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What’s New in the Library? A Scots Nurse’s Story

Many of our authors at LifeBook Memoirs probably think of themselves as ordinary people, but really, they aren’t ordinary at all. This author is one such person, for although she isn’t famous, hasn’t won anything and didn’t rise from rags to riches, her life story is, in its own way, extraordinary. When I edited her book, I found myself wishing I had done some of the things she has done.

Growing up in Fife

Born in India in 1935 and named after a redheaded film star, she grew up in Fife and began her nurse training in Edinburgh at the age of 17. Two years later, her training completed, she spotted a poster inviting applications to QARANC, Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. She applied and, just a short time later, excitedly caught a train to Hindhead in Surrey to start 13 weeks of basic training. In December of 1955, clad in her army greatcoat, the author boarded a flight to Egypt to take up her first posting at a British hospital station near the Suez Canal, and spent the next two years with QARANC in Egypt, Libya and Cyprus. This was an exciting period in the author’s life, full of friends and boyfriends, outings with American servicemen, a stay in Lawrence Durrell’s house in Bellapais (he wasn’t there at the time), terrorist bombings and the Suez Crisis.

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Once back in the UK, the author joined the Metropolitan Police, where she met her husband, also a police officer. She then went on to live a busy and happy life raising children, running playgroups, travelling and embracing the joys of grandchildren.

An emotionally rich memoir

Perhaps the defining character of this book is happiness, for although the author experienced her share of losses, setbacks, struggles, family strife and mortifications, she keeps warmth, love and an affectionate sense of humour at the forefront of her storytelling. Crucially, in what is quite a long memoir, she remembers a vast quantity of detail; her grandparents’ tenement flat in Edinburgh, for example, is described with great care. She sketches out the bed recess, the range, the framed print of the flags of the world that she and her sister memorised as they lay in bed together each night, the pride her grandad took in his bagpipes and bunches of toilet paper. This is an emotionally rich memoir in which the author laughs at her own childhood tantrums while conveying the sympathy she also feels for the small passions that inspired them. She describes quite movingly her experience of postnatal depression and talks of the ups and downs of a long marriage to a much-missed husband.

This was a wonderful, engaging, funny and touching project from start to finish, and it was my privilege to play a small part in helping this author to write her LifeBook Memoir.


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Written by Kate Parry, LifeBook Memoirs editor