Learning Disability Nursing Day | Reflections on writing a book


To mark Learning Disability Nursing Day (1 November), we spoke to Ruth Northway, Professor of Learning Disability Nursing, and Paula Hopes, Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales (USW). In September 2022, their book ‘Learning Disability Nursing: Developing Professional Practice’ was published by Critical Publishing. Here, they reflect on the writing process and explain what they learnt from the experience.

Writing a book is something that many people dream about, but opportunities to turn this into a reality do not always happen. This can be particularly challenging if your chosen subject area is not seen by publishers as being a ‘big seller’ since publishing is a business, and businesses have to make profits. Previous experience of speaking with some publishers was that commissioning a book relating to learning disability nursing was not feasible due to the perception that only a small group of readers would be interested (due to being one of the smaller fields of nursing and one which is only present in the UK and Ireland). So, when a publisher approaches you to write a book specifically focused on learning disability nursing, and you are offered the opportunity to shape the book as you wish, then it’s too good an opportunity to miss.

Translating this into the reality of producing a manuscript is, however, a challenging process and it is important to work with a publisher who is both supportive of your subject, and supportive of you as an author. Having found a potential publisher, then deciding what to include and how to structure the book is the first challenge and key to securing a contract to write the text. To do this the key consideration is the intended audience for your book. For us we wanted to develop a textbook that would meet the needs of undergraduate learning disability student nurses undertaking courses based on the NMC (2018) Standards of Proficiency. Nonetheless, we also recognised that these educational standards require nurses from all fields of nursing to have an awareness of how to provide care and support for people with learning disabilities. It was therefore important to include material that would also meet their needs. A plan was therefore developed to write a book structured around the foundations of practice (for example legal and ethical issues and evidence-based practice), key areas of clinical practice (such as supporting those whose behaviour is viewed as challenging and a public health approach) and advancing professional practice (including leadership and professional development).

We were lucky in being able to write together as we have complementary areas of interest and expertise which meant that we could each focus on different elements of the book. However, we also both had experience of nurse education and hence an understanding of both student and course needs.

The traditional image of authors is perhaps one of individuals sitting pen in hand, waiting for inspiration, and transferring this inspiration to the page. Today, an author is more usually found sat in front of a computer screen and, whilst the odd flash of inspiration is always welcome, writing a book is more a case of reading and researching widely and then planning, writing, drafting, re-writing, and editing again. It may take several attempts to get a section or chapter ‘right’ and getting feedback from others is essential. What makes total sense to you (as you have written it) may not be clear to others. However, it is a great opportunity to improve your writing (even experienced authors are constantly learning), to further your own knowledge in areas of interest, and to think about how that knowledge can be used to inform practice.

Many evening, weekends, and holidays were spent writing. So, was it worth it? At a personal level then it has been worth the time and effort – having the opportunity to work on this project has been a privilege. However, it will ultimately be readers of the book that determine its worth. If they find it interesting, useful, and use it to develop their practice and hence enhance the support they provide for people with learning disabilities, then the answer to this question will be ‘yes’. Initial feedback we have received has been positive, and we are very grateful to those who have taken the time to provide this. We hope that people will like it and we look forward to further feedback. Perhaps our experience might also encourage others to take the plunge and try to write a textbook.

For more information on studying learning disability nursing at USW: BSc (Hons) Nursing (Learning Disabilities) | University of South Wales.