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Mental health nurse now a literary sensation

Global fame beckons for Ali Land and her bestselling debut novel Good Me Bad Me

Global fame beckons for Ali Land and her bestselling debut novel Good Me Bad Me


Former mental health nurse and novelist Ali Land. Picture: Laura Lewis Photography

Mental health nurse Ali Land became a bestselling author within days thanks to her debut novel Good Me Bad Me – a dark literary thriller – based on her experiences working with children and young people

Ms Land comes from two generations of nurses in a ‘super traditional’ military family and grew up ‘in the middle of nowhere’ in Scotland, with a boarding school education to boot.

‘Any kind of fanciful idea or creative urge was quickly snuffed,’ she said, explaining parental advice was ‘to get a job and pay the bills’.

She had no inkling during the resulting ten-year career in mental health nursing children and young people, in the UK and Australia, that she would one day become a literary sensation.

Amazing job

But at the age of 33, against the advice of her family, Ms Land gave up an ‘amazing job with a great salary and a beautiful apartment on the beach’ in Sydney to return to the UK and write a novel.

‘Any kind of fanciful idea or creative urge was quickly snuffed’

Despite never having written anything since a 9,000-word dissertation at the age of 21, it proved a fateful move and on publication in January, her book became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller.

When first catching wind of the story, agents and publishers vied to get their hands on her debut novel Good Me Bad Me before Ms Land had even finished writing it.

By the time she’d finished the first draft, Ms Land had landed a six-figure deal with Penguin in the UK and today, 23 countries have snapped up rights to the book.

The story is an unsettling thriller told from the perspective of Milly, a teenage girl whose mother is a serial killer.

Speaking to Mental Health Practice, Ms Land says: ‘It was not a real story, but it was a real conversation I’d had with a 15-year-old girl, which haunted me.

‘Although her mum wasn’t a serial killer, she had been involved in the serious harm of young children – she believed she would turn into her mother.’

Ms Land says the teenager described ‘clearly’ how her insides were black – and always would be – and she was destined to be bad.

‘I remember feeling so haunted by that and the burden she has to carry.

‘Other people in her life were telling her – you will be just like your mother.

‘I started thinking, imagine having a criminal mum and thinking you would always be like that, no matter what you did, good or bad, and so the character of Milly was born.’

‘Morally, I felt I couldn’t look after kids as a mental health nurse and write about them, so I needed to remove myself completely’

Ms Land says it was an ‘amazing mentor’ she met on placement in a homeless centre as part of her nursing studies who taught her compassion and insight, as well as a desire to work in mental health.

Mentor

‘He explained I needed to search for the “why” and not just to look at a person’s behaviour,’ she remembers, talking about some of the difficult clients she saw her mentor handle.

‘He would say: “Why did he do that and what happened to him to make him so angry? What happened in his past?”

‘I was so inspired by this man who so deeply cared for everyone, he lit the fire for me.

‘If you have understanding, you can be compassionate.’

‘I was terrified I would further isolate children like Milly’

The author says her writing is about ‘how to showcase a person who is difficult and dangerous’ so others can feel compassionately towards that person.

But giving up nursing was a difficult decision.

‘I struggled quite a lot,’ she confesses. ‘I loved my job, but I knew there was something else to me. Something wasn’t being addressed and frustrations were there.

‘I was a great nurse, doing well and being promoted quickly but I just remember thinking something is wrong, I feel this thing inside me.

‘I realised books were the one constant in my life that had given me the biggest source of comfort. When I moved to Australia and moved back here, the books were the first thing I shipped.

‘I thought perhaps writing would also give me that comfort.’

Ms Land says she realised she’d outrun her creativity for so long that it was a ‘now or never’ moment.

Moral dilemma

‘I knew then I was going to give up nursing at that point, which was a huge decision. I mean, you give up your registration and that’s it.’

Part of her decision to leave nursing was related to the moral dilemma posed by writing about her charges.

‘Morally, I felt I couldn’t look after kids as a mental health nurse and write about them, so I needed to remove myself completely.’

Concerns Ms Land felt about writing about vulnerable children came up for her after she had procured her first publishing deal.

‘I realised what I’d done was open up all the memories from being a younger nurse and asked myself whether it was it okay to do that.

‘In the book, Milly’s foster father writes about her and that is a moral dilemma. That was me, mirroring how I felt about writing the book. We delayed its publication by six months.

‘I was terrified I would further isolate children like Milly.

‘As a nurse, I didn’t think that was okay.

‘I was so worried I would put them in a more vulnerable position and people would say: “Well there is nothing we can do with someone like Milly, is there?”

‘I worked hard to make her likeable and someone you could root for. Even though the twists in the book are dark, I still wanted to come down on the side she did the best she could.’

‘I am going to make sure I combine my creativity with my nursing skills and do something with kids’

For all the sudden success, life as a writer is a solitary one and Ms Land says she misses the young people she worked with for so many years.

Combined skills

‘I am going to make sure I combine my creativity with my nursing skills and do something with kids – there is something magical about them, it is so boring without the teenagers,’ she laughs.

Ms Land says she is happy she is able to open up conversations about difficult and taboo issues in public.

‘I see writing as an extension of my nursing. I will be writing about issues that are difficult, challenging, provocative and that we should be talking about.

‘This book has done amazing things. It has sold in 23 countries and given me the opportunity to talk about mental health on the radio and in other places.’


Further information

Sunday Times bestseller Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land is out now in Penguin paperback

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