Our guest today is Peter Ardern, author of Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance. With personal ties to Hettie, a woman healer, and Aunt Annie, who nursed in the Crimea, Dorothy Martin decides upon a career in nursing – a newly-formed profession for women. Fans of season two (WWI) of Downton Abbey or the (U.S.) Civil War era series Mercy Street will thrill at this glimpse of British nursing life in the Victorian era.
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Q: Congratulations on your most recent publication, Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance. Tell readers a bit about yourself, and, of course, your novel.
Peter: I trained as a nurse in Sheffield, England in the early 1960’s in both mental health and general nursing, choosing mental health for my nursing career. I retired from nursing in 1994 the year I was awarded United Kingdom Nurse of the Year. I then studied full time for a PhD in social studies. I followed this by publishing nursing histories and subsequently my current novel Dorothy’s Dream. I see these writings as a direct result of my chosen career and the person-centered approach (mainly interviews) I used throughout my research.
Q: Your Twitter feed mentions (and has a photo of) your psychiatric training hospital, Sheffield’s Middlewood Hospital, being turned into housing. Have you been able to visit Middlewood, and if so, what do you think of the transformation? (and what memories did your visit bring up?)
Peter: I visited the hospital site after nearly forty years. I prepared myself for some sort of disappointment while driving towards the new estate. On reaching one of the old entrances, I was pleased to find that the gate house, The Lodge, still stood. This is now used as a children’s nursery. I then travelled along unfamiliar roads and got quite lost until I found (what was) the main entrance to the old hospital. It is now the frontage of a block of flats. I was pleased that this façade had been preserved, but also somewhat disappointed. It just felt very strange. What to me had been a very welcoming entrance was now unapproachable. I was a stranger, I almost felt like an intruder.
Q: You found more of the hospital still existed?
Peter: I travelled to what I remembered was a block called Kingswood Building and to my surprise there it was. I was delighted that another building had been preserved. Unfortunately the church that I had been so familiar with was derelict.
I know we have to move on and it’s important that we reuse what would otherwise be ruins but surely we should not almost obliterate the past along with it. I hope I am being clear when I say that these buildings are only preserved because the frontages come under the “Listed Building Act,” not because they honour the former patients and the decent and worthy work that was performed in these hospitals over the previous century. Apart from the name, there is little to give any indication that this site was a former mental hospital.
Regarding this visit to Middlewood, I think what surprised and shocked me most was that when the buildings were converted the insides were completely ripped out, thus destroying the whole history of the building. They had stripped the heart out of the old hospital.
Q: Your previous books focused on nursing, especially in hospital wards – When Matron Ruled (2002), The Nursing Sister (2005) and When Sister Ruled (2009). Please tell us about your research, and why you began publishing your findings.
Peter: As I mention on English Historical Fiction Authors, I had the privilege of commencing my nurse training at the time of the traditional matron and ward sister. I developed a huge respect, and still hold fond memories of learning from these highly skilled ladies. Their professional demise in the 1970s led me, twenty years later, to meet with and write about many of their lives; and subsequently to examine the history of women in nursing.
I spent a good two years travelling the country and interviewing a number of these traditional but elusive matrons and sisters. I say elusive because many were quite private people who did not seek publicity. I wondered, and still wonder, if this personal privacy was an instilled/inherent tradition from the Victorian era? When I was interviewing the matrons and sisters I always took my wife, June, with me, as both note taker and chaperon. It undoubtedly proved very helpful as most of the ladies lived on their own, I am sure, I know, it made them more relaxed.
My histories are I hope a tribute to their selfless dedication to nursing.
Q: And now this background has contributed to your novel!
Peter: Yes. My new novel, Dorothy’s Dream, is set in the Victorian period just following the Crimean War when Florence Nightingale returned to England to introduce her reforms to nursing. The book combines many facets of this history and also sees the demise of the woman healer.
Q: Please tell readers about the characters.
Peter: As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated by the local healer Hettie Ferries, after all, Hettie had been the midwife at her birth.
