Author Interview – Belinda Nicoll

belinda-nicollWhat made you decide to write Out of Sync?

My book might seem like a 9/11 portrayal in essence, though it’s really an expatriation story with a wide view that explores the impact of personal transformation and global change on relationships. Spanning ten years, the story is set in post-apartheid South Africa and post-9/11 America. What started as an opportunity to profit from a new romance at age forty, an exotic adventure abroad and professional opportunities aka the American Dream quickly turned into a roller coaster ride—for me, in contrast to my husband who became increasingly successful.

Feeling alienated not only from the world but my self, my thoughts zoomed in on issues that go back to childhood. Once I had connected the dots and understood the design of my life, I was inspired to create a narrative about a topsy-turvy world that I believed most people would relate to.

 

What were you hoping to accomplish in writing your book? Is there a message that you were trying to convey to the reader?

The world is full of trailing spouses and, these days, there are as many husbands as wives whose own development gets sacrificed in the name of global business. I wanted to add my story to the heap, not so much to whine as to better understand my new identity, to take the setbacks and consequent humiliation by the tale and shake it off. After a downward spiral and deep introspection, what I discovered about myself and our situation was quite liberating.

It had never occurred to me that I’d developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of 9/11 and the ongoing pressure of our expatriation that included relocations from San Francisco to the north, the south and the midwest, as well as a failed attempt to repatriate to South Africa. By that time, my career had grounded to a halt, my husband and I were at odds over everything all the time, and I’d given up hope of ever being reunited with my children and family. It was a big challenge to triumph over the collective disaster—but I did it and our marriage has survived, and it’s that redemption I want to share.

 

How did you go about organizing your book? Are there any tips you would give to other authors writing a similar book?

The content was already intact thanks to regular newsletters I’d written to family and friends in South Africa since our arrival in the US in 2001. But it still had to become a book, so I worked with a strong critiquing group for more than three years as well as taking private writing classes for the same period. I focused my research on the sociopolitical and economic shifts as they related specifically to post-apartheid developments in South Africa and post-9/11 reactions in the US, as well as what was happening globally. In 2008, my book was ready to go; while I got close to literary representation, I failed to ‘make a sale.’ The responses I received indicated that it was indeed a compelling story and good writing. Looking ahead further than being published and wanting to teach, I decided to do a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, so I dedicated one semester to a full revision of the book. By the end of that phase, the publishing industry was in deep trouble. I knew mine was a compelling story, I believed in my writing skill, the content had been critiqued and edited to death, so instead of wasting more time I opted to self-publish.

I cringe when I hear writing mentors advise their students to JUST write what comes up for them because the story will become what it wants to be, and then they leave their guidance at that because they consider the rah-rah nonsense to be the most important aspect of coaching. While that part of the process is valid, it constitutes ONLY a tiny element of what goes into creating, publishing and marketing a book these days. I give my students the blunt facts: (1) if you’re happy to add to the heap of mindless, badly-written, unedited books out there, you don’t need my help; (2) if you want to create a quality product that will rise above the clutter, serve your readers well and earn you a good reputation and some income, then you better be prepared to work hard—write well and think like a businessman; (3) and for goodness sake, think further than your book and your career; let’s be responsible about the literary legacy we’re creating.

 

Are you working on another book? If ‘yes’, can you tell us about it?

I’m working on two books:

(1) My first priority is to complete and publish, by early next year, a creative writing guide that’s based on a life coaching model. As a creativity coach, I believe character transformation and plot development in storytelling are no different to the rules that govern change in real life. This book is an extension of my MFA craft thesis, which received an enthusiastic response by faculty and peers.

(2) My w.i.p. novel is calling my name and I look forward to focusing my future writing on fiction. My novel is an intricate plot that spans various generations and two continents. It is written in a third-person roving point of view. The story opens with a prologue about the early life of the Bushmen of the Kalahari. It is against this background that the real story unfolds to explore themes such as war, rape, intergenerational shame, post-partum depression, and shamanic traditions.

 

 

About the Author

Belinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa and has been a citizen of the United States since 2010. She and her husband, Bruce, love traveling and share a keen interest in cultural diversity. Their journeys and careers have taken them through large parts of Southern Africa and America, Europe, Ireland, Canada, the Middle East, Mexico, and to exotic islands such as Mauritius, The Comores, St. Thomas, and St. John.

Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing. She was a talent agent and drama coach before venturing into the advertising world as copywriter. These days, she works as a teacher of creative writing and is writing her first novel, an epic mystery set in South Africa and the United States.