Writing biography with a little help from the archi’ve

THE NEW ARRIVAL medium cover image

I’m writing three books with my mum, Sarah Beeson MBE for HarperCollins . The first book ‘The New Arrival‘ (published 27 March 2014) is the story of Sarah’s nurse training in Hackney in the early 1970s. (Here’s a short video on how some of the photos from St Bart’s archives that influenced the book).

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When it came to gaining insight into life at Hackney General Hospital beyond memory the records held at St Bart’s were invaluable. Photographs, registers of births, deaths and night duty, and hospital plans inspired description and dialogue in the book.

I’d arranged an appointment with Katie Ormerod the Deputy Archivist at St Bartholomew’s archives and as she brought up record after record I was amazed at just how much history was there that I’d never have been able to get off the internet or at the library. Working with original records was an amazing experience that really helped us reconnect with the past.

TIP: Take a camera or smartphone with you. I had only a few hours to spend in the archives so with permission I photographed records and pictures with my iPhone and sent them to Sarah. I kept getting exited emails from her with a new memory an old document or photo had sparked. After two hours I’d gone from 100% to 1% battery on my iPhone!

Arch'ive discoveredI couldn’t tell you how many times we’ve looked at those archive photos when we’ve been working on a chapter for ‘The New Arrival’. I took hundreds of photos but there are a few  we keep coming back to, and when we saw this fantastic poster for Archi’ve Discover from The National Archives and the Archives & Records Association for the #explorearchives campaign well we just had to say a big THANK YOU.

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NURSES HOME QUOTE

Perhaps one of thee most important discoveries was this photo of the nurses’ home where Sarah lived during her first years at Hackney. It’s been such  central image in ‘The New Arrival’ and we also discovered photos of nurses’ bedrooms, hallway and staircase, sitting room, dining room and the wards which have really added to the authenticity of the memoir in recreating 1970s London.

SBHH PG 23I WAS HOME QUOTE

Watch the video. I hope you enjoy this short video where we discuss a few of our favourite photos from the archives at St Bart’s that influenced the book with a couple of Sarah’s personal photos thrown in for context. You’ll hear Sarah talk about some of the memories the archives photos sparked as well as quotes and a little insight from me on how archive records inspired the writing of ‘The New Arrival’.

Do you have memories, photos or your own story of discovery? Share them with us in the comments below. You can also tweet your thoughts #explorearchives to @newarrivalbook.

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