No Angels Here – 12 Hours on Shift with a Paramedic

I’ve worked for the ambulance service for thirteen years, eleven of those as a paramedic, and the last four of those leading a dual life as an author. My books tend to resemble my world – medical themes, with police, doctors, chaos, and violence – and I’ve always tried to keep them on the right side of realism. Bearing that in mind, none of my leading ladies are uber-heroines, those striding, muscle-ripped superwomen so beloved of cop/doc fiction, and the central pair in the Dark Peak series are no different. Sanne and Meg are bright, intuitive, and good at their jobs, but they get knackered, get puked on, laugh at the wrong things, and fuck up just like any of us. No Good Reason and its sequel, Cold to the Touch, are without a doubt the most personal books that I’ve written. They don’t just resemble my world, they pretty much are my world, so I thought I’d give prospective readers an idea as to what twelve hours in my stinking old work-boots involves…

ambo1

6 p.m. Monday

I’m tired before we even sign on. We’re right at the end of our four-week shift pattern, and I’ve worked days all weekend. I’d fallen asleep on the sofa at 9 p.m. Sunday night, been poured into bed by my wife, and slept straight through for twelve hours. It hasn’t helped, though. My brain feels like porridge and my short-term memory is next to nonexistent.

The day crew hand over to us on station, tell us what they’ve used (“fuck all”) and what the ambulance needs (“just a willing crew”). We sign on a couple of minutes later. Our regular vehicle is being serviced, so we’re on a pool motor with no radio to sing along to, no mobile phone, and a reluctance to change gear. We’re immediately passed a job: ?Meningitis at the local Integrated Care Centre. I bet my Work Wife a quid that it’ll be a kid with a simple viral infection. Unsurprisingly, she isn’t tempted.

Our patient is a rosy-cheeked toddler with a high temp and absolutely no symptoms of meningitis. He has a small, non-blanching blotch behind his ear that his dad noticed two days ago. If that really had been a sign of meningococcal septicaemia, he’d be dead by now. We transfer the child to Accident and Emergency where the triage nurse rolls her eyes and directs us round to Paediatrics.

As soon as we clear, we’re given a purple response – the most serious dispatch code (cardiac/respiratory arrest) – that’s subsequently been downgraded by the paramedic on the Rapid Response vehicle. The patient is an Oscar-worthy pensioner throwing herself around on the sofa and hyperventilating. Her family had met the RRV in tears, convinced that she was dying. She walks out to the ambulance unassisted, seemingly afflicted by the dire medical condition known as PVS (Poorly Voice Syndrome). In deference to the Work Wife, I put my foot down on the way in, glad that I’m driving.

My WW and I swap about after every job, so I attend the 84-year-old Asian chap with metastatic prostate cancer who’s cared for at home by his family. He’d stopped swallowing earlier in the day, and his son is struggling to push fluids. When the emergency doctor didn’t show up at 8 p.m. as arranged, the son had phoned 999. The patient is in a poor state: emaciated, doubly incontinent, hypotensive, and agitated. He clings to my hand in obvious distress. As we’re wondering whether moving him will actually kill him, the doctor shows up and tells us that a new medication the patient has recently started might make him “pick up a bit”. It’s hard to think of an appropriate response to that, so we focus on transferring the patient to the vehicle, relieved when his breathing grows shallow and more irregular but doesn’t stop. We pre-alert the hospital and take him straight into Resus. The rest of the shift is so manic that we never get a chance to check up on him, but it’s unlikely that he made it back home.

Monday nights are typically busy, and this one is no exception. The A&E is packed, all the cubicles are occupied, and there are no beds on the wards to admit patients to. Government targets dictate that patients should be admitted or discharged within four hours, a target that’s been missed nationally for months. One of our regulars grins when I greet her by name. I’m amazed that the smell of her hasn’t been enough to clear the waiting room.

As there’s no sign of us getting an official break, the WW and I treat ourselves to chocolate orange digestives and tea from a flask as we wait for our next job to be sent through. We used to be able to get a brew at the hospital, but the management long since stopped that. Still, it’s a poor paramedic who can’t get themselves a hot drink from somewhere, and most of us travel equipped now.

Two more red (immediate threat to life) responses follow. The first is a pregnant 27-year-old who’d vomited a single streak of blood. She walks out to the ambulance and her husband follows in the car, a scenario so commonplace we’ve stopped asking why they didn’t simply make their own way to A&E. No one in the UK is charged for calling an ambulance, so we’re often used as a free taxi service, and there’s a popular misconception that going in with us gets a patient seen quicker.

