TRCH - Peter Pan

Sarah Dale - Bolder And Wiser

4 May 14 words: James Walker
An interview with the psychologist and writer about her career and writing about women over fifty
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What is Creating Focus?
Creating Focus is the brand name for the coaching and other psychological services I offer. I work as an independent occupational psychologist and help individuals and organisations deal with uncertainty and change. I brought my work together under the Creating Focus brand name because it helped to clarify and consolidate a wide range of projects and writing that I was involved in.

Once you are sitting comfortably, tell us about your life as a psychologist...
I think I’ve always been interested in psychology! I did a psychology degree on leaving school, and then, after a foray into the business world as a chartered accountant, returned to university to do an MSc in occupational psychology when I was 30. I’ve worked as an occupational psychologist since then. The best aspect is undoubtedly when I am able to help people make sense of their experience, particularly in relation to their work and how work interacts with other areas of their life. They are then in a better position to make good decisions and act on them. It’s highly rewarding to be part of that process for someone else.

And the worst...
Probably having to correct assumptions that I sometimes hear – that I can read minds, or provide quick solutions to long-standing complex issues, or that I’m a psychiatrist!

How useful do you think writing is as a kind of therapy?
I think writing can be very useful in helping us both to express emotion and to make sense of our world. Arguably, most writers are engaging in a form of therapy for themselves, and often for their readers too – and this probably applies to all art forms. What seems important to me is for people to find a medium of any sort that works for them to express and interpret their thoughts and feelings and also to communicate with others in order to find the social support and connection that the vast majority of us need to function well psychologically. For some that may simply be talking and listening but for others, writing and other art forms can be powerful.

Bolder and Wiser explores the lives of women in their fifties. Why did you go for this particular age group?
Partly because I myself am approaching fifty! But also, this time of life is often one of huge transition and change, especially for women. Biologically, the menopause can create both physical and psychological turbulence. It is also a time where women are frequently very aware of being the “sandwich” generation. Their children might be becoming independent but still have a range of needs at the same time as their parents or other elderly relatives may need more support. There can be a strange mix of new found freedom and increased responsibility for many women in their fifties which can present opportunity and threat alike.

How did you select women for the book?
They were all women I was drawn to for some reason. They weren’t a sociologically representative group but their wide range of attitudes and experiences meant that in one way or another, each one seemed to show me some positive aspects of ageing. I found them through word of mouth as well as asking on social media.

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Give us an example of the life of one of the featured interviewees....
Liberty is one example, like most of the others this is a pseudonym. She is an artist, used to be an actor, and is a mother and wife. She is unconventional and spirited, with strong opinions that she is not afraid to voice. She is also kind, friendly, generous and funny. As an example of someone who has truly found a way to be herself and not to waste time or energy trying to meet others’ expectations, I found her inspiring. She is fully immersed in her creative work and very encouraging for others to do the same. She’s done all of this alongside experiencing some serious health issues and caring responsibilities. She gave me a strong sense that we should step forward as women and we all have things to say or express – and there is no time to waste.

You decided to self-publish. What advice would you give to people thinking of doing the same?
Treat it as seriously as you would if you were aiming to publish traditionally. Invest time and money in editing and design and making it the best book you can. Seek and be open to feedback. Project management skills and support from other people are valuable ingredients too!

2014 is the Year of Reading Women, an attempt to highlight the gendered bias in the publishing industry. What are your thoughts on this and do you think things are getting better for women in literature?
I don’t really have a sense of whether they are getting better but I do think it’s powerful to highlight gender based statistics in any field. It seems to me that it is vital that the ‘gatekeepers’ have an acute awareness of diversity (of all sorts) to avoid what is often unconscious bias. Magazine and news editors, chairs of competition panels, programme editors and so on need to be well informed and aware about how and where bias operates, and be prepared to lead the way in my view.

You can invite any four women over for dinner. Who would you invite over and why?
Barbara Kingsolver – one of my favourite authors who crafts a sentence and a story beautifully. She also has a mix of arts and science in her background which resonates for me too and I love that combination.

Jo Brand – she’s funny and courageous and has often put herself forward to do things that she is afraid of (playing the organ at the Albert Hall, diving and of course, stand up comedy). She also has experience in mental health services and I think there would be much to take a wry look at.

Mary Beard – she speaks so much sense in terms of how women are perceived and can set that in a fascinating historical context. She’s a real role model for so many women.

Meryl Streep – a great actor who has played such a vast range of characters that I would love to hear her insight into both how she does that as well as what she’s learnt from those characters.

Connecting all of these is something about story-telling, as well as a strong sense that they are all very much themselves – without apology or force – which is very encouraging for younger women.

Bolder and Wiser is available for £7.99 from Five Leaves Bookshop or Waterstones Nottingham. Kindle version is £3.08.

An Evening With Sarah Dale, Saturday 10 May, 7pm, £2 (available in store), Waterstones. Sarah will also be speaking at Lowdham Book Festival on Saturday 28 June.

Creating Focus website

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