In this episode, Belinda Pollard and Donita Bundy interview Nikki Florence Thompson, writing teacher and author of the memoir Fight, Flight and Faith. Nikki shares how an unusual partnership with a good editor helped strengthen and refocus her book, and about God’s tenderness in comforting and encouraging the fearful.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series
- Nikki Florence Thompson, writing teacher and memoir author
Topics covered in this episode:
- How creativity can be the flipside of anxiety.
- Working chapter by chapter with a developmental editor.
- The bumpy road to publication.
More about Nikki: https://nikkifthompson.com/
Connect with Nikki on Facebook
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Click the book cover to view on Amazon.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast we welcome memoir author and writing teacher, Nikki Florence Thompson.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and publishing consultant with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and public speaking and more recently to inspire my young adult urban fantasy, Armour of Light series.You can find out more about this and all my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Nikki Florence Thompson is the author of the memoir, Fight, Flight and Faith, A life with anxiety and Jesus. She is mother to three young children and describes herself as a writer, creative writing teacher, book eater, chronic overthinker and Jesus follower with treasure in a jar of clay. Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast, Nikki.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Thanks so much for having me, guys. I’m really excited to be here.
Donita Bundy: It’s great to have you along with us this morning, Nikki. We were wondering if you could help our listeners on a bit of context of who you are as a writer by undergoing the rapid-fire five. Are you willing?
Nikki Florence Thompson: I am willing. Yes.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Are you ready?
Nikki Florence Thompson: I’m ready. I’m not a very rapid person though so…
Donita Bundy: Who is your target audience?
Nikki Florence Thompson: That’s a really good question and something that I’ve noticed that marketers ask you also and I aways stumble over it. But women, aged approximately 25 to, well going up, they can be younger, Christians. Although I do have friends and family and academics and different people who read my work as well. I like to think that books are an invitation to anyone. But, yes, probably Christian women is most suitable.
Donita Bundy: And what would be your main genre?
Nikki Florence Thompson: It’s shifted over the years but creative non-fiction, definitely, which includes memoir. I do some article writing, freelancing. I like telling people stories, real stories and obviously they’re my own stories, as well. But I did used to dabble in fiction and it’s something I might return to.
Donita Bundy: Exciting! When is your optimum time for writing?
Nikki Florence Thompson: I do like early morning when you’ve just woken up and you’ve got that fresh sense of the ideas just sitting at the top of your head and there’s that presence of newness in the day and you get to be creative. However, my children usually ruin that with requests. So, anytime really. I just sit with my laptop on the couch cross-legged, sit at my desk.
For me, particularly now I’ve been a mum and been busy working and everything, writing is a bit of a luxury even though it’s all so hard, so I’ll take any time I can get.
Donita Bundy: So, you’ve kind of semi-answered the next question but would you have an optimum or preferred place for writing?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes, anywhere. I like to be comfortable. I don’t use a desktop or anything formal. I do like typing on my laptop anywhere. Cafes, even in the car sometimes waiting for people. You just pull it out.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes, yes. Probably, I would have said when I was younger and thought I was cool, sort of, hipster cafes and that. They probably weren’t even called hipster cafes then but now just anywhere.
Donita Bundy: Finally, how did you get into writing?
Nikki Florence Thompson: How did I get into writing? I always loved writing. One of those people who loved doing it as a kid. Then I went on and did an English Lit degree. Did a PhD in Literature. All that sort of thing but was always wanting to write and just organically just kept going at it.
Although, I am quite a late bloomer in saying all that. I think I’m a person who’s quite slow to start things or to launch things. So, it’s only now in this latter stage of my life that I’m really putting more out there.
Belinda Pollard: That actually leads us well into the next question I have for you: when did you become a writer? You know how sometimes people write but they don’t think of themselves as a writer. When did you decide you were a writer and how did you decide, of all the things you like writing, which ones you were going to write?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. Well, with my first book coming out I probably only now feel the confidence to say. Although, I’ve said for years I’m a freelance writer. I’ve written for other publications and done some writing jobs and that sort of stuff for 10-15 years.
I often just said to people I’m doing a PhD in writing. I didn’t have the confidence to say I was a writer.
