Isham author's debut novel a love letter to the NHS and the Windrush generation who helped build it
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When journalist Sarah Lee was approached to write a book about Windrush Generation nurses moving to the UK she knew she was the perfect person for the job.
As the daughter of Windrush Generation immigrants, she was drawn to the project – her own mother, having come to Britain to work in the fledgling NHS.
Over six months, Sarah perfected the 324-page long novel from her home office in Isham fitting in chapters around her travel blogging duties.
Now her debut novel, An Ocean Apart, has been published, described by Pan Macmillan as Call the Midwife meets Small Island and a ‘love letter to the NHS’.
Sarah said: “I hadn’t written fiction since university, but I thought ‘is there anyone better to do this?’ My mum came from Barbados to train as a nurse in Hertfordshire. “She was 20 and it was a great adventure for her. It’s such an amazing opportunity to represent my heritage.”
Inspired by real life stories of her mother and her nursing colleagues’ experiences, Sarah spoke to the pioneers forging a new life in England and boosting post-war Britain’s health service.
Set in 1954 An Ocean Apart follows the lives of three young women who sail to ‘the mother country’ but discover England isn’t quite the promised land – for every door that’s opened to them, they find many slammed in their faces.
The novel uses Sarah’s mum Margery’s experience and her friend who thought smoke coming from chimneys meant there were hundreds of bakeries.
Sarah said: “They were invited here. The adverts were all over the Caribbean. They were appealing for people to come and work on the public transport, in factories and the NHS. The Empire Windrush arrived just two weeks before the NHS was founded.
"The people (in the Caribbean) were brought up in the British system. This to them was an extension of home and they expected a warm welcome. The racism was purely based on ignorance.
"The story is uplifting but I didn’t want to pretend that racism didn’t happen. I didn’t want to avoid the issues.”
Sarah, who started her writing career as a reporter for the Northants Telegraph and has been based in Isham since 2003. After moving back to her native London, Sarah worked on national publications. Returning to Northamptonshire to work in communications and for travel magazines.
With husband Terry she created luxury blog LiveShareTravel, and working with destinations and brands worldwide on storytelling marketing campaigns and conferences through her company, Captivate.
As well as jet-setting Sarah is now thinking about a possible sequel to follow her characters’ lives. Having heard the novel read as an audio book there could be an adaptation of the story for the small screen.
She said: “I would love it to be made into a TV programme. I think about the contribution that the Windrush Generation made. I’m pleased that this adds to the black experience in Britain.”
An Ocean Apart is published by Pan in paperback this week (September 29) selling for £8.99. The novel is available at shops including Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, Asda and online from Amazon, and as an audiobook.