An interview with best-selling author Cheryl Rickman
Yesterday I wrote about The Flourish Handbook, one of the books in my Journey to Joy series this year as I work towards reducing negativity and increasing my joy in the everyday, in the little things that matter, in the spaces between. Today I want to tell you more about the inspirational author behind the handbook – best-selling author Cheryl Rickman. In this frank and very personal interview she shares her story.
What led you to set up the Flourish Handbook?
I knew when I was about eight years old that I wanted to a) help people and b) write books. So I sometimes pinch myself as I realise that I get to write helpful how-to books. I’d already written two of my own books, including a best-selling business start-up guide with a Foreword by Dame Anita Roddick and a how-to book on digital business, and had ghostwritten a number of books for TV personalities and business leaders but I was drawn to the concept of flourishing for a number of reasons.
Here’s my story: As a child, I looked up to my mum. She had the debilitating disease MS but, despite having plenty to whine about she never complained and constantly smiled. Mum once said, ‘I may not be able to walk, but I can watch you grow.’ I realised then that how you chose to SEE life and REACT to what is thrown your way really matters in how you get through life and what you get out of it.
Simultaneously I knew from the first time I read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory under our Indian Bean Tree that I wanted to write and that I wanted to work from my home and garden.Writing from home became my ambition and, today, it is my complete and utter passion (along with reading). I didn’t seem to have the immense imaginative talent to write fiction though, so I wrote features instead. I interviewed lots of people. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things at first. Then successful people – popstars and rockstars for the music magazine site I set up with my other half, then business leaders and a range of inspirational people for business magazines and how-to-start-and-grow-a-business type books. I learned a lot about achievement and failure and persistence from these others.
But, from myself, I learned resilience.
When I was 17 years old, my darling mum died.
It hit me hard. How could/why would this happen?
Yet, somehow, I summoned my inner strength, picked myself up and I lived.
I realised then that life was short. Hers was. She was 43.
After I’d come up for air and worked through my grief (and turbo-powered teenage angst/guilt/rebellion) I decided that, I actually wanted to make the most of my life. And so I stopped fopping around and raving on and sorted myself out. I became my own boss, working from home, walking my dog in between writing features, websites and interviews.
A decade later, after pursuing and succeeding at my own dreams of becoming a free-range-author, I decided I wanted to help others to do the same; to live with intention and optimism; to make the most of their lives; like my mum had done and like my dad had just begun to do.
I decided to study positive psychology – the study of optimal human flourishing. I wanted to write a book that carved the core pillars of well-being into an easy to read practical guide that could equip people with strategies and habits, whilst taking them on a journey to flourishing step-by-step, month-by-month. I was drawn to this topic because I had witnessed first hand how different approaches to life can have a huge impact on how we live it and what we get out of it. The idea for The Flourish Handbook was born.
Despite his love for music and his awe-inspiring gardening, dad found living a strain. He had always found life tough, from childhood until about 8 years ago when he finally found the job of his dreams, dancing on cruise ships. That was when he started to really LIVE his life, finally. Unlike my disabled yet smiley-faced mum, my able-bodied yet depressed dad struggled with life and with her disability. Mum and dad were polar opposites – my mum was confident and positive, my dad shy and depressed. That said, dad was one of the nicest and funniest men you’d ever meet. But also, behind closed doors, one of the saddest.
Cruelly, when I was half way through editing the pages of The Flourish Handbook, I learned that my dad had mesothelioma (asbestos-cancer) from his 30 years working for the railways. He’d been exposed to asbestos when he was a 16 year old apprentice.
Just three short weeks after this diagnosis, my dear dad was dead.
I didn’t show him the book as it was about living and he was shockingly about to lose his life. I just told him about it and he was, of course, immensely proud. But I didn’t expect to put the wisdom in that book into practice myself so soon.
Ironically, I’d been writing about how supportive relationships and wells of stored positivity bolster resilience during tough times, and now here I was, living proof of the science behind positive psychology. The content I’d been researching and writing was happening to me in real-time. My life echoed my prose. Through the intensely heart-breaking shock and tears, I was somehow finding a way to bounce-back, despite it all. Those friendships bolstered my resilience, as did all those years of focusing on the good. It really helped me in my darkest hours during which I cried, ‘not him as well?!’
