Two weeks ago, we had Katie Fforde digging in the dirt — with and without Ray Mears! — in order to write about life in the here-and-now. This week, we welcome Jean Fullerton who writes award-winning historical sagas about the not-so-very-long-ago.
It can seem worlds away from where we are now, even though some readers will have lived through the periods of Jean’s stories and experienced exactly the kind of gritty reality she describes. And if you enjoy Call the Midwife, you’ll love Jean Fullerton’s books.
Read on to find out more about the lengths an author goes to in order to get it right…
Jean Fullerton, East London Author
I was born in East London where my family have lived since the 1820s.
I’ve written ten novels set in East London (published by Orion) and am just putting the finishing touches to my eleventh. This one is set during the Second World War, and also in East London. I’m now a full-time writer but I was a District Nurse in East London for over 25 years. These days, I live with my hero just outside London.
Sagas = clogs and shawls? Or not?
I write what are described by the publishing industry as historical sagas. They used to be called “clogs and shawls” by reference to some of the early books of the genre which often focused on the lives of poor working class women in 19th century industrial towns. However, if you glance at the selection of sagas on offer in most supermarkets, you will see over 50% of them are now set in the mid-20th century, in the decades leading up to, during or after the Second World War.
An important ingredient of these gritty stories is the harsh details of the lives of the heroines. Although my first job as an author is to write a story that a reader can’t put down, my second is to fulfil their desire to be taken back to a different time and place.
Gritty stories need authentic grit
In order to bring the period to life, I use primary sources such as diaries, newspapers and women’s magazines from the time.
To ensure the treatments and care Connie gave her patients were authentic to the period, I’ve delved into nursing biographies. The most valuable of these was Irene Sankey’s biography, Thank you Miss Hunter (unpublished manuscript). It’s her detailed account of her time as Superintendent at the East London Nursing Society and it helped me bring the Fry House nurses to life.
For Connie’s professional life, I have collected a number of period nursing and midwifery text books, along with the invaluable Handbook of Queen’s Nurses and A Short Text Book of Midwifery.
If a procedure isn’t detailed in those books, my nurses don’t do it!
In addition I have 1948 and 1951 copies of Nursing Mirror.
I also used contemporary records such as the Mass Observation Diaries and newspapers and magazines of the day, like 1948 editions of Woman’s Own and Housewife. For household details, I’ve consulted Opie’s The Wartime Scrapbook along with Make Do and Mend, a reproduction of the official Second World War leaflets.
Memory provides grit, too
Although I can vividly remember the warmth and neighbourliness of the old streets around where I grew up, I supplement what I remember by reading other people’s accounts of their East End childhood years.
Saga readers expect a strong heroine who overcomes all sorts of adversities within a clearly defined historical period. By using the fascinating historical details of our grandmothers’ world, I aimed to do just that in my latest published book, set in 1948: Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie.
Connecting with Jean Fullerton
Isn’t it all fascinating? What a wonderful library there must be in that house Jean shares with her hero. (And the hive can vouch for the fact that he is one!) We’re really grateful to Jean for sharing her research secrets with us. We’ll be queueing up to visit that library, one day soon.
You can find out more about Jean Fullerton and her warm-hearted books on her website or via Facebook. She also posts on Twitter @JeanFullerton_
Jean’s latest Nurse Connie story, Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie, is available now.
It’s 1948 and for Nurse Connie Byrne, preparing for the start of the NHS and her marriage to her sweetheart Malcolm, life looks pretty straightforward.
That is until Dr MacLauchlan arrives.
I enjoyed reading your blog over my afternoon cuppa.
It’s a fascinating era, especially as my parents certainly lived through it, though they were not in the UK then. Love the sound of those personal stories you mention in your research books. Very enjoyable post.
Thanks, Elizabeth, so many people love the 40s and 30 era as their parents lived through it.
Lovely piece, Jean.
I lived through both the 30s and 40s (and each decade since!) and have true memories of those times. But St. Louis, Missouri, U. S. A. is a far distance from East London in customs and events, so I will find a new place when I visit your books. (And I don’t know nursing.)
Thank you for bringing me knowledge of new worlds to visit.
Dear Sue, Thanks for stopping by on the Liberta blog. I hope you enjoy my East London stories and if you’re trying to imagine 19c East London think 19c Lower Manhattan around the Five Points. Best wishes, Jean.
All the research must be fascinating, Jean – especially reading the women’s magazines. Wonderful that you’ve been able to transfer your passion for nursing into writing. Interesting post.
THank for dropping by, Rie. The research is almost as enjoyable as writing the story and I love including little authentic snippets or stories I find in autobiographies.
A great post, thanks. As I’ve got older I’ve become much more interested in the era my parents grew up in, the late 1930s and 1940s. So that’s probably the readers of my age. I suppose I identify it with stories my mum, in particular, used to share about her childhood. Now all those magazines you use, Jean, form one source of my family history knowledge!
Hi, Wendy, I too identify with the stories my parents told me many of which I’ve incorporated into my stories. For them life was always before ‘the war’ or ‘since the war’ and books and magazines of the period give such an sight into the attitudes and problems of the time. Hope you enjoy the books.