing – unimaginable when I was a young nurse. I like to think that when you take away all the technology that nurses are still made of the same stuff that we were and for the years before that. For me nursing is a calling.
Today's nurses have many obstacles to overcome. It feels like all the staff in the NHS are fighting for a service that is under attack. Expecting student nurses to pay tuition fees to study is going to add another barrier to nurse recruitment. It’s such a tough job and salaries are still modest compared to other graduates. It’s very unfair when we know how vital nurses are to care in hospitals and in the community.
Sarah and Amy - What are the ups and downs of being a writing duo and who is the worst critic?
Sarah: We mostly work alone but get together to plan and discuss. Everyday there are phone calls, FaceTime, Skype calls, emails and texts passing back and forth with ideas and feedback as stories develop and there are times when the other person isn’t always available. I'm critical of my writing and Amy is critical of hers but we try not to be critical of each other. Amy painstakingly checks facts and is scrupulous in being authentic with characterisation and narrative within the book.
Amy: It’s actually great to have someone to share the highs and lows with because writing is usually quite a solitary profession. When you doubt yourself you’ve got someone to inspire confidence and when lovely things happen it’s all the better for having someone you love by your side.
For me the lows are the late nights when you’re on a really tight deadline whilst trying to juggle being a mum with a young child and Sarah’s so caring and reassuring when mummy guilt creeps in. The highs are always meeting readers and hearing other people talk about your work. Discovering the books have helped or touched a reader in some way – that’s amazing.
Sarah and Amy - Do you each have a favourite part of the writing/publishing process?
Sarah: My favourite part is spending time thinking about my memories of inspirational patients, clients and colleagues. It’s even better when I get together with old nursing and health visiting pals and we all laugh together about some of the situations we were in. You relive those times and revisit the places you lived and worked, the lives you touched and how it’s changed the course of your life. Sharing them with Amy is very special, I’m sure there are things we’d never have talked about if it wasn’t for writing the books.
Amy: I love it when a story line comes together. You spend a lot of time thinking about plot, researching fashion, food, TV, historical events, homes, music as well as spending a lot of time talking about what was going on with different characters – you spend a lot of time with those characters and when it comes together it’s like magic. There are times when you feel like you’re willing them into life on the page.
Sarah and Amy - When you start writing do you have a writing plan, or do you plot out the story as you go along?
Sarah: A writing plan is very important and luckily for me Amy is a dab hand at planning. The first step is that I free write all my memories and then hand them over to Amy. She shapes the narrative and everyday emails the latest version of the book to me and then we discuss it and tweak bits until we get it right.
Amy: Yes, I start with a timeline of what’s happened. I have so many notebooks with pages dedicated to each character. We start with the plot, what’s each characters story that brought them into Sarah’s life; what challenge they are trying to overcome and how they got into that situation. I ask Sarah hundreds and hundreds of questions all the way through the writing process trying to reveal the heart of the story.
Then there are other notebooks about the seasons or lists of people’s names and hobbies that were popular at the time. Our Country Nurse is set in a country village in 1975-1976 so it was really important to understand the context of different characters lives. Some are farmers knowing so about that happens month by month with livestock, fruit and vegetables, flora and fauna all comes into play. Knowing how people spent their leisure time, exactly what would have been on in the background on the TV or radio all help to create the scenes in the book. I do trips to archives to get primary source materials that help to create the descriptions.
I have lots of private Pinterest boards where I mock up characters clothes and homes because a lot of what happens is in a domestic setting where the mums in the books spend most of their time is really important to us. Knowing what would be the oven or what cups she had in the kitchen cupboard all help to build up a picture of each woman.
Sarah and Amy - How do you deal with writer’s block?
Sarah: So far so good. For us it’s more a question of what to leave out then what to put in. There were so many stories we couldn’t fit them into Our Country Nurse. We’ve got a whole extra book in unused notes.
Amy: I don’t really get writers block because I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I’m a working mum so I have very specific windows of time in which to write each day and I have to sit down and get on with it. Every morning after the school run I’ll be thinking about the story we’re working on that day and then just before I turn my laptop on I’ll feel a bit uneasy, I don’t quite know how it’s all going to come together. Then I just start to type and the words come. Some days your writing is stronger than others and some days you really surprise yourself. I think that’s why it often feels like conjuring.
Sarah and Amy - Do you work on the book together or do you have separate work areas?
Sarah: When we write together it’s always at the kitchen table in my country cottage or Amy’s London flat. Most of the time we are writing separately but keeping in constant contact through calls and messages.
Amy: I dream of having an office. I have so many Pintrest boards dedicated to my perfect office but I’m usually at the kitchen table, library or a coffee shop. It is nice when we are together because you can work much faster that way and there’s a lot of laughter and the continually humming of the kettle.
Sarah and Amy – What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?
Sarah: I don’t really get slumps. I think after all those years nursing and health visiting you just keep on going until the job’s done. We’re both highly motivated people. Writing is a job that you do daily. As Amy says, you can't wait for inspiration but there are exceptional moments. Though, we do get through a lot of tea and we’re both very particular on which mugs and cups we use. Amy likes to have a literary themed mug.
Amy: I find on days when I eat well, keep hydrated and get up from my desk and do some yoga or a workout are the best days. When the pressure is on and you’re stuck at your desk it becomes very coffee and biscuit fuelled.
And finally - how can readers find out more about you and your writing?
We do events where people can meet us in person and have a chat and get a signed book if they’ve like one. We’re also very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so please come along and say hello. Visit our website sarahbeeson.org where there’s lot of articles and news stories to keep you entertained plus gift copies of the books are available.
Twitter @NewArrivalBook https://twitter.com/NewArrivalBook
Instagram @sarah.beeson.mbe https://twitter.com/NewArrivalBook
A huge thank you to Sarah and Amy for answering my questions so thoughtfully
Our Country Nurse is now available to buy online and from all good book stores.