Please join me in welcoming the ever-fabulous A.L. Lester back to Stories That Make You Smile to celebrate her newest release, The Quid Pro Quo, second in the Bradfield Trilogy, in the Border magic Universe.
The Quid Pro Quo: Victorian Nurses in the British Army
Hello there everyone! Thank you so much to Addison for letting me drop in today to tell you all about my latest release.
The Quid Pro Quo is the second in the Bradfield trilogy, although it will stand alone. It’s set a few months after the end of The Fog of War and stars Sylvia’s friend Walter Kennett, and Simon Frost, a detective who comes to Bradfield to investigate a murder. It’s a gay, historical, paranormal, romantic murder-mystery with a m/transm couple set in rural England in 1920.
One of the things I researched when I was beginning to think about Walter’s background was exactly what training he’d have had as a nurse (or an orderly) in the British army. The answer to that question was ‘not a great deal’ in that Victorian army nurses seemed to have been expected to pick things up as they went along. Before the advent of Florence Nightingale and her cohort during the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth century, nurses had all been men and they had been attached to individual regiments.
Outrage at the terrible conditions in the Crimea led to the development of a Medical Staff Corps in 1855, which recruited ‘Men able to read and write, of regular steady habits and good temper and of a kindly disposition’. This was renamed the Army Hospital Corps in 1857 and reverted back to being the Medical Staff Corps again in 1884*. Confusingly, the medical officers were known as the Medical Staff…and in 1898, the Medical Staff Corps and the Medical Staff were combined into Royal Army Medical Corps.
This is where Walter comes in.
In my head, he joins up as the two organisations are being merged together and he sort of slips through the gaps, staying hidden as a trans man with the help of the doctor who did his medical when he recruited him and possibly with a bit of a blind eye being turned by his army mates. He serves in the Boer War in South Africa and subsequently all over the British Empire before ending up at Sylvia’s hospital in France in World War One. By the time we meet him 1920, he’s forty and had served in the army for twenty-one years.
That brings me to a really interesting blog post about male nurses in the 1920s I found at This Intrepid Band-a blog dedicated to the history of military nursing. Nursing regulation was pretty slapdash until the end of the First World War. Hospitals trained nurses for between one and three years and gave them a certificate. But…anyone could call themselves a nurse even without that training.
After 1919, that changed. I won’t replicate all the qualifying criteria here, you can read it at This Intrepid Band if you want to…but Walter would have fallen under the ‘three years military experience’ criteria. However, as a man, he would have been singularly alone. Even in 1928, although there were forty thousand women on the new register, there were only two hundred men.
I don’t know whether there were any male nurses working at village practices in the early twenties; but I suspect it’s very unlikely. Most of the nurses in 1928 were in prisons or mental hospitals, presumably dealing with men who were considered dangerous and perhaps unsafe for women nurses to care for. Walter’s like Sylvia though, in that he feels that he’s done his bit keeping other people safe and looking after strangers. He wants to be part of a community and part of family as much as he can. So a small village, with his friends, suits him fine.
I hope you like his story!
The Quid Pro Quo
Village nurse Walter Kennett is content with his makeshift found-family in tiny Bradfield. However one midsummer morning a body is found floating in the village duck pond, dead by magical means.
Detective Simon Frost arrives in Bradfield to investigate a inexplicable murder. The evidence seems to point to Lucille Hall-Bridges, who lives with doctor Sylvia Marks and nurse Walter Kennett at Courtfield House. Simon isn’t happy—he doesn’t believe Lucy is a murderer but he’s sure the three of them are hiding something. In the meantime, the draw he feels toward Walter takes him by surprise.
Walter is in a dilemma, concealing Sylvia and Lucy’s relationship and not knowing how much to tell Frost about the paranormal possibilities of the murder. He isn’t interested in going to bed with anyone—he’s got a complicated life and has to know someone really well before he falls between the sheets. He’s taken aback by his own attraction to Detective Frost and angry when Frost appears to twist the spark between them to something transactional in nature.
Will Walter be satisfied to stay on the periphery of Lucy and Sylvia’s love affair, a welcome friend but never quite included? Or is it time for him to strike out and embark on a relationship of his own?
The second in the Bradfield trilogy, set in the Border Magic universe. Stands alone. Transm/m couple.
As Simon was replacing the device on the telephone table a pretty young woman put her head out of a door at toward the end of the hall. “Sylv!” she said, “Do you want tea? I’ve boiled the kettle.” and then when she realised he wasn’t who she thought he was, “Oh, I do beg your pardon! I thought you were Dr Marks!”.
“She’s still in the surgery,” Simon nodded across the hall.
The woman emerged into the hall. “Lucille Hall-Bridges,” she said, extending a hand. “I’m a friend of Sylvia’s. I help with the house.”
Simon took her hand in his. Her grip was sure and warm. “Detective Frost,” he replied. “Nice to meet you, Miss Hall-Bridges. She had a recent bruise running from her jaw to just below her eye, entering the black-and-purple stage.
“I’ve made a pot of tea,” she was saying. “I don’t know whether anyone will want any, but I do like to feel useful and tea is so…normal-making, isn’t it?”
He nodded, slightly bemused at her chatter. “Yes, indeed,” he said. “Very normal.”
She gave a perfunctory tap on the surgery door, opened it and disappeared inside without waiting for a response. “Sylv, Walter, I’ve made tea. Would you and your detective like to come into the drawing room?” Her voice faded, presumably as she joined them in the examination room.
There was a pause. Then, “Oh!” he heard her say. “Oh.” She sounded a little shocked. “What’s happened to her hands?” she asked.
“Scraped on the bottom on the pond I think,” Simon heard Dr Marks say. “She was face-down in the water.”
“Oh.” Miss Hall-Bridges’ voice was small. “Sylvia…there’s…she’s…I can feel…do you think…?” Her voice trailed off and Dr Marks spoke over her, clearly away they might be overhead.
“Let’s not worry about that now, shall we? The policeman is sending her down to Taunton to a postmortem. You go and take the tea-things into the drawing room. We’ll just cover her up.”
About A. L. Lester
Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some hens and the duckettes. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.