by Donna Douglas
Imagine having a job where you had to work 14 hour days, often without a break. During that time, you wouldn’t be allowed to eat, drink or even sit down. From seven in the morning until nine at night, you would be making beds and scrubbing bedpans (without gloves, of course). You couldn’t speak unless spoken to, or make eye contact with your superiors. Talking to any man was strictly forbidden. A word out of turn or a hair out of place could lose you half a day’s holiday, or even get you fired. You only had a day off when your boss remembered, and when you did have time off you were expected to spend it at lectures or studying.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, you also had to live on the premises under the watchful eye of a warden who would regularly go through your belongings.
Such was a life of a trainee nurse in 1930s England. And it’s also the background of my Nightingales books.
The books take us through the gates of the Nightingale Teaching Hospital in the East End of London in the mid 1930s. East London at that time was a place of great poverty, with families crammed into tiny, vermin-infested slums, often sleeping ten to a room.
From this world comes Dora Doyle, a feisty working class girl determined to escape her humble beginnings (and her abusive stepfather) and better herself. Her one dream is to become a nurse at the Nightingale Hospital. But at the time, nursing was a profession for respectable middle class girls, not the likes of Dora. Through sheer determination, she gets the chance to train. But she finds herself in a strange new world of rules and regulations, strict ward sisters and snobbish fellow students. Can she overcome their prejudices and prove herself?
Dora finds herself sharing a room with two other students. Millie, or Lady Amelia Benedict, is the daughter of an Earl. Tired of being a debutante, she wants to do something worthwhile with her life before she is forced to marry and provide an heir for the family estate. But her flighty nature gets her in trouble during training.
She couldn’t be more different from Helen Tremayne. Serious, studious Helen has never had fun in her life, thanks to her overbearing mother. But when she falls unexpectedly in love, she is forced to make a choice between following her heart and living up to her family’s expectations.
The Nightingale books follow their stories, from their first day on the wards in The Nightingale Girls, right through to their State Final exams and beyond. As well as Dora, Helen and Millie, there are many other characters, from the overbearing ward sisters to the doctors, maids, porters and patients, all with a story to tell.
As you might expect in a hospital, the Nightingale books are full of life and death drama. But they’re also stories about friendship. All the nurses I spoke to while researching the books talked about the great bond they formed with the girls they trained with, bonds that lasted many years. Even though life for a student nurse was hard, the girls managed to have fun.
Readers have really taken the Nightingale girls to their hearts. I regularly get emails and comments on my Facebook page from people wanting to know what happens next to Dora, Helen and the other nurses. One reader even said it was like catching up with a group of friends, which is exactly how I feel, and I hope you will too!
Download Book 1, The Nightingale Girls, from the following stores