Hettie is regarded as invaluable in this midlands rural area. In the absence of an accessible doctor, the villagers rely on Hettie for her many and varied cures. She is highly respected and sought after, her remedies and skills giving comfort, even to Poacher Bill. But the medical profession is advancing and a renewed intolerance for these notable ladies begins. This was to totally change Hettie’s life.
Q: The Smiths & Goslings used monthly nurses (after “confinement”), did Hettie just deliver babies?
Peter: To the poor villagers, Hettie is the midwife and the monthly nurse. Only the artisan-class and above could afford such a luxury.
Q: The “Lady of Lamp” must have been a wonderful influence.
Peter: Dorothy’s Aunt Annie was one of the brave nurses who accompanied Florence Nightingale to the Crimea. The stories of her experiences had an enormous influence on Dorothy’s desire to nurse. Prior to Nightingale’s reforms, nursing was not a respected profession; hospitals were certainly no place for a young lady from a respectable family.
Q: Has Dorothy a love interest? She seems to have to make the choice of a profession or a husband.
Peter: Frederick’s life was to change radically after the tragic accident and death of his father, Ben. But through a stroke of good fortune he is able to achieve an education. Thinking this sufficient to win Dorothy’s heart, he spends much of his life in disappointment.
Dorothy is such a young lady. She has to withstand the pain of her father’s anger (he had other ambitions for her), and travel to London to become a trainee nurse.
So Dorothy achieves this dream, only to discover that she is still a woman in a man’s world.
Q: Why? What happens to her?
Peter: Suffice it to say that in hospitals and the medical profession, as elsewhere in Victorian society, men dominated. For Dorothy the essential question is going to be, ‘Who would believe a woman’s word against that of a man?’
Q: From a writing standpoint, surely it felt “freeing” to create fiction rather than recreate lives based on interviews. Are you pleased enough with the work and the result to want to stay writing fiction, or will you go back?
Peter: I think you are right, I did find it freeing but at the same time more challenging. Freeing in the sense that you are not constantly having to be aware of being rigidly evidence based. Challenging because you are working with unknown boundaries.
For example, I wanted Dorothy to conform within the acceptable norms of the ‘Victorian’ era, and at the same time to have the freedom, as an individual, to respond as she chose to unexpected events.
I set the parameters, Dorothy made the choices.
Q: Over email, you mentioned the “Diggers” were “part of the reason for the previous books and certainly part of the inspiration for Dorothy”. What are/is “Diggers” – I’m imagining all sorts of things!
Peter: The True Levelers or Diggers were a 17th century religious group that advocated absolute equality, a ‘common storehouse for all.’ The leader was Gerrard Winstanley. Our Diggers group in a more loosely structured group acting as a forum for presentations and discussion of new areas of members’ work in a friendly, non-threatening environment. The group consists of 7 – 9 members who meet once a month for two hours.
Members are expected to (a) participate regularly, (b) provide regular critical feedback, and (c) demonstrate a commitment to productive research.
Q: The Diggers are a great resource to you, then. How lucky you are to have such a supportive group. How did you find them?
Peter: New membership is by invitation of a majority of existing members. I was introduced by Richard Brooks a published author, we were both learning German at the time.
Q: You’re in Portsmouth, England (which also figures in the Smith & Gosling world). Has location played a role in your writings?
Peter: I wonder if my chosen profession of nursing has had more influence on my writing than the location. As you know, it is said that it is best to write about what you know, and in my case it is true. Nursing has been such a large part of my life and the influences have been many.
It may be interesting to note that I started writing Dorothy using third voice, but I felt compelled to change to first voice. After all it was Dorothy’s story, and I felt that Dorothy should be narrating the story. To date I have not met any criticism to this.
Q: Dorothy’s Dream is published through Publish Nation and printed with Lulu. Why did you go that route for this book?
Peter: I was somewhat spoiled the first time when Robert Hale published my books, but at that time I did not know it. I forwarded the first chapters of Dorothy and they asked for more, but then returned it because they said it had too much historical content for a novel. Bit weird? It was then I decided take the route of self-publishing. I felt I was too old to go through the ritual of submitting and being rejected by endless publishers and agents.
Thanks, Peter, for taking the time to talk with us! and good luck with Dorothy’s Dream.
