Tammy Bullard is a Western Australian based paramedic with several published books under her belt. Recently we had the opportunity to sit down with Tammie to find how she balances working as a paramedic with writing and publishing.
Q. There are only a few paramedics who write, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer as well as a paramedic?
I’ve always written bits and pieces of books, but I had never actually finished one until 2019. I’m a massive fan of all kinds of fiction and non-fiction so it’s been an obvious pathway for me to follow. It wasn’t until I started gathering snippets of notes in an app on my phone that I realised I had more than enough to put a book together, so that’s where the paramedic series began.
Q. What was your first manuscript and what was the inspiration behind it?
The first completed book was “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Paramedic” as a stand alone project. I had no intention of writing any others at that stage, but the inspiration came from working with, speaking to, teaching and learning from paramedics in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and then across the country as I was lecturing to remote paramedics at the time. The resounding theme of so may conversations was that of individual passion. Almost everyone was passionate when talking about certain parts of the job. Things that we love to do well. Things that we wish others would do differently. Certain approaches that we gain positive inspiration from and want to replicate. Other approaches that we are frustrated, challenged or horrified by that we do everything in our power to avoid copying. Once I started talking to bigger groups about these things, and the effects our choices have on patients and our profession, it developed into a sliding scale, that I compared to the pain scale as an analogy, using the good, the bad and the ugly as reference points.
Q. How many books have you published since then?
I published a reflective practice pocketbook a year or so later, as lots of readers had mentioned a habit of hoping to keep a fresh perspective. So a weekly guide suggesting one area to focus on made sense and it’s been a nice gift to buy so that the original book approach stays ever-present in the mind. After that, a student handbook became the next logical step, to put good habits into practice before the real work even begins.
Q. Have you a favourite?
My favourite has to be the first one, it’s the heart of the passion project and is always something I’ll be proud of. Partly because of feedback I’ve had from others about how it has helped them to reflect on how they approach the role, but partly because it helped to guide and shape my own approach to the job and keep me on a positive track no matter how challenging things have been sometimes.
Q. Where do you get your inspiration, information or ideas for your books?
For the paramedic books, the inspiration and ideas is always from others. Either thoughts that people share with me, or the reactions of patients, family members, bystanders, peers and other professionals to the things they see or hear us do. When I notice repeat themes of actions that gain a good response, I look at them more closely for the “why.” When actions or inactions are received poorly, I want to dig deeper and figure out what the underlying issue may be and how we can make it better for everyone involved.
Q. What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how do you balance writing with fulltime paramedicine?
In all honesty, my work schedule is a mess when I’m engrossed in a project. I’ll do nothing for a few weeks (other than my day job) then bury myself in a flurry of writing activity for hours or days at a time. Maybe sleeping for an hour or two. It’s like an on/off switch in my brain, once it’s on, I have to physically switch it off. Now that I work eight days on and six off, it’s a lot easier to achieve in these random bursts but it was way harder a few years ago. With young adult kids at home, on-road ambulance shifts, a couple of dogs and plenty of family life admin tasks, time was a bit tight, but my two sons were always great. They could see when I was really focused and stepped up to take care of things so that I had the time and space to think.
Q. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How complicated the world of books really is. It’s like an entirely different language in the book publishing world. I thought it would be pretty straight forward but nope, it took me just as long to learn how to navigate as it did to write the first book.
Q. On average how long does it take you to write a book?
A non-fiction book can take less than a week, but more specific work, like the paramedic books, takes months. First of all to put all the ideas onto paper, then to formulate them into some kind of sensible format, then write everything in a way that’s easy to read and digest. By that point I go back over it to pick the tone. For example, the “we” approach to the paramedic books was intentional so it was non-threatening, non-judgemental, non-accusatory. If any reader (myself included) is going to relate to something that feels great or good, to read “you” and resonate is easy and comfortable. It reinforces the good stuff we’re proud to bring to our profession. But if something seems more challenging to accept, something that we could do better, or we really wish we weren’t doing, asking “you” to take accountability can feel like a finger-pointing exercise. Re-writing things in this way has become a habit now. I always speak that way, so I probably should have written the way I speak in the first place. It would have saved a lot of time! Once all that is done, proofreading, editing, getting others to look over it, sending it out to beta readers for opinion, then incorporating all the suggested changes takes a long time too. The less night shifts involved in that process the better as that slows progress across the board.
Q. What do you like to do when you're not writing, working or saving lives?
I don’t often save lives, especially now I work mostly in emergency management, but when I’m not working or writing, I love being outdoors. Trekking, swimming, kayaking, road trips and the beach make me happy.
Q. If you could have dinner with two people who would they be?
Bob Cooper, the outback survival expert is someone I could talk with forever. We know each other, I’ve been on one of his survival courses and I wish I could absorb even half of the knowledge and interesting stories he has gathered over the years. The other person would be J K Rowling. I’d love to chat about books and genres and life in general.
Q. As a parting piece of advice for any budding paramedic writers out there, what do you think makes a good story?
Anything that a writer has a true passion for makes a great read. There are so many books out there that just spill stories or information or writing for the sake of the reader. Nothing beats a book that clearly communicates the author’s commitment. Even if we don’t agree with what we read, we can’t help but be drawn in by the message when it comes from the heart. It’s a bit like a meal, anything that’s prepared with love, even a simple sandwich, tastes so much better than something thrown together for a functional purpose.
Q. Where can people find your books? Do you have any links?
Details about all three paramedic books can be found at www.gbuparamedic.com and they can be purchased at all major retailers online in print or eBook format (the GBUParamedic book is also available as an audiobook everywhere). Local bookstores can order in if there are none already on shelves and several universities and colleges have loan copies available too.