A teenager lies gravely ill in a hospital bed, fighting for her life. Staff nurse Cerys Hughes is assigned to her care. She soon realises something isn’t right, she is bruised and has suffered a vicious beating, she has had no visitors, nobody is phoning to ask about her welfare. It is as if she was trash thrown out, expendable, expected to die and only fit for disposal. Then, as she improves, it becomes clear people now want her back, but why? More worrying, the young woman is so terrified of being returned to her family, she absconds from her hospital bed. Cerys then finds herself responsible for her care, a situation where she has to choose between a nursing career and sheltering her.
As time moves on a complex life, full of lies and contradictions emerges which follows the teenager like a dark cloud; something which eventually puts Cerys in mortal danger as she tries to unravel the plot with the help of two lifelong friends and a woman with a colourful past.
New faces appear and it seems the young woman, who is now known by several different names, is not who she seems. She has family links to a dark and shocking secret which when exposed, rocks three people’s life to its very core. Finally, when all is uncovered and the truth is out, how can these diverse lives be repaired and put back together in a way which means they can forget the past and move on.
No writer can create a character in isolation. There was one person I had in mind when I wrote Outcast, a stunningly beautiful nurse Cerys Hughes, who has featured in most of the books in the Petra Larson series, although not to the level in which she does in this book. In writing Outcast I tried to put myself into a nurses shoes. One thing in particular was the connection made with their patients as they pass through their care. The Covid pandemic has brought this heavily into focus like never before. The mixture of emotions where a patient is brought into hospital, through the emergency department and thence into intensive care, where life and death constantly hangs in the balance and the nurse has to manage the extremes of emotion between those who survive and those who do not.
This is where Outcast begins. As always, when I started this book I took the same approach. I had an idea, I started writing and I let the book take itself where it wanted to go. Thankfully, there was little writers block, The story expanded and then there was that crucial period when a decision had to be made - when to stop? It’s a bit like an artist deciding when to add the final brush stroke to a painting or risk overworking it. It’s called ‘fiddling’. I guess padding out the book for the sake of extra pages is the writing equivalent. I settled for around 75k words and I tried to create an ending with a shocking surprise as well as an explosion of sadism!
Cerys Hughes is in her mid thirties. She is petite and men find her so frustrating. Many have tried to date her, but she rebuffs them gently which very much reflects her nature. She was born in a South Wales mining village. Men worked underground then seeking out coal, black gold from the rich seams which were in abundance in that area. Being gay was something to keep to oneself in that community and Cerys did this to perfection. Attending church in the chapels which were in every community was expected and she was no exception. Her ambition was to be a nurse and after leaving school she later attended university in Bath. It is there she meets Petra Larson and with the risk of exposure far reduced, having moved away from her roots, Cerys is able to share her secret with someone like herself. They soon became lovers. Cerys has another secret, she is into the BDSM scene. She doesn’t actively participate, preferring to watch. She takes Petra to a Bristol group and quickly finds Petra takes to the scene like a duck to water. While Cerys likes to watch, Petra jumps in the deep end feet first and her sadistic tastes are applied with gusto as she enters the scene with enthusiasm.
Cerys had played a minor role in my books since then, but in Outcast she becomes a central figure. It is her relationship with a stricken patient which is the main driving force of the story. Cerys had never had a long lasting relationship, or she hadn’t until Amy came along. She adored her much younger partner, they lived and loved together in a tiny Bristol flat. Just the two of them plus Cerys’s goldfish. Then tragically Amy is ripped out of her heart and Cerys is just leaving a doomed rebound relationship when she comes into work and finds herself assigned to the care of an Amy lookalike. That is where the book begins and if you want to know what happens after that, I’m afraid you’ll have to find out by reading it.