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Click here Dorothy’s Dream (at Amazon.uk) for a preview of the book. Available on Kindle and paperback; or, print-on-demand paperback through Lulu – which company has really impressed me with well-bound and well-packaged (for shipping) books.
UPDATE 2/16/2016 – Peter was interviewed today on ANGEL RADIO (try the “radio player” link) from Havant, Hampshire, England, a fabulous find: it broadcasts “nostalgic” music from 1900 to the 1960s. If they ever post it, I’ll link Peter’s interview here. Just wonderful to hear about Peter’s childhood, military service (in Germany in the 1950s), and his thoughts on the early days of his chosen profession of nursing. Of course Tony (the host) asked about the books, towards the end. But for those of you on the lookout for alternative music – take a listen! Highly Recommended!!
As a member of BIO – the Biographers International Organization – every month I get to savor a Newsletter (The Biographer’s Craft). This month features another piece about the group WOMEN WRITING WOMEN’S LIVES. I’ve known about WWWL for some little while, but find myself compelled to write about their latest conference because of the comments and questions raised in the BIO Newsletter.
- Whose life is valuable enough to deserve a biography?
WWWL’s response: “Any life has the potential to be a biography.”
At the “founding”, 25 years ago, ‘the two organizers listened as one woman after another poured out her concerns about the obstacles involved in researching and writing the lives of women—including the need to find “the courage to think that women’s lives, on their own and without any attachment to men, were important and interesting enough to deserve being put into print.”’
I can never claim for Mary or Emma – even for someone as dynamic as Mamma (Mrs. Charles Smith) – that they “overcame obstacles and achieved remarkable things”. But I know, in my heart, that their lives, so indicative of the “ordinary”, being so well-represented in letters, diaries, even published memoirs, IS remarkable. If just for the tenacity of the items to surface! Certainly, we cannot understand – cannot imagine – life in another time (200 years ago) without the ability to feel placed within the shoes of someone who LIVED in that other time.
And, truth be told, their lives WERE filled with so much drama and pathos, joy and heartbreak. It would be beyond fiction, if it weren’t all true!
A very interesting section of the article concerns the “selling off” of female-related material. Rather brings to mind the wonderful cache of letters relating to Emily Duchess of Leinster. It’s amazing that the family would, at some point in the past, have given up such TREASURE (Emily’s letters are in the collection of the National Library of Ireland).
I have the book Dear Abigail (about Abigail Adams and her sisters), cited further down the article; with its emphasis on the life of Abigail (and therefore John Adams), I’m not sure the author was as successful as could be hoped in presenting the story of a “sisterhood”. I, on the other hand, an only child, SEE how a “sisterhood” of siblings (brothers and sisters) functioned in the gentry class of London society at the beginning of the 19th century. Their solidarity is FASCINATING to study.
One question near the article’s end is of major concern to me:
- Do publishers still care if no one has heard of the subject? Well, yes.
And there’s a major reason for the existence of this blog! Not only to help me find more material (and it has!), but also to connect with people who just might give a damn about Mary & Emma and all my “cast of thousands”. That “connection” has been its own reward.
The parting shot of the article?
‘[B]y holding the biographer to a high standard of both writing and scholarship … [i]t has also raised the bar for biographers as narrators. Nowadays, as Bair noted, “the biographer has to be able to write a page-turner and yet refuse to relinquish truth and authenticity.”’ I feel that my skills are up to the task, but in the end only people like YOU will give thumb down or up.
As a writer – especially with as LARGE a project as Two Teens in the Time of Austen (<=click to see how the volumes break down) – articles have enabled me to hone little details into precise pictures-of-a-moment. Alas! readership depends on those who stumble upon the journals or magazines.
So I’ve decided to write “for myself”. These Online Articles will be much lengthier, more in-depth than blog posts, and cited (where appropriate) like journal articles. I hope you will enjoy them; and I invite comments on them.
I open the series with the original manuscript of artist Margaret Meen‘s “history” = Margaret Meen: A Life in Four Letters.
