Lessons Learned from an Author: Interview with Evelyn McKelvie

I had the chance to sit down with Executive Coach, Evelyn McKelvie, author of the Executive Horse. I have a copy myself and I’m very excited about it. I love horses. We are going to learn more about Evelyn, her book, and some tips that she has for other authors. 

Thank you for coming. I’m very excited about this. So I know from your book that you have an interesting history with horses and at one point you did ride horses, but I believe now you do not. And I’m wondering if you could just tell us a little bit about that.

For sure. I did start out riding horses late in life when I was not quite 50. And, I’d always wanted to take that Banff vacation on horseback and I found myself in a situation where I had the extra time and money and I signed up for lessons. And, so I did learn to ride. I rode for many years and I eventually ended up owning my own horse and learned to communicate and ride well with him. He was a senior though. And when I had to put him down, I found after being in a relationship with a horse that I knew so well, I found it a little more challenging to ride horses that were like strangers or horses that I didn’t know. 

And so gradually I stopped riding them, but I’d already begun to have a relationship with them on the ground, which is the way I work with horses and with my clients. And I was surprised to find when I started doing that, that my relationship with horses was much more intimate. And so as much as I’d love to ride again, I still really love and cherish the experience that I have with horses just from the ground.

Oh, that’s really interesting. Can you elaborate on what it is that you get out of a relationship with the horses?

For sure, it’s complex and it’s very much, well, first of all, let me say from a scientific perspective horses are very large animals. I mean, I worked with full sized horses, not ponies or minis. So they’re usually, you know, taller than I am and they have usually 1100, 1200, 1300 pounds and they have a very large heart and they have a very large electromagnetic field around their hearts and this sort of heart energy is something that’s being explored a lot more these days and, you know, measured in fact as well. 

And what’s showing is that when we’re around horses, we entrain to their physiology and their heart rate rhythm, their heart rate and pulse are very close to ours, as well as their body temperature. So it’s very much a seductive kind of process of becoming more relaxed and in tune and the other major thing that happens is because they don’t have our language, I think it lights up different areas of our brain and it lights up our whole physiology. And we usually even people who don’t know horses very well, we usually walk away from an interaction with horses feeling better, feeling more grounded and more at home.

And that’s a great segue into how horses and your career are intertwined. And I’d love to hear more about that as well.

Yes, and in fact, it was a career change that took me to Ontario, which is where I started writing. I was working in IT and I had started to notice increasingly that, especially nowadays, that we are really distracted and you know, that whole business of screen time, and trying to multitask being in a position of on and off, as far as our attention goes, and not being really located fully and present in our bodies. I started to notice that quite a bit, because I was riding two or three times a week and going back to the office and just knowing that people weren’t in their bodies. 

And there was a lot of stress and unhappiness in this particular business at this time because of enormous changes that they were going through, and my job was to lead this change and it was also to help people adjust to what was going on from a technical perspective and from an organizational perspective. And so I became very fascinated about the effects that the horses were having on me and wondering how I could transmit that sort of thing to other people in the workplace. And that’s what got me started thinking about doing this sort of work.

Yeah! Humans and change. Right? We’re not always keen on change. That’s amazing. So let’s move a little bit into the book. So why did you write this book?

Well, I really wrote it as a business card as they say “an expensive business card”. Actually, the book came out. I didn’t realize it was four years ago now. But I started this practice around 2004 or 2005 and 2006. I finally knew, because I didn’t at first, it really wasn’t something that anybody that I knew was doing, this kind of coaching people and horses together. And so gradually I discovered that there was this thing called executive coaching, and I realized that was a perfect match for me to combine my knowledge of horses with executive coaching and work from that perspective. So, I became an executive coach in 2008 from Royal Roads University. I’ve been coaching ever since both with and without horses.

But, I think in answer to your question, what I started to notice was that working with horses was a way of bypassing all that chatter in our brains in very key areas: communication, body language, leadership skills, relaxation, and relationship building, balance, perspective… all of these kinds of things that are so important to us in our workplace relationships, chief, among them also being emotional self-awareness. I started to develop programming that would meet those objectives and started to work with people and practice, and then offered workshops and started offering one-to-one as well. And at the time this would have been 2008, 2009. This kind of work was really not at all known or understood, especially in Canada. It was becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and Europe, but not known at all in Canada. So when I told people what I did, they were really like, I don’t know what you’re talking, so I realized no amount of website articles or pictures was going to get the message across. So I decided to write the book and explain it and use case studies and that sort of thing.

That’s excellent. And it seems like if you look at the book, The Executive Horse, it seems like it might have a very narrow subject matter. And it does some regards because it is about horses, but, if you think about the application of what’s in the book across the human spectrum, it’s quite wide. And I would say the audience could be a wide range of people wanting to learn certain skills. Can you tell us a little bit more about the book?

Sure. Yes, you’re right. On the face of it, I think the book might look like, ‘I don’t need an executive coach. I don’t want an executive coach’, but what the fundamental message is that we are mammals and we’ve forgotten them, and we’re very similar to horses in terms of mammals. We’re also similar to dogs and cats, but dogs and cats have become so familiar to us, we don’t even notice that similarity. We’re focused mostly on the differences. 

