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The power of the pen

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Creative writing can enhance valuable skills, which is why Pippa Gough wants to inspire nurses to embrace the arts

“I can write a sentence and another sentence. I can create something.” These are the words of the 2013 Asham Award winner, Pippa Gough, on her writing. Ms Gough was awarded the prize by the Asham Literary Endowment Trust for her short story, The Journey to the Brothers’ Farm, which was inspired by real-life events and her own childhood years in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Once a nurse and a midwife, Ms Gough now splits her time between creative writing and consulting. Content with the differences in her careers, she explains that they often complement each other - which actually makes both more fulfilling.

Before relocating to her native England, Ms Gough worked as a nurse in South Africa, which inspired many of her short stories. She was deeply affected by working and training in a segregated hospital.

“There was a third-world versus first-world divide within the same hospital. Both had different levels of resources, which could determine whether a patient lived or died.

“It was appalling that simple diseases couldn’t be treated. It shaped my politics. There were days when I asked myself: ‘what am I doing in a hospital?’”

Ms Gough is currently a consultant in leadership and policy development, but makes sure she also dedicates some time to her writing.

“Being a consultant is fascinating work, but it doesn’t feed writing, that’s the stuff that keeps my brain ticking,” she says. She goes on to explain why the combination of the two careers works well for her: “Writing is a solitary job. It is difficult to do it every day. I also can’t stand isolation because I’m an extrovert.”

Ms Gough’s outgoing personality has been a useful tool in her career as a nurse. She has used the associated skills to encourage other nurses and student nurses to find a creative outlet. She recently led a creative-writing workshop at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London. As well as reading an excerpt from The Journey to the Brothers’ Farm, she discussed the necessity of nurses adopting artistic and cultural pursuits.

Ms Gough explains that the arts - and creative writing in particular - help nurses to develop the skills they need to provide quality care.

“Writing can provide nurses with a useful outlet.

It develops language skills and enhances acute listening between a nurse and their patient,” she says.

While Ms Gough finds it difficult to discuss the subject of nursing in her own writing, the experiences she has had while on the job have helped to enhance other aspects of her stories.

“I can’t write about nursing. I can’t be explicit. I always get in the way of the main character. Writing about blood, gore, guts and illness is much easier because of it though. You have a dark side as a nurse and, in writing, you can express that.”

Ms Gough began creative writing in an evening class at the Mary Ward Adult Education Centre in London. After three terms, she was invited to a private writing group and it was then that she decided she “didn’t want to write part time”. In 2005 she began studying for an

MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Ms Gough is not always satisfied with her own work and says “sometimes what I write is rubbish”. In fact, she submitted The Journey to the Brothers’ Farm to be considered for the Asham Award only after being urged to do so by the members of her writing group.

“They told me, ‘you’ve done it, now go do something with it!’ When I received the email that I’d won the Asham, I read it several times, printed it out, and asked my husband to make sense of it.”

Ms Gough’s achievements as a nurse, midwife, leadership and policy consultant, and writer have all played an important part in her life and, she hopes, the lives of others. As she puts it: “I like to think that, in some small way I might have changed some people’s lives”.

Dakota Smith

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