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How Grumbling Appendix was born

November 5, 2014

Christmas 2012. At my dad’s house. Bored out of my box. Picking up the Shrewsbury Chronicle and glumly leafing through it for the twentieth time, I wonder if I’ll finally be reduced to reading the darts reports – when my eye alights on something I hadn’t noticed before. Malcolm Saville, a local-interest children’s author. Someone’s done an article about him. My expectations aren’t high, but it turns out I’ve happened on an entertaining and well-written piece. What really jolts me though, is the name of the person who wrote it: I know him! Or at least I used to. In the early seventies, when were both about ten, he and I sat next to each other in Miss Davies’s class.

This little article, only a few hundred words long, proved to be something of a landmark for me. But the most significant thing about it wasn’t the new insights it gave me into the life and work of a much-loved writer. No, what really hit me between the eyes was an almost throw-away bit of biographical information the newspaper had added about my sometime school-friend. He wasn’t just an admirer of other people’s books; he’d written one of his own. Yes. Get this: he’d written a novel. And what had I ever done?

I am an instinctive writer – the kind of person who sits on the bus mentally converting into prose whatever I see around me. If anyone had asked me, even back then, I would probably have listed ‘writing’ as one of my interests. But what had I ever written, really? A few magazine articles, some newsletters, stuff for my own consumption. I thought I was a writer – but I was just kidding myself. While I was sitting around dreaming about it, others were out there doing it. I felt ashamed.

Someone to whom (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying) I’d barely given a thought in forty years suddenly became a person of great interest. More research revealed another wonder: he wrote a blog. Blogging was not an activity I’d ever considered. Sure, I could find my way around the internet and do a spot of word processing, but because my generation didn’t grow up with computers, I hadn’t simply ‘imbibed’ new technology, or picked it up without really noticing; its potential needed to be pointed out to me. But I immediately understood that blogging could be my medium. A new enthusiasm crackled through me. The question was: what should I blog about?

One thing was obvious from the get-go: there was little point in choosing a subject unless I knew it inside out. If I didn’t write with authority, I wouldn’t have credibility – and if I didn’t have credibility, I couldn’t expect to find an audience. In reality, there was only ever going to be one choice. One way or another, I’d been involved with NHS nursing for nearly thirty years. My subject was staring me in the face.

The first task was to suss out the opposition. Firstly, the popular nursing press, which I’d been reading for years. Although indispensable for news coverage, I’d begun to find its paternalistic, management-dominated opinion pieces increasingly irritating. These people were entitled to their views of course, but why did I need them to tell me what to think? Where was the grass-roots voice? Much of it, I soon discovered, was over on nursingtimes.net.

To be honest, the comments on nursingtimes.net are still an occasional guilty pleasure. I can’t deny a certain frisson from the contrast between the ‘real world’ cynicism, jadedness and outright despair that characterises most of the postings, and the sprightliness of the magazine’s opinion columns. And it’s noticeable too that few people who admit to being ‘managers’ stick their heads above the parapet here; any who did would get eaten alive. Eventually, though, I tired of it. What I wanted was something more constructive.

Next, I checked out existing nursing blogs. Most of these were the work of students – and many of them were very good indeed: well-written, thought-provoking and engaging. But they tended, in the main, to come from a narrowly personal perspective – reflections on the writer’s experiences of placement, lectures and so on. My vision was for something altogether more ambitious – something that would contextualise the problems in nursing within the broader socio-political framework. It was looking very much like I’d found a gap in the market. Filling it before anyone else did became my motivation.

All this activity inside my head coincided, of course, with a lot of activity out there in the wider world. The Francis Report was about to be published and nursing was finally on the brink of  all-graduate-entry. There would never be a better opportunity to launch a different kind of writing about nursing – and blogging, as I quickly realised, was the ideal platform. There was no longer any need to send stuff to the nursing press only for them to reject it because it didn’t toe the party line. By blogging, I could short-circuit them, become my own publisher and connect with readers directly.

As my model I took the opinion columns of broadsheet newspapers. What I wanted was for nurses to have access to that style and that standard of writing – but about their subject. I didn’t doubt that I could do it – I don’t have doubts where writing is concerned – and I believed nurses deserved it. In just a few short months, enthusiasm, motivation and opportunity had crystallised into a single website. And that’s how Grumbling Appendix was born.

Part II of this post will be a guide to writing a successful blog post. Stop yawning. I know everyone’s doing it, but this will be Grumbling Appendix‘s guide.

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From → Odd and Ends

4 Comments
  1. Barbara Bradbury, Halland Solutions permalink

    Of course, many books are compilations of blog posts or equivalent – and you have some great material if you are interested in becoming a published book author.

  2. Thanks Barbara. You’re very kind, and I do appreciate your loyalty to the blog.

  3. Aw, shucks! Grumbling Appendix, it’s very gratifying and humbling to know I helped inspire you to start writing your remarkable blog. As Ray Bradbury wrote, ‘You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.’

  4. I’ve certainly found my medium. It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? Whoever would have thought that something written by you would have such an influence on me, after all these years? I’m glad it did though.

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