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#TuesdayBookBlog MATILDA WINDSOR IS COMING HOME by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A moving look at mental health care as it was

Hi all:

Today I don’t bring you one of my usual reviews. The author of this novel, Anne Goodwin, contacted me ahead of its publication because she thought I might be interested to read it due to the topic and the story. She couldn’t have been more right, and rather than a review, I ended up writing a reflection on the type of thoughts and memories the novel brought to my mind. The book is being published by Inspired Quill on the 29th of May 2021, but I wanted to share it today because the author is holding a virtual book launch this Thursday, 27th of May, and I wanted to give those of you interested a chance to join in (I share the link below). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, as I am teaching an English lesson at that time on a Thursday afternoon, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. And without further ado:

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.

Find out more on Matilda Windsor’s webpage

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Matilda Windsor webpage

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Matilda Windsor’s Twitter @MWiscominghome

Matilda Windsor at Inspired Quill:

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Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.


Twitter @Annecdotist.

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YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel


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My review:

I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.

Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss, and despair.

Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.

This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.

As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.

A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.

Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.

I haven’t forgotten the invitation to the online launch. Tickets can be booked here:

Thanks to the author for sharing this novel with me. As you can see from my comments, it brought back many memories. Thanks to all of you for reading, and if you know anybody who might be interested, remember to share and pass the message on. Remember that it will be published on the 29th of May, so not long to go. Remember to keep safe and keep smiling!

Book review Book reviews

#BookReview Nursing Through the Years: Care and Compassion at the Royal London Hospital by Loretta B Bellman, Sue Boase, Sarah Rogers, Barbara Stuchfield A highly recommended journey through the last 80 years of nursing in a UK hospital.

Hi all:

Another jewel from Pen & Sword, especially for those of us interested in the Caring Professions:

Nursing Through the Years: Care and Compassion at the Royal London Hospital by Loretta B Bellman, Sue Boase, Sarah Rogers, Barbara Stuchfield

Nursing Through the Years: Care and Compassion at the Royal London Hospital by Loretta B Bellman, Sue Boase, Sarah Rogers, Barbara Stuchfield

Nursing has always been a challenging but rewarding profession. As part of the core healthcare team, nurses take responsibility for the care they provide to patients, displaying both compassion and discipline in their daily work.

Demanding professions require rigorous training, and nursing is no exception. As the real story to ‘Call the Midwife’, Nursing Through the Years is a unique book that spans eight decades to reveal the fascinating lives of nurses who trained and worked at The Royal London Hospital, serving the community of the East End of London.

Having interviewed over 85 nurses, whose experiences span from the 1940s to the 2000s, this important account captures the memories of their time at The Royal London. Exploring each decade, the extent to which nursing has developed and changed, and the highs and lows of training to be a nurse in a renowned teaching hospital are recalled in detail.

It is a treasure chest of recollections which are informative, entertaining, inspiring, enlightening and also controversial, often challenging the myths and misconceptions that continue to surround nursing today.

Loretta B Bellman, Sue Boase, Sarah Rogers, Barbara Stuchfield

About the authors:

The co-authors of Nursing Through the Years all trained at ‘The London’ and are members of the League of Nurses. Their career development encompasses clinical, community and academic work within the UK and beyond, including Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the USA. They feel privileged to have undertaken the project and to have produced the book, the prized outcome of their collaboration.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Although I have no personal connection to the Royal London Hospital, and have never set foot on it, I was fascinated by the description of the book, both the subject and the methodology. Four nurses decided to document the changes in nurse training (and practice) by interviewing over 80 nurses from a specific hospital. The Royal London Hospital (initially the London Hospital) was at first a voluntary hospital, and joined the NHS when it was created in 1948. The book follows the role of nurses and how it changed, from the 1940s until now, reflecting also the changes in the caring professions in the UK in the last 80 years, and also the social and historical changes affecting London and the country at large. As those who read the book will see, these changes reflected practices in other countries as well, and moved from an apprenticeship model to a degree career, with an increase in specialisation and a diversification of staff and patients (the changes in the social milieu are mentioned often by the interviewees and the changes in the East End of London make it at the same time unique and representative of the country at large).