Belinda Pollard: I wonder if the PhD makes it harder in a sense because you’re thinking you need a higher qualification.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. Honestly, writing this book on anxiety that we’re going to discuss, I think a lot of it is related to my personality. So, I’m a real perfectionist. My whole extended family are quite odd in a sense. We’re all academics, artists, that sort of thing. So, in the sphere I grew up in, education was quite important and my own personal ‘strives’.
Yes. Whether it complicated things, sometimes I wish that I’d just been one of those people who just had the confidence to put stuff out there earlier but we all have our own journey. Yes, that’s where I’ve come from.
Belinda Pollard: And I think you come to it at the right time, Nikki.
Nikki Florence Thompson: I think that’s true.
Belinda Pollard: We can beat ourselves up for who we were when we were younger but we were the person we needed to be then.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Exactly. And I’ve got another writing friend who says everything is the workshop. Like I honestly think all those formative years. Everybody has their own story behind their story and it’s just different for every person and that’s how I’ve come to it. And I’m really happy for that because not so much the studying but I really enjoyed the teaching and I learn more about writing every day through that.
Belinda Pollard: You’ve mentioned that you have been anxious. You’ve had anxiety. When did you discover that as a thing and how did you discover that you wanted to also write about it?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. So, I discovered I had anxiety, and I actually write about this as well, not until I was about 19 after my brother died. No, it was 21. My brother died when I was 19. About two years later I started having extreme panic attacks but I didn’t know what they were. I’d never had this sort of experience before and they think it was brought on by grief but obviously it was something underlying in me that had always been there. Now I feel like an expert in anxiety, but in that stage none of my friends had experienced this sort of thing. I didn’t know what it was.
But then looking back over my past, I think a lot of anxious people have anxiety hidden in them and they can cover it up with things like performing and being a good girl and doing things right. So, yes, it was a process for me to look back and think, “Yes. I probably was always anxious but it only manifested after those occurrences and then in my twenties.”
Belinda Pollard: I think it’s not uncommon among creatives.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: I’ve seemed to talk to, even just people that I talk to on Twitter because I talk to a lot of writers on Twitter, and it seems to be quite common.
Nikki Florence Thompson: It is really, really common. It’s almost like the flipside. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this. If you’re going to be creative, it’s not a mandate, but I would say, yes, just from the evidence I’ve gathered anecdotally. It’s almost like the other side of creativity is this kind of highly sensitive personality. All these sorts of things that then feed in and make great ingredients for the anxiety brew.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Like the hypervigilance that sometimes comes with anxiety is also extremely good if you want to write about things because you notice things and you make connections and you see things.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. It means you’re a good observer. And so, the good thing about that is that you’re also generally a really empathetic person and you’re good at helping others. You’re good at writing characters and into people more than perhaps someone who doesn’t have that disposition can.
Donita Bundy: I don’t think it’s just the observation but I think also it’s that experience. Like you seem to experience life on that higher level as well which again feeds into that but also both ways feeds into the creativity but also feeds into that anxiety and that hypersensitivity.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Learning how to harness it for good!
Belinda Pollard: Yes. And I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? Whatever our weakness is, is also our strength and vice versa. Leaning into it is a good way… I think that’s one of the things Brené Brown says. Talks about leaning into whatever the situation is and who we are instead of fighting it. God made each of us the distinctive person that we are for a reason.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes, exactly. And I think, personally, it’s good to remember that. That it’s not just a bad thing about us, certain parts of our personality. Obviously, you need to work on the bits that really cause you distress but they can be strengths.
Belinda Pollard: What made you want to write about it? About the anxiety?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Actually, I’d been blogging for quite a few years on these sorts of topics. Also telling the story of my brother and that sort of thing. And so, when I was talking to a few editor friends and different people about it, I’d written a manuscript but it was quite different to what it is now and one of my publishing friends then put me onto an excellent editor who I actually worked with before I even then took it to publishers.
She read it all and she said, “Okay. I think what you’re trying to write about isn’t grief or isn’t this story. I think what you’re trying to write about is anxiety, dare I say it.” Well, that’s definitely a topic that I talk about a lot but I didn’t realise that the whole book was more schematically anchored in that. And she was like, “Yeah, are you comfortable making it about that and I think that would be really important.” And then I went and worked on it for a few months because when you get that sort of response you have that moment of questioning and thinking and do I want to rewrite this manuscript and all that sort of thing.