Miss Meen (like Cassandra Austen, she later employed the “brevet rank” of Mrs) is a fascinating woman. At the time of writing the article, my BIG surprise was to discover how much of a fan she had in author Richard Mabey; and by extension, Martyn Rix who reviewed Mabey’s book The Flowering of Kew (1988). The explosion of information on the internet meant _I_ could supply a lot of the biographical information unavailable to them in the 1980s — all thanks to the existence of four letters written by Miss Meen, saved from a conflagration of Chute correspondence!
But I’ll leave you to read about her letters – and her life – on my Academia.edu page. Check the site often for further articles (I’m working on one relating to Sense and Sensibility) in the future.
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March 7th: apologies for those viewing the page, who then could NOT then download the article without logging in to Academia.edu (although it does allow for log-ins via Facebook and Google).
Once articles are online a bit longer, they will search – but I want interested readers to have “access” now!
Here’s a current screen-shot [click pic to follow link] (the “info” button was toggled, which is why the upper portion shows the abstract &c):
I want people to see a “page” view, but also have the ability to download (and save, if you wish) the PDF. The link attached to the screen-shot enables the “preview” (the article runs four pages), but the “download” still asks for a log-in.
If I come across a better link, I’ll post it.
further info on Margaret Meen ILLUSTRATIONS:
I should also take the opportunity to add some links – there ARE images of Miss Meen’s wonderful Flower Paintings — combined with those from my Smith Sisters of Erle Stoke Park (as I’ve long mentioned on this blog). See Artwork Done By on this site; then click on the RHS pic. Or direct to the Royal Horticultural Society site, and either click on EMMA SMITH [who is “Aunt Emma” to my Emma Austen] or search for MEEN – which brings up all five artists.
You should “hit” on 48 images; and can either view them as larger thumbnails in a grid, or a row of images and descriptive text.
“I am consumed!”
That was my hot-off-the-presses confession to a friend over email, this morning.
For several months I have been actively gathering more Smith and Gosling bits, mainly letters and diaries and images. Perpetual negatives on the job front make this project – as tenuous as any “writing project” can possibly be – cook on the biggest, brightest burner my stove carries. Today, for instance, despite (or because of!) it being the 4th of July, I’ve been working, deciphering letters. It’s become an OBSESSION!
My vacuum comes out only for the biggest dust balls under the bed; my garden sprouts gargantuan weeds; my parents probably wish they’d had more than one child.
And all _I_ want to do is immerse myself in the world I’ve unearthed among a trunkful of dusty letters 200-hundred-years old.
I’ve books I’d like to read, but who can sit still when the laptop beckons so enticingly. “Come, read an old letter. See, here’s a new bit for you to transcribe!” Oooh, such exquisite torment! Real torture this past week, as the temperatures soared into the 90s (hot-hazy-humid). Turn the fan on high, set the computer on top of bare legs.
Is it masochistic to desire MORE, always more? Research will prove the death of me. But what a way to go.
“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Happy INDEPENDENCE Day!
Mary Gosling (aka Lady Smith) and I are both born under the sign of Aquarius: Mary born February 2nd; me on February 4th. Although I have never had a horoscope cast, I am a keen reader of the generic tidbits that turn up in newspapers. These past several months there have been several that spoke to the writer in me. I cannot express how comforting these “predictions” feel. When no one “known” to me (as I call it, in my daily life) seems to care whether this project breathes life, or dies on the vine, I take courage from these Aquarian words of encouragement.
So imagine my opening the local paper 7 Days and finding this juicy morsel to chew upon this week:
“The Aquarian author Georges Simenon (13 Feb 1903 – 1989) wrote more than 200 novels under his own name and 300 more under pseudonyms. On average, he finished a new book every 11 days. Half a billion copies of his books are in print. I’m sorry to report that I don’t think you will ever be as prolific [me neither…] in your own chosen field as he was in his. However, your productivity could soar to a hefty fraction of Simenon-like levels in 2014 — if you’re willing to work your ass off. Your luxuriant fruitfulness won’t come as easily as his seemed to. But you should be overjoyed that you at least have the potential to be luxuriantly fruitful.”
