Hello, I’m Donna Douglas, author of the Nightingale novels, a series of stories set in an East End hospital in the 1930s. My latest, The Nightingale Nurses, was recently published. Dot has kindly invited me to talk about my writing, and how I set about putting a book together from the first idea to deadline day. So here goes…
I love starting a new novel. It always reminds me of the first day in the new school year, when everything is a blank canvas, full of possibilities, not to mention lots of shiny new notebooks waiting to be filled!
But it’s not that blank a canvas. By the time I sit down to start a novel, the ideas have been bubbling away on the back burner of my brain for quite a while. I just have to decide whose story I want to tell!
In The Nightingale Nurses, I’m concentrating on Dora, Helen and Millie, the three trainee nurses I introduced in The Nightingale Girls and The Nightingale Sisters. I find three or four main viewpoints is just about right for a novel – too many more and readers start getting confused! I then roughly plan out their ‘journeys’ over the course of the novel, making sure I include lots of highlights and low points, twists and turns. I’m a great plotter. I know some people like to sit down at their screens and just wait to see what happens next, but to me that’s like setting off on a long journey without a map. Even if I do end up taking a few detours on the way, I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going to end up!
Once I’ve worked out each character’s story, I sketch out their major scenes on index cards, using a different coloured set of cards for each character. This means I can keep track of the characters easily, and also indulges my passion for stationery!
Then I start putting them all together. At this point I’m making sure that one character doesn’t hog the stage for too long, and also that their stories don’t all reach their crisis point at the same time. I always have the future reader in my mind when I’m planning – I want to keep them turning the pages, but without giving them a headache!
As soon as the plot is roughed out, I write my first draft. This is where I find out if my multi coloured scene order really works. Usually it doesn’t, and I find myself moving some scenes around and ditching others to make a more cohesive story.
Then it’s on to the second draft, which is where the story really takes shape. This is when the characters start taking on a life of their own and doing some surprising things! For instance, The Nightingale Nurses reaches its climax with the battle of Cable Street, a confrontation which took place in 1936 when the Eastenders took to the streets to prevent a march by Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. One of my characters, Dora, finds herself in the middle of the battle. I’d originally planned that she would try to stay out of it as much as possible, but Dora had other ideas. I should have known she wouldn’t be a girl to stand on the sidelines!
The third and final draft is really just polishing and line editing to make sure it all makes sense, Unless, of course, I have another brainwave and decide to change the ending, which has been known! I reckon I could make this third draft stage last forever, but my editor drags the manuscript out of my hands on deadline day!
And then, of course, there’s time for a quick celebratory G & T before it’s out with another shiny new notebook and the whole thing starts again!
The Nightingale Nurses is published by Arrow. It’s available from bookshops and supermarkets, and also from Amazon –
You can find out more about Donna Douglas by visiting her website – www.donnadouglas.co.uk
Many thanks to Donna for this great guest post, I am really looking forward to reading The Nightingale Nurses! I have an extra copy to give away so to win, simply leave a comment before midnight on Monday 11th November and I shall pick one out the hat! Only open to UK residents.