I came back with a new chapter plan and everything and by that time I was convinced, yes, this is what I want to write about. And then COVID happened and anxiety levels rose globally and just around us and the statistics of anxiety and it kind of felt like, “Okay. Yes. This is the book I want to write because there are so many people. I’m not the only one.” And my main mission in writing, or of what I think books are best for, is reaching people in those spaces when they might feel alone.
You pick up a book often when either you want to relax or you need to escape or you’r just feeling at your wit’s end and so, that’s who I want to reach and sharing stories is a great way to be a companion to someone. So then, showing the story of anxiety being a companion to the anxious so that’s how it happened.
Belinda Pollard: I’m an anxious person myself. I’ve had anxiety and I’ve had well-meaning Christians basically tell me to repent of it.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Because (supposedly) anxiety’s a sin because the Bible says, “Fear not.” I’m interested to know what approach you’re taking in your book on this topic.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes, sure. So, my response is, “Yes. No, it’s not a sin!” I don’t think so from what I understand.
Fear is in the bible all over the place and, yes, God tells us, Jesus tells us not to fear but I don’t think it comes as a command that is in a harsh way to anyone. I hear it as Jesus, as our Father, understanding us and saying, “You don’t need to fear, I’m here, but I understand you’re going to feel like that.” Bible characters fear all over the place. They’re shaking. The Psalmists are fearing all the time and it’s more of a movement.
Yes, we’re going to have fear but we can bring it to God and we will receive His peace but I don’t think that is always… it can be but I don’t think it’s always like an instant lightning – well, it wouldn’t be a lightning bolt, that would make me scared! – an instant feeling of warm fuzzies. It’s often just a reminder that God is with you, in your fear, and knowing that He’s there but I don’t think, in any way, if you still feel fearful, that that’s a sin.
I think, God’s presence is with us, He’s there for us, He understands us and so, to call it as a sin is condemning us and I don’t think God condemns us for our weaknesses. He asks us gently to come to Him.
Belinda Pollard: And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Exactly.
Belinda Pollard: And learning which thing to be most afraid of on a given day is often the challenge, isn’t it!
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes, yes. Obviously, and I wrote about this in the book, there are fears that are entirely irrational and we want to work on those. We want to work on those with counsellors or whatever way, through prayer, and I did a lot of that. And God can grow us but to say it’s a sin, I think, just it kind of knocks us out of the ability to feel that closeness with God which I just don’t think He’s condemning us for it. I think He’s helping us in it.
Donita Bundy: I think it kind of removes the grace from the relationship that we have been given by making it a sin. Making our humanness where, you know, like you said, we’re weak. We’re human and God knows that and to say that it’s a sin, it puts a hard line between that loving relationship.
Belinda Pollard: And the physiological aspects of anxiety are part of God’s design for our adrenal system.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Exactly.
Belinda Pollard: And that’s exactly what you’ve got in your title, the fight/flight. Tell us about that? Tell us about how you chose that title and maybe a little bit about how you put the book together?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Okay. Sure. So, I’ll just try and show a shot.
Belinda Pollard: Fight, Flight and Faith.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. And it’s crossed out, the ‘or’, and that’s really important. And actually, if you do a search on this title there are other books called, Fight, Flight OR Faith. And I think that word is really important because just in terms of what we were just talking about. If you say it’s an ‘or’, then you can only be anxious or you can have faith but I think you can be anxious and have faith and then it’s more of a relational progress that you go through with God.
So, the title, I wanted it to be something that people would remember and obviously, fight, flight and freeze are the three things that can happen to you when you have a panic attack and obviously faith is central to who we are as Christians and so, I wanted to talk about having these feelings, experiencing the anxiety symptoms, with faith and with Jesus and so that’s why I had that title.
Belinda Pollard: You’ve said that your writing process, you had an initial manuscript that you’d written but then you actually made some fundamental changes to that. Was that a process where you created an outline, created a new outline or did you take the existing manuscript and rewrite?
Nikki Florence Thompson: No. So, originally, I didn’t have an outline it was just one of those splurge things. After we had this discussion, the editor and I and she’s a structural editor, I went and said, “Can I bring back a new chapter plan to you? I need to think this out.”
