We make decisions every day. Which Pret sandwich will I have for lunch? What should I watch on Netflix when I collapse on the sofa after work? They’re inconsequential choices, with not much bearing on the rest of our lives.
But what about the bigger decisions we are all faced with in life? This is a subject that inspired author Lucy Diamond to pen a new novel, The House Of New Beginnings, out now. Lucy was living in a small flat in Brixton with her partner and one-year-old daughter, with another baby on the way. “It had suited us fine as a twentysomething couple, but our late nights were now due to infant wails, rather than partying, and space was increasingly tight,” she says. “The final straw was passing a sex worker in action in the alley behind our flat, while out with my tiny daughter. Maybe it was time for a change. Certainly before she learnt to say, ‘What’s that?’”
Lucy and her new family took the plunge, deciding to make a new start in Brighton. “We’d always loved the bohemian laid-back vibe of the city, plus for me there was the giddy bonus of living by the sea without even being on holiday. But it was a gamble. I was eight months pregnant and we’d be moving away from all our friends. Our new house needed a tonne of work and I realised I wouldn’t be able to manage the commute back to my job at the BBC.” In the face of these doubts, Lucy left her job and set up in Brighton anyway. “I never went back to my day job,” she says. “Instead, I found work as a writer.” Fast forward 15 years and Lucy’s new book, The House Of New Beginnings, takes direct influence from this time, as characters Rosa, Charlotte and Georgia all make new starts in the same seaside town. As the new tenants of Number 11, Dukes Square, the women are riddled with doubts about their big life decisions, but as they find each other, a new chapter begins to unfold.
Lucy’s life change came relatively early in her career but, for 69-year-old Pauline Wiltshire, a major decision came much later in life, after she had retired from work. “I got very bored. After a week of lying in, not getting dressed and not having to worry about anything, the novelty wore off quickly.”
Pauline joined a retirees’ club and, while she was there, realised that her age group had been left behind in the world of tech. “So I started organising seminars to teach other people in the club about their mobile phones and other devices,” she said. Word spread and, a few months later, Pauline got an email from Barclays Bank asking her if she wanted to get involved with some digital training. “I said that my friends would only come if they could get something for free – could they get free tea and cake? So they gave us tea and cake, and we spent two hours learning about technology.”
Following the success of that training session, the bank built a whole scheme dedicated to teaching retired people how to use technology. “I visit the sessions and help where I can, and this year I was awarded a British Empire Medal for my voluntary work. I’ve been dragged out of my comfort zone and I've had a wonderful time.”
Pauline would encourage anyone in her position to take the chance to change their life, no matter what their age. “If you have the time and energy to make a life change, go for it.”
My doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to work again because of my health problems, but I'm a very motivated person – if someone says to me you're not good enough to do something, I think, 'No, I'm going to do it'
Sometimes, however, a life decision isn’t really a choice at all – it’s a necessity. Kate Wilson was a personal trainer, then the manager of a sports centre for 10 years, before she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. “I got really ill with that, to the point where I got taken to hospital and had to have major surgery,” she explains. “I had a pre-portal colectomy and I had to have reconstructive surgery and that took over a year.”
Chronic fatigue was a devastating side effect for Kate, as it meant her chosen career was no longer for her. “I still had a mortgage and bills to pay, so I knew it was now or never if I wanted to retrain as something else. My doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to work again because of my health problems, but I'm a very motivated person – if someone says to me you're not good enough to do something, I think, 'No, I'm going to do it.' That's when the opportunity came up as a trainee track design engineer.
“I applied for a job with Network Rail, who paid for me to go to university and study for an engineering degree. After that, I joined another large firm and they gave me the physical training I needed be a track design engineer.”
Kate’s change was sudden, but she has no regrets. “It can be really challenging to change your career. I was studying full-time while working, I had no weekends to do my own thing, no time even to take a nap. But if you look at the short term, you can say, ‘OK, that's two years out of my life. Now I'm in a completely new career that I can develop and carry on with.’”
Of course, careers aren’t the only way we can make big life changes. “After spending 10 years with a partner, I decided to call it quits,” 28-year-old Lizzie Benton says. “It was quite possibly the scariest thing I've ever done.”
Lizzie’s partner wasn’t just a boyfriend – they were engaged and lived together, complete with a mortgage. ”It was messy,” she explains. “But I realised I just didn't respect or love him any more.
“I broke his heart and it was like a death in the family when we split up. Everyone was in complete shock, as no one was expecting it. But I knew that if I didn't do it now, I would end up living a life full of regrets. I realised that I had to stop living my life for others and live it for me.”
Despite her original fears, Lizzie hasn’t looked back since leaving her ex-partner. “We all have it in us to make the changes we want, and while it can be really hard to take the initial plunge, it can be a really good and necessary thing.”
These stories about taking the leap and starting afresh chime perfectly with Lucy Diamond's brilliant new novel, The House Of New Beginnings, as it's about love, loss, newfound friendships and being brave enough to make a change. It is out in paperback now. To celebrate the publication, we would love to know what your new beginning would be. Tell us using #mynewbeginning