The second red is for a male complaining of “rocks dropping in his ears”. He’d phoned a national helpline for advice and didn’t want an ambulance. From his bed, he directs the WW to the kitchen drawer where he keeps his meds, and then yells at her for “rooting around”. He refuses to go to A&E, but we still have to take all his obs and complete paperwork before we can leave him at home.

It’s 11:21 p.m. and we’re en route to job #6. The WW asks for her glasses, announcing “Ah, I can see!” as she puts them on. I tighten my seatbelt a little. She’s been driving on blues for the last ten minutes.

We’ve slowly been dragged further out of our area all night, and we’re now 20 miles from our base station. The parents of our 16-year-old overdose have been told that her choice of tablets wasn’t life-threatening and advised to take her to A&E in the car. They did exactly that, but we’ve been sent anyway. We clear on scene, feeling like pillocks.

Job #7 is a 72-year-old female who “had chest pain earlier”. Earlier turns out to be six hours ago, when the doctor at the care facility had given her an aspirin and advised blood tests. Those bloods now indicate the patient had had a heart attack and, in a turn of events so backwards it’s mind-boggling, we’ve finally been called to take her to A&E. “Oh, we’ve had an outbreak of Norovirus, so she’s in isolation,” the nurse on the unit tells us. I promise her that I won’t lick anything.

The A&E we go to is so full that there are patients lying on beds by the nurses’ station with no privacy and little in the way of dignity. None of the staff bat an eyelid; it’s been like this all winter.

At 1:45 a.m. – almost eight hours after signing on – we land back on station for our first break. I eat half a tea-cake and some fruit, my eyelids drooping the instant I sit down. After exactly 30 minutes, our radios go off and we head out again to a 75-year-old female: “leg swollen after trapping it in a car door”. At least, that’s the information we’re given. On our arrival, she tells us the injury occurred eight weeks ago and she’d become panicky because her cellulitis was burning. It’s a typical 3 a.m. witching-hour call, and we spend half an hour on scene chatting to her. I make her a hot water bottle and a mug of apple tea that smells like old socks, and we leave her settled and reassured, with an appointment to see the district nurses in the morning.

Upon clearing, we receive our favourite message from Control: RTB – Return to Base. We’re both asleep within minutes of hitting station, the WW so insensible that she fails to hear the mouse rioting beneath the computer desk and mistakes her radio going off for her alarm clock, attempting unsuccessfully to snooze it.

Our 5:15 a.m. emergency will be our last of the night, and it’s local, so I tear-arse to it to stop us being diverted to anything out of area. Our patient is a drunk male who’d tried to walk to his sister’s to post her a birthday card, but decided to take a nap in the road. He’s lucky someone spotted him; the road is unlit and notorious for joy riders. There’s nothing wrong with him, but we take him to A&E to warm up and sober up. He’s pleasant enough, hasn’t wet himself, doesn’t try to clobber us, and is able to walk. Small victories, but victories all the same.

We clear at the hospital and make a mad dash to station, launching keys and radios at the day crew before we stumble to our cars. I get in bed at 7 a.m. and wake at 10:15. By 12:30 p.m. I’m still wide awake and so tired that I’m in tears. I have less than five hours before I have to go back in and do it all over again.

 

 

 

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Release Date and Cover for Cold to the Touch (Dark Peak II)

No Good Reason (the first in the Dark Peak series of crime thrillers) isn’t out till June, but time waits for no woman and I’ve been hard at work both editing No Good Reason and trying to get its sequel – Cold to the Touch – ready for submission to BSB. I had originally thought March, 2016 for Cold, but was pleasantly surprised (and slightly panicked!) to be told that the book will actually be coming out in December, 2015. So, um, let me be the first to wish you all a Merry Christmas :-)

I’m going to sit on its blurb for a while longer, but this is its rather lovely cover…

Cold to the Touch final 300 DPI

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A Bit of Book News!

Consider this a book-related round-up if you will…

no good reasonNo Good Reason - book one in the Dark Peak crime series – has been given a release date of June 2015. I’ve been cracking on writing its sequel, and Bold Strokes accepted my proposal for that late last week. The contract is now signed and sealed, and a tentative release date of March 2016 agreed. So, while No Good Reason is coming out slightly later than I’d anticipated, book two will follow pretty hot on its heels. And no, I don’t have a title for that one yet. Because I am rubbish.