So, I don’t always write like this but in this case I did. I actually, literally, thought of the chapters, the movement, the arc that I wanted to take it on. I wanted to show readers what I experienced first which is the anxiety and the not knowing what it was. That sort of thing. I wanted to take them through the journey. How God helped me along the way. How it’s still present with me but how I feel God’s presence so much more. So, I knew that was the arc.
The thing I’ve learnt is that God is with us in the anxiety but I then needed to fill out the way of how that would come across best. So, I actually did a chapter plan and I wrote synopses of each chapter. I wouldn’t always do that but it’s just how it worked for me. More like a book proposal, I guess. And then I handed it back to my editor almost like a proposal and said, “What do you think?” And then she wrote back within a day and she said, “I love it! I want to read this.” That synopsis that’s on the back of the book is largely what I had at the beginning. “This is great. This is the story that you want to tell.”
And so, it was actually really nice working in partnership with someone. I was doing the creative work but just to have someone say it resonated and that’s kind of unusual, in a way.
And then through COVID, she was in Melbourne, I was in Brisbane but we were both in lockdown at the beginning and she stayed in lockdown. I literally submitted 10,000 words every two weeks to her and it was really beautiful. It was quite unusual. We had almost like a pen pal relationship. She was like, “I really like this but I’m not seeing this. Can you fix that?”
So, it was a gift. Not everybody gets to do this but I almost got my own personal ‘writing doula’, she calls herself, as I wrote through this. Yes. It was a privilege. And then from there we didn’t have to do much structurally. It was just the copyediting. It was written in six months really. Rewritten in six months.
Belinda Pollard: That’s an amazing process.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. I’ve never had anything like that before and it was a real gift.
And something about where we each were in our life stages and who we were and the interlacing of our two stories just really danced really nicely. Now, that I’ve talked about her you can see in the back who it is. Yes. She’s just a wonderful person and so, we did really well together on that and I don’t think that’s something that you can take for granted. I never expected that. It’s just how we happened to work on this one because of the time in history and the time in our lives.
Donita Bundy: Was your editor connected with a publisher or is she an independent editor?
Nikki Florence Thompson: So, she was originally connected with the publisher that I’d approached initially about this idea who I also knew so was able to have phone conversations with her. And she said, “How about you go work with this editor?” So, she almost like match made us! So, I’m grateful for that, as well!
She said, “I’m going to give her a phone call and see if she’d be interested in this project.” With memoirs they tend not to want a proposal, they want the whole thing and that’s different, I think, from other types of books. Anyway, I didn’t end up – being a first-time author, with the economic crisis, everything that’s going on in the world – I didn’t end up taking it with that publisher but I’m just really grateful I was able to work with this editor who was awesome.
Donita Bundy: So, how did you go about getting the book published? What was that process? So, you started out with somebody and they said, “We like this. Work with this editor,” then what happened?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. Then I also have some writing friends in the States. Some fairly, I’d guess you’d call them, high profile Christian writers in the States. I sent it to one of them and she – this was really exciting – she was like, “I love it! I’m going to show it to my personal agent,” and so, I was like, “Aargh!” Her agent loved it and then said, “But, we’re not going to get anywhere. She’s Australian. Unless she can come over here. I’ve worked with Australians before. It’s really hard. Unless she had 100,000 Instagram followers it’s not going to work for us but I agree, I really like it.”
But what was nice about that exchange is that I felt confident. Being an anxious person and being someone who’s quite reticent to put myself out there, because of the exchange and because of my friend, my writing mentor and I really respect her writing and her beautiful heart in doing that, and in also just reassuring me it was a really good manuscript, then I was like, “I just don’t care anymore.” I mean, I do care. I was a bit upset and then I was like, “I’m just going to get this published somehow.”
So, then I literally talked to my editor again and as you know Australian publishing is tricky. I went with Ark House. They have different streams. So, this is not their self-publishing. It’s like a co-published. So, they worked with me on everything and it’s got their label and everything but it’s something in-between. I just felt like I needed that because I was lecturing two courses and I didn’t want to do the whole self-publishing. But I must admit, and I guess this is the journey for any first-time author, the amount of questions I’ve had to ask. I reached out to so many different people.
