Today I’m delighted to welcome Jean Fullerton to One More Page on her All Change for Nurse Millie blog tour! Jean is a native Londoner and was born in the East End within the sound of Bow Bells. Until she was five her family lived in Wapping, alongside the Thames, and then moved to Stepney. She is a trained nurse and teaches healthcare and nursing. You can find out more about Jean and her books at: http://www.jeanfullerton.com/ Welcome Jean!
I’ve done hundreds of talks to Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds and women’s groups over the past five years and the thing I’m always asked is, do I plan my stories out before I start, and the answer is I do.
When I stated writing 12 years ago I wrote franticly. On a ten minute train ride I would dash off a few lines of plot details or tap out a scene on the laptop on a longer journey. Although this was productive on one level and the word count went up by 1000s on some days, I soon found that such frenetic jotting meant I often wrote myself up plot blind alleys and then had to scrap thousands of words.
As I still have a full time day job I only have a few hours writing time in the evening and at weekends so I can’t afford to waste 2000 rushed words, just to delete them a few days later. Now I take my time and plot out the various elements before I start.
The location is easy as I am currently in the middle of a post-war East London series but that isn’t the most important thing to a page-turning story. It doesn’t matter if the story is set in the Stone Age or the Space Age, what keeps readers reading into the wee small hours is the characters.
I write women’s historical fiction so the main character of my stories is the heroine. As we see the action and events through her eyes it is important that the reader understands and sympathises with her from the very first page. She needs to have a purpose and a strong set of values and beliefs that will help her overcome whatever life throws at her.
Millie Smith nee Sullivan is one such heroine. Although the story is set in the late 1940s I’m writing for a 21st century readership so Millie is a strong, modern woman with clear ideas and a logical mind. We see her pitting herself against, and being frustrated by, what we would consider old-fashioned attitudes. She often has to battle beliefs about a woman’s place in society, their role mainly being keeping house and cooking, as she does with her husband Jim, and deal with things such as sexual harassment, mainly from the doctors she deals with, which at the time was regarded as just seen as a bit of fun.
Of course Millie isn’t alone she has other characters to interact with, the most important of whom is the hero, who in All Change for Nurse Millie is her ex-fiancé, Alex Nolan. Although he has to be set in the period, fighting in the 8th Army in WW2’s desert front, he isn’t a chauvinist or a bigot like many men of that time. He too needs his goals to strive for and problems to overcome, some of which he created for himself in the previous book, Call Nurse Millie.
There also has to be a full cast of supporting characters from Millie’s loveable mum, Doris, to her snobbish Aunt Ruby. She also has to contend with her in-laws, most notably Lady Tollshunt, Jim’s mother. Then of course there are her friends Connie, Annie and Sally and her many patients like Mrs O’Toole who is always trying to turn a penny into a shilling, the childless Mr & Mrs Joliffe and the volatile artist Miss Moncrieff who lives with her partner Dorothy plus many, many more.
You can imagine with so many people walking in and out of the story I could easily get lost in a 140,000 word novel, even my own! Over time I have found the best way to avoid this is to plot out my story on a grid. I’ve given the example from the first chapter of Call Nurse Millie below so you have some idea how it looks.
You’ll also notice I have colour-coded the scenes and some characters so I can keep an eye on how often they appear and keeping track of the story this way means there are fewer scenes that need to be rewritten. Of course, it’s not written in stone and my lovely editor, Laura at Orion, always picks up issues and inconsistencies, that’s what a good editor does, but even then it’s usually only a month’s worth of rewriting not a complete restructuring.
I started writing my next story – the second part of Connie’s story – ready for my May 2015 deadline just after Easter last year. Because I have to juggle my writing around a day job using a schedule has helped me so far to hit each deadline with a week or two to spare.
Of course it’s not for everyone and many very successful authors just sit down at their computer and write but for me writing isn’t just getting words on a page, it’s thinking and giving yourself the space to let the characters develop naturally and plotting my story line on a chart helps me do just that.
Thank you Jean.
Extract: Read the first chapter of All Change for Nurse Millie (PDF – opens in new window)
All Change for Nurse Millie is out now! Find out more here.
Visit Shaz’s Book Blog tomorrow to read a Q&A with All Change for Nurse author Jean Fullerton and the chance to win a copy of the book in a giveaway.