I thought drafting a novel (still in first-draft mode, many years later) in a summer a feat of diligence. Eleven days? Yow! I’ve read Simenon (been a while though), and only in English of course. I do remember enjoying them; and, of course, got turned on to them via TV’s Maigret series (the French series also ran locally, from time to time).
Mary and I certainly ‘hoo-ray’ the idea of being ‘luxuriantly fruitful’ in getting ahead in our project. And here comes Emma, and even Mamma, to add their voices to the mix….
I’ve been finishing (not yet finished though) Book of Ages and was wonderfully surprised to see the fanaticism shown by Jared Sparks in hunting down, amassing, and even acquiring “original” Benjamin Franklin documents. I, too, have that fever! It rages, flames, and settles as embers, only to rage again as certain items come to light – a new batch of letters, an unknown portrait. It is exciting, but it takes T-I-M-E. Certainly more than eleven days.
A bit of a personal digression tonight.
And a confession.
For years I’ve sought what would bring me the elusive … Satisfaction.
I’ve chased job ads, gotten interviews, and put up with rejection that was closer to indifference than a genuine “thank you for your interest”. With too few jobs, and too many applicants, employers have grown callous in their treatment of seekers like me.
I’ve felt at a genuine crossroads. Why? An interview where silence was their only response. Guess I didn’t get that job!
One can never raise the subject of ageism, but it stares me in the face just reviewing the ads: “3 to 5 years experience” crops up again and again. Finally dropping this futile search has actually lightened the load – a few monkeys jumped off my back that day.
Balancing the sobering realization that I will never get another job is the burgeoning idea that I should concentrate on what I LOVED: My research into the history of Mary and Emma, their family, their times.
With few to talk to other than you, I confess that it was a welcome validation to find tonight a 2008 commencement address given by J.K. Rowling (yes, of Harry Potter fame!). The sentences that spoke to me:
“I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free…”
When it feels like you stand alone – having the courage to go on, and finding the determination to walk the path that feels right is not easy. Embracing that is the one thing that allows me to free myself.
Leafing thru “drafts”, I found this interesting entry, evidently written in September 2011. It deserves to see the light of day. Take “last evening” and “last winter” with a grain of salt, though!
Last evening, as a reference for my paper on Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (to be given at JASNA’s AGM in Fort Worth this October), I was on the look-out for a book I knew I had — but wasn’t sure among which “topics” I had put it. It is a 2001 biography of sisters Fanny and Adelaide Kemble (Adelaide was an opera singer; Fanny followed in family footsteps by acting). Thanks to my also owning Fanny Kemble’s memoir about her time in the US on a southern plantation, the book was on the bottom shelf, with other “American” biographies. It took a while to find, because I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t with other MUSIC books?!
But the search was a blessing in disguise. I don’t have a lot, lot, lot of books (though my mother would claim otherwise!), but there are a good handful of shelving units, in a couple rooms, plus those currently being perused and therefore in a pile in the bedroom, the living room. Plus some library books stacked on the fireplace mantel.
But I get off the subject…., which is not collecting books per se, but reminding myself about a few books I knew I wanted at one time — but didn’t quite recall picking up (usually used books, sometimes in shops, sometimes online). A for instance, in a frenzy to read more about the Spencers (Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was born a Spencer) I got books of letters, biography, and recall The House (about Chatsworth; nice photos and some interesting manuscript extracts) being taken out of the library. But when did I purchase the book? from where? It’s on the shelf….
Another book, No Voice from the Hall, I plucked off the shelf to see if there might be ANYTHING about Erle Stoke Park (Wilts). No; but instead I did come across mentions — and a photo! — of Richings Park (also spelled: Ritchings). This was the Buckinghamshire estate of John Sullivan — father to dear Georgiana Vere Gosling.
Obviously, I *adore* books – travel, history, biography, letters, diaries are among my top choices. On the second-hand market I look for dust jackets almost always; I keep them in pristine condition; and, yes, have a bit of a system for storing them; and, yes, need more bookshelf space!
No, not my home library! Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, Vermont
And, finally, to the crux of my post: As a book-lover, I’ve only ever thought of a world filled with books. There on the shelf; read them any time; add to them; leaf-thru-them. In the end, though, they were always there. Until lately.