My marketing is being done separately. I’m lucky that my brother-in-law has a marketing company and he’s really great. It’s been more work than I expected but I also feel like it’s helped me to learn so much.
Donita Bundy: Did you maintain artistic control over what was in the manuscript?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. And I probably would have been, by that stage, fairly firm on that or wanting that because by now it had been read by my editor and my friend in the States and her agent. I mean, the agent only read the beginning but really loved it. By that stage, I didn’t want to change too much. I mean, obviously in the copyediting phase I rewrote little bits.
Because it’s a personal memoir this is a whole other issue. There are people in there that I know and so I had to give it to a few key people like my parents and there were certain bits they wanted rewritten. So, I did that because there’s some sensitive material, as well, to do with my brother’s death and different things and the different players in that. I had to be careful with what I did with that. So, I did go over some of that stuff.
Donita Bundy: On that marketing issue because I know that for many of us who are in the boat of needing to, self-published marketing is just huge.
If you know somebody who can help you, what a fantastic way to go about it.
Nikki Florence Thompson: And he was really great, as well, because he’s very creative, great entrepreneur, self-starter. All that sort of stuff which I’m not. So, I was able to go to him. And he’s always said to me for 10 years, “Why don’t you just self-publish?” And I’ve got two other full manuscripts that were fiction that Random House Penguin almost took and then didn’t. They’re sitting in my drawer. And he’s like, “Just self-publish them.”
And so, when I came to do this, I was like, “Can you help me? I don’t know how to do all this stuff.” And obviously everybody’s marketing plan would be really different. And because publishers always ask you in book proposals for marketing plans, I had no idea when I first submitted to my initial publisher. Now, I’m like, “Oh my gosh! I’ve learnt so much. I actually could write a marketing plan.” So, isn’t that good that sometimes you have to do the hard work but it returns to you in that you get that knowledge.
Belinda Pollard: Gracewriters is Christian writers changing popular culture. How do you see that type of concept? Does that work for you with a memoir?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. I probably don’t think about it so strategically but I think writing, as I said, is an invitation in and if we are Christians and we have this hope which is all through this book, I hope, we want to invite the world in.
In Isaiah, when I was reading this morning, about going up onto a mountain and telling people the Good News and then it ends with the section, in the passage I was reading, God holding us like a shepherd. We’re His lambs. I want that message embedded in my books so I think that that does help change, I hope, popular culture if we can put our hope into the books we’re writing.
For me it’s just not wanting to hide what is real, I guess, and wanting that message in there. And that’s something I struggled with. Not struggled with but my other two manuscripts which I said were rejected were just secular so they didn’t have any gracenotes in them, I guess, or redemption and hope I liked to be themes.
I think I felt a bit like there was something missing from the world view of my characters when I just wrote that out so it’s probably something I’d want to intertwine more in the future.
Belinda Pollard: That’s really interesting. I like the sound of that.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. And with one of those which is a YA one, the publisher when they gave me a response on it – or was it my supervisor. Maybe it was my supervisor, my PhD supervisor, she was always telling me to get a bit more messy and a bit more cutting edge which is fine but my characters were 13-14 and I think they wanted a bit more of sex and those sorts of things which aren’t happening in my novels. Not that they can’t and I don’t think that you couldn’t even write a Christian piece. It’s case by case, isn’t it? Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Nikki, where can people find you online?
Nikki Florence Thompson: Yes. I’ve got a website, nikkifthompson.com. Instagram @nikkifthompson.
Belinda Pollard: We’re out of time but how about I pray for you and the Gracewriters.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Great. Thank you.
Belinda Pollard: Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for Nikki. For the life that you’ve given her. For the story that you’ve given her. For the passion that you’ve given her to tell it. And put in all this hard work to creating this book and getting it out into the world.
We pray that this book will bless many. That you will use it powerfully for your purposes. And we pray that you will bless and guide and lead Nikki forward into her writing career and also that you will encourage all the Gracewriters out there who are thinking perhaps on similar topics or even just something that has sparked a thought in their mind and heart today. And we entrust them to you too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Nikki Florence Thompson: Amen. Thank you.
Belinda Pollard: Nikki Florence Thompson, thank you so much for joining us on the Gracewriters podcast today. Thank you, Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time.
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