Last week we asked our Facebook fans if they had any burning questions for Donna Douglas, author of the incredibly popular Nightingale Girls series! As it turns out, we are all interested in the behind-the-scenes scoop on how Donna created this series and crafted these characters- and we’re desperate for more!
Welcome Donna! First things first! Everyone wants to know… Will you be writing any more books in this series?
Yes, there are at least two more in the pipeline. Nightingales Under The Mistletoe will be out this Christmas (no surprises there, with that title!), with a follow-up in the spring. After that – who knows? I’m about to start work on a new series of novels, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of the Nightingale girls!
Shabnam asked… What inspired you to choose nursing for your books – and in the 1930’s?
I’d love to say the series was all down to me, but it wasn’t! What actually happened was that someone at my publishers had an idea for a series set in a London hospital sometime in the last century, and asked me if I’d like to develop it. I’d never written anything other than contemporary fiction, so I wasn’t sure if it was really my thing. But once I started researching the subject, I realised there was a great story to be told – and I definitely wanted to be the one to tell it. The 1930s was an interesting time, because it was before the National Health Service was created, and also before the development of antibiotics and other medical miracles, so nursing was incredibly difficult. The lives of nurses in those days was fascinating, too. I’m not sure our modern-day nurses would put up with the harsh regime those students lived under!
Shabnam also asked… How do you do your research?
I love research! I love it so much, sometimes I find it difficult to stop doing it and get on with actually writing the book! I’m very fortunate in that the Royal College of Nursing has an amazing oral history archive. There are thousands of interviews with nurses talking about their lives, going right back to the early 20th century. I’ve also talked to lots of retired nurses about their experiences – I collect nursing stories, most of which find their way into my books! And I have a big collection of original medical and nursing textbooks from the period, so every procedure I describe is completely accurate.
Sarah asked… How do you get your ideas?
I wish I could answer that question! But the truth is, I don’t know. When I finish writing a Nightingale book, I always think there’s no way I’ll ever come up with the material for another. But within a couple of weeks you can guarantee I’ll be missing Matron and the girls and wondering what they’re going to get up to next. Sometimes the theme of the book will be connected to the time period – like the build-up to World War Two, for instance. Or sometimes I’ll leave loose ends in the previous novel that I want to develop further. Usually, a really strong character will come into my head and I have to tell her story! All these bits and pieces of ideas float around in my head for a few weeks until they slowly come together into a plot. That’s when I start putting it down on paper.
Cynthia asked… How do you choose your characters?
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I like writing about strong women who have to overcome real adversity, whether the conflict is external or internal. But I don’t set out to create characters – they tend to come into my head as real, fully formed people. For instance, when I was planning the first Nightingale book, I had an instant vision of Dora, a sassy red headed girl from a poor East End family with nothing but determination and big dreams. I have my favourite characters who go from book to book, but I also like to introduce a new character for every book if I can. This means that readers should be able to pick up any book in the series and enjoy it as a stand-alone novel.
Sarah asked… When you start a book, do you already know the whole story including the ending?
Yes – and no! I’m a great planner. There’s no way I could sit down with a blank screen and just write – to me, that’s like setting off on a journey without a map. Plus, I love stationery, and plotting gives me the chance to use lots of different coloured pens and Post-it notes! But having said that, more often than not my characters will take off and do something that isn’t in the script. For instance, on two occasions I’ve planned big romantic endings for my characters, only to find they both dumped their boyfriends in the last chapter! I like it when this happens, as it usually means the characters are being true to themselves and not just serving my plot.
Wanda asked… Do you foresee any plans to write this series for tv?
I’m always being asked this question, and the answer is – I wish! There are no plans for a TV series as yet, but if someone was to come knocking then I would definitely say yes! I’d be really interested to see who they cast as the various characters. I know how I picture them in my head, so I’d love to see them come to life.
Thank you Donna, and thank you to our wonderful Facebook fans for taking part!
Don’t forget to Follow us on Facebook!