About Helen

Helen Whitten

How to describe myself? What label is appropriate for me now, I wonder? After so many years there are quite a few options! Writer, poet, coach, trainer, Managing Director, historical researcher, picture researcher, woman, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, divorcee, partner, traveller …? Sadly were I to be hit by a bus tomorrow they would probably just describe me as “a pensioner”. Hmm!

Life is full of surprises and experiences you never thought you would have. I didn’t go to university until I was 39 but when I did it changed my life. Like so many women of my era, too few of us went on to university. We were advised to be secretaries, nurses, teachers. No-one mentioned to me that I might found my own coaching and training business, Positiveworks, and be its Managing Director! Now, happily, this is a commonplace experience for both young and older women. And what a sense of fulfilment it brings with it. Hours and over-hours of toil and anxiety but at the same time autonomy and the ability to shape one’s approach to one’s own values and philosophy. And to meet some amazing people.

During this time I wrote five books COGNITIVE-BEHAVIOURAL COACHING TECHNIQUES FOR DUMMIES; EMOTIONAL HEALING FOR DUMMIES written with my partner, Dr David Beales; FUTURE DIRECTIONS, Developing Confidence and Emotional Intelligence in Young People written with Diane Carrington; AGE MATTERS, Employing, Managing and Motivating the Older Workforce, written with Keren Smedley; and YOUR MIND AT WORK, Developing Self-Knowledge for Business Success, written with Richard Israel and Cliff Shaffran.

Just recently, in October, 2015, I had my first collection of poetry, The Alchemist’s Box, published by Morgan’s Eye Press, with launches in London and Hampshire. This fulfilled an ambition of mine that I had harboured since childhood, when I first started writing poetry at Cranborne Chase School in Wiltshire. Vernon Scannell, the poet, lived in our local village in Surrey and was kind enough to read and comment on my anguished teenage poetry. Thinking about it now I realize how incredibly patient he was!

I don’t know what my mother did with all the stories I wrote as a child. Pages and pages of them! I did find one or two in her desk after she died, including a psychological profile of Lenin that I wrote aged seventeen and which won a Bryanston History prize. Perhaps this topic was a portent of my work as a cognitive-behavioural coach all these years later.

But when I told her that I wanted to be a writer at the age of 8, and then confided, aged 16, that I would like to be a journalist she told me that I would be better suited in publishing. And so my first job, aged 17, was in the Bodley Head, working in the editorial department for a lovely boss, Guido Waldman, who used to feed me Mars Bars in the afternoon to keep me awake when I had been partying too long the night before! I think I earned £750 per annum, and my flat, shared with 4 other girls, cost £22.00 per month.

I loved being surrounded by all those books and the conversations with and about authors, the editorial comment. I moved on to work for Geoffrey Strachan, Plays Editor at Methuen and then to Macmillan where I worked for a wonderful editor, Caro Hobhouse. She was very patient with me as I fell in love and got married at that time but she very kindly shoehorned me into a freelance role as picture researcher for Cherriwyn Magill in the Jacket Design department of Macmillan and Penguin.

When my sons went off to kindergarten and primary school I enjoyed a period of working as a historical researcher for the eminent historian Alistair Horne whilst he was writing the Official Biography of Harold Macmillan.  I learnt so much from watching a true professional and it was fascinating and rewarding work. I had of course come across Harold Macmillan many times during my time working at the publishing house so it was a great opportunity to study his life in more detail. One moment I shall never forget was when I went down in the lift with him at the end of a working day – I wrote a poem about this (see At the End of the Day with Harold Macmillan).

When I did eventually go to university I read History at King’s College London between the ages of 39-42. My tutor at King’s pointed out that I was good at communicating with the students and had I ever considered teaching or working with people. I hadn’t, but thought about it and went on to a Postgraduate in Human Resources, later training with Tony Buzan in Mind Mapping, with Professor Stephen Palmer in CBT and REBT and then I took a leap in the dark at set up Positiveworks in 1993. I had never run a business before, never stood up and given a presentation before (let alone to scary lawyers and bankers!) . It has been the most extraordinary period of my life and I never knew I had it in me. I have now travelled to some 52 countries of the world for business and leisure. I consider myself incredibly lucky for having had such a fascinating time, supported all along by my wonderful sons Rupert and Oliver, my family, friends, colleagues and clients, my ex-husband, Keith, and more recently by my loving partner, David Beales, with whom I live in Hampshire and London.

And so from here, where? We shall see!