Dulcie Braybrooke is breaking through as a celebrated ceramicist.
Elizabeth is a lonely City head-hunter.
Annie is a teacher who’s lost her verve.
Liza is a lap dancer with a strong will and a tough life.
When a mysterious bequest throws each of the four into chaos, they seek support in the guise of hypnotherapist, Dr Kath O’Hannon. Through a process of self-discovery, their new-found knowledge weighs heavily, as they unpick four decades of life choices. They could accept the windfall, yet if they do, something entirely unexpected lies around the corner…
‘Pivotal’ is a relationship mystery, which portrays the impact of a shared life-changing dilemma on four seemingly unconnected lives. It follows a cast of strong women in their forties whose lives are disrupted by an extraordinary event, and explores the common experiences and dilemmas of ordinary women, who might be questioning the paths they have chosen. A book with many twists and turns, it is a mystery within a mystery. A story with relatable characters that prompts the reader to consider the decisions we make in life, the paths we take, and what could happen with even just the slightest change of direction.
Is it self-determination or destiny? How many doors does one person open in a lifetime? When you pass through a door, does your life change forever? Or, do you have power over who you become through the choices you make?
You write in all sorts of ways – blogging, the novel, your website – how does the approach change for each?
You are right, each has its own methodology and style, although I’d say my voice does come through in all forms of writing. With the novel, I wrote my first draft longhand in a series of journals, editing to second draft as I typed it up. As I tended to inhabit the characters heads whilst I wrote, I found it easier to connect with my imagination this way without the distraction of spell-check or the temptation to ‘research’ whilst on my laptop. I also did quite a lot of plot and character mapping both by hand and on spreadsheets because although the whole story arc and main plot twists arrived very early in the process, I had lots of different threads to keep track of and pin down.
For the blog and my short stories, I tend to free-type and see where it takes me. In the early days this led to lengthy posts which invariably needed trimming. Now I type up a rough outline with bullet points within the document and then flesh them out to keep the pace even and stay within the wordcount. The web copy is pretty automatic. After many years in sales, I’d developed an ability to identify my message and tailor it to speak to my audience and their needs.
How did you make the leap from your corporate career in recruitment to the writing world?
You could say it was qualifying as a coach in 2003. This gave me the bridge between employed work and working for myself. I ran my coaching business for a number of years alongside my full-time positions, working with senior managers and executives to help them unlock their career potential. Then in 2016, I decided to combine my writing and coaching skills and launched the Writers’ Pod to help others nurture their writing talents. This also gave me the opportunity to focus on finishing my own novel.
Does coaching other people to write help your own writing?
Definitely. The writers I have worked with, whether published or not, have always been willing to share ideas and tips to help support each other. I find the whole process of working with them to help them achieve their goals a hugely rewarding and inspirational experience.
What are the biggest challenges for people when it comes to their writing?
Many people say they’ve always wanted to write a book but have no idea where to begin, so you might say the biggest challenge is getting started. For those that do start, many keep it secret or do not finish for fear of being judged as ‘not good enough.’ This lack of confidence weaves a common thread through writers’ lives. Those who succeed are the ones who find a way to tackle it when it threatens to take over. A good support network or group, a cheer squad and a coach can make all the difference.
Often people complain about a lack of time too. If we dig a little deeper, more often than not there’s something else going on. Either we find it’s actually back to a lack of self-confidence or it doesn’t feature as a high enough priority for them. When it comes down to it, we all have the same number of hours in a day. If you want something badly enough you have to make space for it.
What are the main themes of Pivotal?
Pivotal looks at the multiple paths a life may take at the crossroads of each significant decision. The premise centres on the decisions we make in life and, the self-determination versus destiny debate. How many doors does one person open in a lifetime? When you pass through a door does your life change forever or do you have power over who you become by the choices you make?
Several other themes thread through the story including womanhood, motherhood, blended families, career changes and hypnotherapy, all washed down with lots of really good coffee, something, which I must confess, is a passion of mine.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
At the time, I was fortunate to be working with an extremely talented coach to achieve a step-change in several areas; something was missing and, as a coach myself, I knew I wasn’t reaching my potential. After an enlightening goal setting session, two ‘sensible’ goals emerged around health and career, and a third, heart-flutteringly exciting goal, around creativity. Within a week, after a flash of inspiration, my goal changed from ‘get more creative’ to ‘write a book’ to ‘publish a novel.’
You began writing Pivotal nine years ago. How did you write? What was your process?