Meanwhile, Tumbledown has made it through to the finals of the 2014 Rainbow Awards, in the Lesbian Mystery/Thriller category (winners to be announced on December 8th), and recently received an excellent review over at Out in Print:

smaller TDBut the characters and the elements wouldn’t mean a thing without the tension of Hunter’s action scenes, which are flawless. Other thriller authors (yes, I’m looking at you Patterson and Grisham) could take lessons from Hunter when it comes to writing these babies. Twists and turns and forgotten or unconventional weaponry along with pluck and spirit keep me breathless and reading way past my bedtime. I can almost imagine Hunter as sweating and out of breath as her heroines once she writes her way out of the set-ups she conjures.

You can read the full review at the above link :-)

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No Good Reason gets a Bloody Lovely Cover :-)

Ooh, look what came through the e-mail this morning :-)

no good reason

No Good Reason – the first in a Peak District-set crime/thriller series – is due out in spring 2015. For those of you who speak fluent Brit, I like to think of it as a sort of cross between Scott & Bailey and 24 Hours in A&E, only with more lesbians :-)

Its blurb goes a little like this:

~ ~ ~

Detective Sanne Jensen (not blonde, not tall, definitely not Scandinavian) and Doctor Meg Fielding (scruffy, scatter-brained, prone to swearing at patients) are lifelong best friends, sharing the same deprived background and occasionally the same bed.

When a violent kidnapping stuns the Peak District village of Rowlee, both women become involved in the case. As Sanne and her colleagues in East Derbyshire Special Ops search for the culprit, and Meg fights to keep his victim alive, a shocking discovery turns the investigation on its head. With the clock ticking, Sanne and Meg find themselves pushed closer by a crime that threatens to tear everything apart.

~ ~ ~

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The Writing Processes Blog Hop!

cover20aMy UK LesFic blog buddy Tig Ashton (AKA Clare Ashton, best-selling author of new and very well-received RomCom release That Certain Something!) tagged me in the current authorly blog hop: The Writing Processes Blog Tour. Each Monday, willing victims answer four questions that focus on their current works in progress, genre, and how they actually go about putting pen to paper. So here goes!

What are you working on?

I’m currently about 16,000 words into a sequel to my fourth novel No Good Reason (due for publication in Spring 2015), which is my first foray into the crime/police procedural genre. I always had a series in mind when I wrote No Good Reason, so I chose a setup that would support a multi-novel arc and spent a lot of time creating characters whose back-stories I could go on to develop and explore. I submitted the manuscript to Bold Strokes as a stand-alone, and chewed my nails for a while before plucking up the courage to say “actually, I want to take this into a series – what do you think?” I was delighted when they gave me the go ahead, and then had a momentary wiggins where I thought oh crap, I don’t actually know what I’m doing! I guess time will tell on that one, but I’m relishing the challenge of thinking and planning ahead, and it’s a joy knowing that I don’t have to say goodbye to the characters after only one book.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

dpcoverMy first three novels have been classified as lesbian romance, and they do abide by the basic tenets of that genre in that two women meet and fall in love over the course of the story, but the romance takes a back seat to the thriller and adventure aspects in the plot. Their mix of violence, tension, and love story can be a disconcerting one, especially for readers whose expectations are more grounded in traditional, chocolate-box romances, but I hope I manage to find a happy medium whereby you care about the characters’ well-being and relationship alike.

With No Good Reason, I intentionally set out to tinker with the smaller TDcrime genre. Its lead characters – Sanne and Meg – aren’t the typical tormented heroines with tragic, mysterious histories and almost preternatural talent in their field. Although they do share crappy upbringings, they don’t let that define who they are, and they’re good at their jobs without having amazing superwoman skills. I prefer to write regular women, women you could bump into on the street and have a laugh with, so even though the case in No Good Reason is horrific, there’s plenty of humour as well, which is not particularly in keeping with the genre. Many mainstream crime novels have po-faced leads, but in my experience the people working in emergency services laugh more snowboundcoveroften than they cry, and I want my writing to reflect that.

After setting a couple of novels in the USA, I’ve come full circle with No Good Reason and returned to the Derbyshire Peak District. Its language, slang, and social themes are all unapologetically local to the north of England, and I have to say it’s lovely to be home again.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I love to read. It takes me about a year to complete a novel, and I don’t think I could spend that much time working on something that I wasn’t having fun with. My shelves are stacked with thriller/crime series, and my favourite authors in that genre – Karin Slaughter, Joe Lansdale, Denise Mina, Chelsea Cain – are the ones who achieve that tricky balance between an interesting standalone plot and ongoing, overarching character development. Most of them also feature strong, complex female roles. After Tumbledown gave me my first taste of writing a sequel, I knew I wanted to take that a step further and try my hand at a crime series. I’ve never written just to make money – I wrote non-profit fan fiction both before and after signing with Bold Strokes – and I would rather write what I enjoy, be unconstrained by formula, and hope some readers come along for the ride. So far, that seems to be working out pretty well.