I vowed that serving others would be my life’s purpose…To help people to make the most of their one precious life.Not to participate actively in the role of victim and waste the life they had, but to “celebrate everything until further notice” and, if dealt a particularly rough hand, to somehow find the strength and support to bounce back, find the learning within it, seek out the silver lining somehow and get on with living, against the odds. I knew that was possible.
Flourish was born and I decided to evolve my ghostwriting business from writing about how to make a business flourish to writing about how to flourish in actual proper LIFE. I launched a new website this year which outlines how all that I do links together (to enable flourishing in business, life and childhood).
So now, as well as penning the occasional business book, I write about resilience and positivity, about gratitude and grace, about purpose and connection.
I also take a bunch of 40 women on a Flourish Seaside Weekender every year. It’s empowering to get away from it all – and it’s rewarding to see like-minded-ladies being themselves, enjoying themselves, giving themselves a break and a healthy dose of refreshing self-care.
Ultimately, if I can help just one person feel less “hmpf” and more “yay”; less pessimistic and more appreciative; less hard on themselves and more proud of themselves… then I will feel like I’ve served my purpose and done what I am here to do; to enable flourishing so people can do what they love, love what they do, and better connect with others and the natural world, to live their best possible life.
Because life is short and precious and wonderful.
What’s a typical day for you?
I am a stringent planner due to juggling my book writing/ghostwriting work with Flourish stuff, PTA campaign – Operation Outdoor which aims to fundraise to create new outdoor classrooms at my daughter’s school, plus my new project, Climbing Trees Clothing (which I’m launching with my six year-old daughter) a range of “t-shirts for ‘tomboys” (because girls like dinosaurs, pirates and robots too).
So, after breakfast and doing the school run I always make time for me and go on a gratitude walk, either in my local woods or round the country lanes. By 10am I’m sat in front of my laptop and tend to focus my time from then until school run pick up on writing chapters for the books I’m writing or ghostwriting. From 3-8pm I’m 100% focused on being mum and then I settle down in front of the laptop to work on Climbing Trees.
I also devote one morning per week to this project and my days are peppered with social media interaction for Climbing Trees and Flourish (I run a Facebook group called and another called . I tend to climb into bed around midnight but am working on getting to bed earlier.
What apps can’t you live without?
Insight Timer is amazing for guided meditations which help when I’m feeling particularly up against it with deadlines and other pressures.
Who inspires you?
My six year old daughter, the memory of my darling mother and dear father, persistent and talented authors and business women such as JK Rowling, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dame Anita Roddick and Karren Brady. I’m also inspired by women who’ve dealt with incredible adversity and hardship with courage, resilience and positivity such as Amy Purdy, Katie Piper and Rebekah Gregory. These remarkable women can teach us a lot about how to say “it’s allright,” no matter what hand we are dealt. They each took their lives back and regained control and have each come out the other side stronger and happier. Truly remarkable women.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs/publishers?
For budding entrepreneurs I’d say bear in mind that is quite normal for everything to take longer and cost more than you think it will.
Know that obstacles will arise but fact check when they do to put things in perspective and keep on keeping on. Persistence and determination are vital qualities of an entrepreneur.
Do your homework – use SurveyMonkey and focus groups to get real honest feedback from your target market. This is gold dust.
Read to gather tips from those who’ve been there and done it. I can (obvs) recommend my own book, The Small Business Start-Up Workbook and also the book I co-wrote with Annabel Karmel, Mumpreneur as there is plenty of practical advice but also insight from leading female entrepreneurs. I can also recommend getting taught by a marketing teacher to help you gain clarity and ensure you spend your time wisely when it comes to sharing what you do with the right people at the right time. I found Lisa Barber, marketing teacher at RootsandWings.biz to be especially helpful, having attended her Kitchen Table Workshops.
For those looking to publish their own work, there are a lot of tools out there that weren’t around when I was first published back in 2005. Write a little every day and have faith that you can get your message out there into the world.
Finally, complete this sentence – joy for me is…
The gratitude I feel on a daily basis when I go on my walk, connect with nature and consider all that I do have (rather than focusing on what I don’t have); my daughter’s laughter, the majesty of a blue sky in the countryside, the feeling of sand or grass under bare feet, sparkly sunshine reflected on the sea, quality time with good friends, tucking into a fiorentina pizza or a nice cup of Earl Grey tea and a ginger biscuit.