I am delighted to invite Author, Nikki Vallance to visit my blog. We’re chatting about writing women’s fiction, having a photographic memory, and where the inspiration for her new release PIVOTAL came from. Over to Nikki…
The Fun Stuff:
What part of the world do you come from?
This question always stumped me when I was younger. After I’d realised most people expect a straightforward response, I’d say do you want the long answer or the short answer. It helped me to establish whether they had a genuine interest or were asking just to be polite. It saved the rolling of eyes and embarrassing yawns. So today the short answer is Hertfordshire. It’s the place I’ve lived the longest and where I settled post university.
The long answer. I lived the first four years of my life in a high rise council flat in Slough, before moving into our childhood home near Reading. But as my Mum is from Gibraltar, with a mixture of Spanish and English heritage, and my Dad grew up in Bristol, with Yorkshire and Irish ancestors, I’ve always felt European.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
For a short while, around the age of four, I wanted to be a nurse. This may have had more to do with a dressing-up outfit I’d been given than any kind of vocation. I toyed with the idea of being a teacher, having taught my younger sister to read two hundred words by the age of two. I loved my ballet lessons and then in my junior years I also fell in love with poetry and music and all things creative. Deep down though, I’ve always been a performer and dreamt of going to stage school and becoming a ‘triple threat’ – I guess that would be called Musical theatre now.
List three words to describe yourself.
Enthusiastic. Optimistic. Determined.
Who would play you in a film about your life?
It would have to be Kate Winslet. She has such a talent and yet seems down to earth and great fun. Plus she’s younger so that would make me feel younger too!
If you had a super power, what would it be?
A photographic memory. It might be a bit draining to have it permanently switched on though, so maybe being able to choose when it is activated would be good. Especially for when it comes to copy editing and proof reading!
The Sensible Side:
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I’ve changed direction several times in my career. I have a chemistry degree, studied and worked as a Big 4 auditor before falling into a long successful career in recruitment.
I guess though, I’ve always been a writer, having written an anthology of poems as a child, a number of songs and a daily teenage diary. Although I continued to use my skills during my career, creative writing took a back seat for quite a while.
In 2003 I qualified as coach and 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.
I began writing my novel ‘Pivotal’, whilst still working in my recruitment career. Then in 2016, I decided to combine my writing and coaching skills and launched The Writers’ Pod to help others nurture their writing talents. Working for myself also gave me the flexibility to juggle the two and the opportunity to focus on finishing my own novel.
I live in Hertfordshire with my second husband. Between us with have a blended family of five children across two hemispheres. Although a beginner, I’m a big fan of Argentine Tango, which I hope to dance in Buenos Aires one day.
Where did the inspiration for Pivotal 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.’
I’ve always been fascinated by what makes us who we are. ‘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 do you 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?
What excites you about writing women’s fiction?
I must admit, until I’d finished writing Pivotal, I hadn’t really been conscious of the genre I was writing in. I knew I wanted to write something which I’d like to read myself though, a story with relatable characters which leaves the reader thinking.
I deliberately focused the attention on strong female characters in their forties. Whilst their lives are disrupted by an extraordinary event and on the face of it appear to be very different, I felt it was important to show the common experiences and dilemmas of ordinary women who might be questioning the paths they have chosen.
I didn’t set out to fill a gap in the market, at least not consciously, but main characters in this demographic do seem to have appeared less frequently in the past. 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.
Can you share an excerpt from Pivotal?
This is the opening scene of the book, when we first meet Dulcie. She is emerging as a celebrated ceramicist and this is the launch of her first collection in Sydney where she lives.
Dulcie waited for her harbour-side exhibition to open. Dwarfed by one of the gallery’s pillars, she sneaked a peek outside. Set against the backdrop of the Opera House across the water, considerable numbers had already gathered, with others flocking to join the queue. Who would have thought her pottery would have drawn such a crowd? She might even make some money this time.
Help pay for the London trip at least, she thought.
A fun trip tagged on the beginning of another she felt obliged to make. She hadn’t been back home for many years. She didn’t have the funds or desire to return to England.
The letter, half hanging out of their rusty mailbox ten days ago, had changed everything. Bruce Anderson, her agent, flounced into her personal space.
“There you are Dulcie darling. You’re looking stunning this evening and I love your new hair! It is so important to make the right impression. Are you feeling nervous? Have you had a glass of bubbles yet? And where is Peter? He really should be by your side you know—men, eh?” He flicked his fringe and placed a hand on his hip to punctuate his point.
“Oh, shush Bruce. I just want to breathe in the atmosphere before everything gets too frenetic.” Dulcie scraped her fingers through her hair, repeatedly failing to tuck it behind her ears. “Have you seen the queue? All those people are here for me?”
“Honestly, you shouldn’t be flying solo. Poor darling. Don’t worry. I’m here and I’ll look after you,” he said, putting a protective arm around her shoulders. “Stick with me. I’ll make sure you meet only the right people. It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, you know. Mind you, I have clearly done rather well on the PR, haven’t I?” Bruce tweaked his cravat in that self-congratulatory way, his theatrics reminiscent of a certain Mr Hardy.
Dulcie laughed and allowed him to steer her away to fetch her first glass of Yarra Burn. He was in his element. She really wasn’t too fussed about the showy side of the art world. She had never been seeking success. In fact, her drive to create was much more deeply embedded than any ambition for materiality. Her modest income from her ceramics was a bonus. It was a basic need to feed her soul that made her rise at five a.m. most mornings, when the world around her was still and peaceful.
As for Bruce’s red and black theme, she wasn’t convinced. A smart, black, fitted suit, with a kick-pleated pencil skirt and a red, silk blouse may fit the part, but she was far more at home in scruffy jeans and a T-shirt. But the hair! What was she thinking? A blonde bob? Her big hair had been her trademark since the Eighties. Halfway down her back, frizzy and unkempt, it had suited her round face and rounder figure. Squeezed into the suit with support underwear galore, she could pass for a voluptuous size sixteen, but an uncomfortable one at that.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m definitely writing more novels. I have three strong story outlines and long lists of ideas for further novels. I’ve already started book two which is still contemporary fiction but this time based on a true story romance. I’d love to write historical fiction too and have two front runners as ideas for this genre, including a possible prequel to Pivotal set in the Fifties and Sixties. I’m also keen to capture my experiences and knowledge in a guide for new writers to encourage them to keep writing.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
With Pivotal launching on 17th October, I am busy organising various events and signings in the autumn. My events page will be regularly updated with venues and dates and details will be included in the newsletter emails. If you spot something near you, please do come along. I love to meet readers, writers and booklovers in general.
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