How does my writing process work?

I can break my writing process down into stages:

1. Self-doubt

Me: “I don’t think I can do this again. I’m not sure I’ve got another novel in me.”
Wife: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not getting any tea until you’ve written something.”

So I write an outline that I probably won’t follow, but at least I’ve written something and I don’t go to bed hungry.

2. I get an actual idea

My writing process inevitably involves a cat "helping out" at some point...

My writing process inevitably involves a cat “helping out” at some point…

And it’s quite exciting, and I write loads more of a plan that I probably won’t follow, but now I know the main character and plot beats. After a few pages of this, lots of Googling and maybe the odd diagram, I think “sod it and start the first chapter.

3. I work a set of night shifts

I spend the next few days unable to pull on my own socks, let alone remember the plot of my work in progress. I might be coherent enough to revise some edits, but I certainly won’t be writing anything worthwhile.

4. Procrastination

I hit a plot SNAFU and avoid rectifying it by buggering about online, Hoovering, watching the tadpoles in the pond, or baking a cake.

5. The hissy fit

My long-suffering wife and beta reader takes issue with a section I rather like. I spit my dummy out, stomp my feet, and refuse to see sense. She always turns out to be right.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

6. Things finally kick in

The sun comes out while I have a week off work and my brain feels functional. I sit in the back garden with my pen and pad, and everything slots into place. The story ties me in wonderful knots, and the characters are great to spend time with. At the end of the week, I break the news to my wife that she has 5,000 words to beta, but that’s okay because I’m heading straight back to Step 3…

Next Monday

once-the-clouds-have-goneLook out for blogs from KE Payne, a UK-based Young Adult author with Bold Strokes Books, whose novels “artfully capture the confusion and concerns of a young woman coming to terms with her lesbian libido” – The Rainbow Reader. Her sixth novel Once The Clouds Have Gone is due for release in October.

mountainrescue_coverFellow Goldie nominee Sky Croft is a woman who takes after my own heart, in that she likes women and mountains, and writing about women and mountains. Mountain Rescue: On The Edge (a sequel to Mountain Rescue: The Ascent) is due out from Regal Crest in December.

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Goldies, and the UK BSB Bash…

With the UK BSB bash just around the corner, it seems like a good time for a little catch-up news post…

GCLS_seal1First things first, I have been quite remiss in not mentioning this, but Desolation Point has made it through to the finals of the Goldie awards in the category of Romantic/Suspense/ Intrigue/Adventure (I love Goldie categories – they fit my stuff to a tee!) The award ceremony takes place on Sunday 13th July, and the category has some bloody big hitters in it, so keep your fingers crossed, eh?

This year’s UK Bold Strokes Bash will take place in Nottingham across the weekend of 7th and 8th June. The event is completely free to attend, dead friendly, and loads of fun. Last year’s was the liveliest yet, and there are loads of BSB authors and editors and LesFic readers going along again this year. Including me. But I’m bringing tiffin and flapjack to share out, so it’s not all bad news :-)

bsb2

If anyone is thinking of heading along, you can find all the necessary details over on the UK BSB website, where I’ve also been guest blogging today about No Good Reason and why it’s rather lovely to be back writing in Brit.

 

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New Novel News!

I’m delighted (and not a little bit giddy) to be able to spill the beans and announce that my fourth novel No Good Reason has just been signed up by Bold Strokes Books.

black hill for blog

Black Hill from Crowden, one of our favourite hikes and a major influence on the setting for this novel.

Set back in my familiar stomping ground of the Derbyshire Peak District, the novel is a police procedural thriller, with romance lurking in the background. Its central characters are life-long friends Detective Sanne Jensen (not blond, not leggy, and definitely not Scandinavian) and Doctor Meg Fielding (quite forgetful, skilled biscuit-dunker, distinct tendency to swear at patients) who both become involved in the investigation of an abduction.

I could tell you more – and undoubtedly will – but for now, No Good Reason has a tentative release date of Spring 2015 and a nod from BSB to develop it into a series. Hence the giddiness!

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