I am a big believer in the importance of social history, and in the need to collect the testimonies and memories of people who are not usually given a voice in history books or chronicles of an era. Projects such as this, involving qualitative research (rather than quantifying things) are the best way to capture truly important subjects and matters that cannot be reduced to numbers and given a monetary value. The book is carefully researched, and it includes a foreword that sets up the scene and familiarises readers with the London Hospital and its history, as well as an introduction that explains the reasoning behind the project and also the methodology, while also introducing briefly the concept of modern nursing. The book contains a wealth of illustrations (with credits where these could be located. I particularly enjoyed the early photographs and the sketch of the uniform designed by Norman Hartnell in 1942), acknowledgements, a timeline, and then each chapter is dedicated to a decade from the 1940s onward, with the last two chapters dedicated to moving on (the paths followed by the nurses of the Royal London after they finished their training) and reflections on how things have changed. There is also a glossary of terms, a detailed bibliography, and an index to help those interested in further research.

I have said I have no connection to the Royal London Hospital, but I worked in hospitals in the UK for a number of years (in psychiatric units, although we also had to visit other parts of the hospital), and one of my best friends trained and worked as a nurse in the UK for quite a few years (now she works in France, still as a nurse), so I was familiar with some of the concepts discussed, especially with the changes in the 1990s and since, and I was fascinated when reading about the profession and how it had evolved. Of course, I’ve heard nurses who had been in the profession for a very long time recalling their experiences, when there were huge hospitals and convalescence homes, when they had to live in nurses’ accommodation in the hospital grounds and life revolved around the hospital, and some of the rules and regulations that seem to make so little sense now. (Doctors and nurses’ accommodation still existed when I first went to the UK in 1992, but it was phased out not long after). There are some commonalities and themes that pop up again and again, about learning the basics, caring for patients, what a scary experience it was to work in a ward for the first time, the first death, the memorable patient, being in charge of a ward for the first time, night duty, and although not everybody shares the same opinions as to the future of the profession, the book offers a fantastic kaleidoscope of the last 80 years of the nursing profession (particularly in the UK).

Although it’s true that the profession has changed enormously (it is no longer a profession only for women and evidence-based practice is now one of the pillars of all interventions), and now people don’t stay in hospital for weeks and months after an operation, caring and nursing care are as necessary (if not more) than ever, and remembering the road travelled and listening to those who had walked it are fundamental to ensure that we learn from their valuable experiences, both old and new, and act in consequence.  Perhaps it is a somewhat romantic take on nursing, but I’ve always thought that while some professions might be a matter of choice, others do require a calling, a vocation, and the caring professions (together with teaching) are a great example of that.

I highlighted many quotes and anecdotes as I read the book, but I’ve just chosen a couple that resonated with me in particular:

My message is plain and simple, you are there to care for the patients, never forget the patient with everything else that’s going on, whether it be administrative or financial or political shenanigans that go on in this place, you’re there for the patient, don’t forget them because the patient sometimes does get forgotten. Andrew (p. 113)

I’d just like to be remembered… for doing the best that I could, for being supportive to the staff, and giving the best care I possibly could to the patients. Kim (p. 196)

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget Paula Day’s wonderful artwork, that visually summarises each decade to perfection.

In sum, this is an excellent book that illustrates what a well-designed research project can achieve and the virtues of oral history. This is a book that will be of particular interest to those in the caring professions, particularly nurses, both in the UK and other countries (and a must for any staff trained at the Royal London Hospital), to those thinking about training to become a nurse, to anybody researching nursing and hospital care since the 1940s, to anybody interested in education… I can’t imagine there will be many people, if any, who won’t have some experience of being cared by a nurse at some point, and if you feel at all curious about their training and their lives, this is the perfect book for you as well. (In case anybody worries, although of course the book talks about patients and illnesses, there are no gory or detailed descriptions of surgical or medical procedures, so no matter how squeamish you are, the book will not offend). An engaging book and an appropriate homage to nurses all over.

Thanks to Rosie Croft, Pen & Sword, the authors and all the nurses for their tireless work, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling.




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