As I mentioned before, my novel writing started out longhand in a journal. I tended to write for about 2 hours at a time which produced, on average 1200 words. I annotated the scribbles with a shorthand code where I’d noticed repeated words and for any continuity checks or further research. I’d pick these up in the second draft as I was typing. The manuscript went through several iterations, self-edits and further changes following feedback from beta-readers. Most of the first draft was written in coffeeshops away from the distraction of chores and family comings and goings. I have found a closed door to my study doesn’t prevent interruptions to the creative process. I dream of a Roald Dahl style writing shed in the hope that the extra metres from the front door, and the brief exposure to the elements will be a more successful deterrent to intruders!
How did you stay motivated writing the novel?
In the early days I used to write in the half hour before bedtime and quickly reached 20,000 words. My progress slowed a little during the middle, as with a young family and a fulltime job I rarely had the energy to work on it during term time. Through this period, I made the most progress whilst on holidays. Some years I wrote very little but I believed in the book and my family believed in me. On three further occasions I sought out coaching support to help me find a way to prioritise my writing. Eventually, through attending workshops and writer’s events, gaining insight and knowledge, I began to take myself seriously as a writer. I finished the last 50000 words of the first draft in three months by joining an online group, setting a daily word target with a writing buddy and having a very clear goal. I love the Winston Churchill quote, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal it is the courage to continue that counts.’
Pivotal explores the ideas of destiny and determination, and how much influence we have over our lives. Do you think that there’s any particular path we take?
No. I firmly believe we have control over who we become. Of course, our early years shape us, our families, the environments we grow up in, the teachers who inspire or discourage us, our significant others, all have an impact. We can’t change our genes or external events but we can choose how we respond to them. Crucially for me, both as a coach and a writer, the key is to start where you are, identify what you’d like to achieve and work towards it. I’ve changed direction several times in my working life, when I wanted to choose a different path. None of those experiences are wasted. They each contribute to who I am as person and provide a rich seam of inspiration and ideas for my writing.
The book features a cast of strong female characters in their forties. Why do you think this is often something missing in books?
It is difficult to say whether these stories were not being published because editors felt they wouldn’t sell, or because they weren’t being written. Like many underrepresented sections of society in publishing, it’s a little bit chicken and egg. It’s encouraging to see stories being told with older female characters in books, film and on television. I loved the ‘women of a certain age’ in Kay Mellor’s Girlfriends. I’ve always enjoyed reading a wide range of stories and genres and have never really limited myself to characters of any particular age. I do think, in the same way that the YA market has become established in recent years, there is definitely room for more books with relatable older characters, OA if you will. Often readers turn to books when life is in a state of flux and sometimes seeing yourself reflected in the characters can help steer you through.
You interviewed a number of hypnotherapists for research. What did you learn?
Whilst I had some understanding of hypnotherapy and how it could be useful tool in self-discovery or dealing with phobias, I wanted to flavour the therapy in the book with as much authenticity as possible. Through the interviews and the sessions of therapy I undertook myself, I learnt about the process, the way different people respond and how the subconscious can reveal clues and solutions to unlocking barriers which an individual has built-up and may be preventing them from moving forward. I also debunked many of the urban myths: The hypnotherapist does not ‘put you under’, control you or force you to reveal anything unless you choose to. The research was enlightening and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who contributed.
Your favourite quote is from George Eliot – ‘It’s never too late to be who you might have been.’ Why is this so powerful?
I’ve been quoting it ever since I began coaching long before I started writing the novel. To me it perfectly sums up my philosophy, an inspirational phrase to encourage anyone who feels they might want to change direction. I do believe you can achieve anything you set your mind to regardless of the path you have previously chosen. My favourite author, Mary Wesley, became a novelist in later life and is a perfect example of someone who made a success of changing direction.
Thank you Nikki Vallance and LiterallyPR.com
About the author
Nikki Vallance is a writer and coach who works with others to unlock their writing talents. She runs coaching programs and one to one sessions to help aspiring writers achieve their goals.
She began writing ‘Pivotal’ nine years ago, whilst still working in her recruitment career, following a flash of inspiration in a session with her own coach. She has given talks and presentations on her writing process and career.
‘Pivotal’ looks at the multiple paths a life may take at the crossroads of each significant decision. Nikki is fascinated by what makes us who we are and how much control we have over our destiny, and interviewed a number of hypnotherapists in researching the book.
Nikki is married with her own blended family of five children. Although a beginner, she’s a big fan of Argentine Tango, which she hopes to dance in Buenos Aires one day.
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