Now, I would be the first to admit that I LOVE digitized books. How else can you find some totally obscure book that only two libraries in the world have, and there it is online! (I am less enthralled with missing pages or bad scans; not super-crazy about plain text books either, although I used to provide typescripts for A Celebration of Women Writers).
But, as someone who has given up a lot and gone into debt while researching this project, I find myself asking: Can money be made in publishing? My problem is, with a full-time job I have little time to write or research, but am years away from producing anything substantial — and even then (1) will I find a publisher and/or agent, (2) will it sell, (3) will I make enough to clear the debts incurred?
Last winter at Monroe Street Books, I picked up a copy of a biography of Elizabeth von Arnim (The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden are two of her best known publications). She could get a book through press to public in a matter of months. Doesn’t happen that way any more.
I wish readers would share their thoughts about the dissemination of research – and making ends meet.
I could resist no longer. Although I may never have the time to devote to my Pinterest boards as I might wish, I’ve begun! So, if you too are on Pinterest, please follow me and I’ll follow you. There’s a lot of boards dedicated to Jane Austen; to films; to books; to Regency fashions. I’ve only found the tip of the Austen Iceberg, I’m sure.
And what made me finally take the plunge?
The following made me chuckle – How True, How True:
Then this one made me LAUGH OUT LOUD:
(I, too, have no children… and because my work colleagues have youngsters, I think I now know why Austen called Pride & Prejudice her own darling child => manuscripts clamber for attention and time, just as children do. Only people easily dismiss your work and dedication.)
Although the boards have only been up since last evening – and are hardly “filled”, this little image (one among so many along the same lines; how DID this type of “poster” begin its life???) has been a hit, getting likes and repins. It perfectly illustrates how I wish my life — as a wish to live by my research takes hold more and more (but the bank account has other ideas!) — could be:
Three days ago I received notice that an edited, multi-author-submissions volume entitled
Elegance, Propriety, Harmony:
Jane Austen and the Arts
was given the green light by Lehigh University Press.
My own humble submission appears as chapter six, in the section “Artistic Elegance: Portraiture, Music, and Dance“. The focus of my chapter is outlined in its title:
A ‘Reputation for Accomplishment’:
Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse
as Artistic Performers
Ah, but the road has been long, and still there is only a glimmer of end in sight…
The chapter first saw light of day under a different title – and was submitted at the end of summer 2010 — two years ago. A year or more later, the middle was removed whereby the guts of my original idea was weakened. A new approach was required. That major rewrite brought about the current title, and only came about after much reading, researching, rethinking and (of course) re-rewriting. The editors have edited, the reviewers have read, and now the press exclaims We’ll publish. Comments were made about a gathering at the Pride and Prejudice– centered AGM in 2013.
- three days ago: news
- two years ago: first draft submitted
- one year to go: book launch!
Tonight’s WCAX News broadcast ended with an author interview regarding Lynn Bonfield’s book on Alfred and Chastina Rix, a Peacham couple who migrated west for a better life than 1850s Vermont could offer.
A telling sentence in the interview:
“I picked up this old copy book. I opened it. I read the first entry and I knew my whole life had changed.”
EXACTLY how I felt when Mary Gosling and Lady Smith turned out to be the same person!
I felt myself saying to absent friends and family, “See!”, when I heard that Bonfield found this diary in 1972 (it was an uncatalogued manuscript) and has spent decades “compiling names and places from the diary.” Yes, YES, YES!
Suddenly, I feel less “alone”.
You can read the interview — and even watch the video — at the WCAX link here.
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Chastina W. Rix, 1849-1854, a joint journal, “captures the turbulence of life and events during the gold rush era,” yet it is also “a personal…chronicle of a singular family’s separation and reunion.” Chastina stayed with her son in Vermont when Alfred left for the west, and she continued their journal, “describing her loneliness and fatigue as she labored to maintain the household.” She also “summariz[ed] Alfred’s frequent letters.” Thirty-eight illustrations and 356 pages makes this a to-look-for book.
Lynn Bonfield’s book blog has background news and reviews. Read it!