So, what I found was that all of those aspects of relationship and things that are very important and widely discussed today, like mindfulness, meditation, self-awareness, presence, all of those kinds of things are critical in relationships with horses. And we’re very unconscious of those things. And so working with horses is one way to really make us conscious of our level of self-awareness, our level of impact on others. And what is my presence saying to others at this moment? And all of the aspects of emotional self-awareness and actually all of the aspects of emotional intelligence.

So if your book makes a promise, if I go into the store and I pick it up and I take a look and I read the back of the front and the, you know, I might skim through it, what is the promise that you’re making to readers with this book?

That’s a really good question. And I think, you know, I was just rereading it to get ready for this interview because I haven’t read it for a long time. And I think the promise is that it’ll likely open your eyes a great deal to the presence of sentience in other beings. 

For one thing, it may also open your eyes to the similarities that we share with other mammals and with other beings. And these are topics that are so much more discussed openly and widely in this day and age. They weren’t at the time that I wrote the book even four years ago. 

So the promise is that it’s going to give you a new perspective on who we are and our relationship potentially with other creatures, in this case particularly horses, but that relationship and openness to understanding another creature and learning how to speak the other creatures language will really create a huge opening in your awareness of who we are and how we live on this earth.

I really love that. I do want to move into the book journey and talk about your writing. And my first question is, do you consider yourself an author or a writer?

Well, I do consider myself an author now, I’m starting to work on my next book, and I guess I never really thought of myself as a writer until I had to put up a website and write about this. And while of course I’ve had to write in work situations quite a bit. And so I can write, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer until I started this book. 

And I’ve been told your writing is great. So I had a little bit of positive feedback when I started to write the book. And what I had done was I had after sessions with horses and with clients, I found myself bursting to write about them. And so I had accumulated a lot of articles, even before I thought of writing a book. I accumulated a lot of articles and they get, they just came sort of slowed through me channeled, and I didn’t even feel like I wrote them, but I recognized that there was some skill to that. And I had some ability. So that helped a lot.

And you had some content, it sounds like.

Yes, yes. I had quite a bit of content. In fact, that was the big challenge, was how to stitch it together.

And that’s a really good point. A lot of times entrepreneurs don’t realize how much content they have, and when they do end up pulling it out, you can’t just throw it together. You do need to stitch it together in a way that makes it work. So you talked about the book as a business card, and so you’ve done one and you’re working on another. What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way? What are you going to do differently now and what worked well then?

Certainly when I did it the first time I had never heard of beta readers. You know, I thought you’d get an editor, but I didn’t realize how many different kinds of editors there are. And I know now that what I need to do is approach it from very different angle. I thought, you know, you wrote the pages, you got them edited, and then you published, but you know, there is a lot more to it than that.
I think the other thing is to give myself enough time to work out how it gets stitched together. I mean, some books maybe easier in that respect because there may be some sequential nature to the story you’re telling. But in my case, I was going back and forth from talking about horses, to talking about my client situations and trying to connect my clients at the workplace because I was still working in an IT environment at the time. So trying to make it relatable to people in the workplace as well.

Right and so how are you going to approach it differently this time in that regard? Are you going to look at what content you have and stitch it together? Are you going to make a plan? Like what is your best advice for that? You know, what have you learned and what’s your best advice that you’re going to apply to yourself in the next book?

Well, the next book is going to be very different. It’s a piece that I’ve mostly completed, certainly the chapter headings, the theme of each chapter, what my next stage is, I’m reaching out to some people who have specific knowledge that I want to interview and not necessarily to quote them in the book, but I need to generate a lot more current ideas about the topic. And then I think I do need to have beta readers. I want to have beta readers. I want to get their feedback. I want to use a more professional process and hopefully get a professional publishing house and a good marketing plan. And that’s, you know, when I wrote this book, I didn’t think about a marketing plan and I didn’t even want to do a marketing plan because that’s not that wasn’t the purpose.

Right. And so when you thought of it as a business card, did you think about meeting people and like handing them a copy of the book? And then they would read that and think I want to work with her and call you?

Yeah. Or they would understand the work at least. So, when people were thinking about it, I could give them the book or they could buy the book and understand how it might relate to them and their teams. So I’ve worked with, you know, teams, leadership teams and other teams. And from that perspective, I think they understand what to expect a little bit, in terms of venturing into that realm. It’s not like taking your team out to do a round of golf or a zip line experience. You know, it’s very different; it’s much more a learning experience and relationship building experience.

In that sense the book did help with that. It did help give that overview before people decided to work with you. And so they knew kind of what they were getting into what to expect, what the outcomes might be, so that it worked well, what you, what you did before worked well for what you’re wanting, but now you’re wanting something different. Sounds like you’ve created a plan for the book, like an outline and overview or an outline along with like chapter headings and some subheadings within the chapters. Now you’ve got that overall flow and the themes all in place, you’re looking to build that content by either pulling in content, you have going out and doing interviews or research and putting that into the book. And when you have something that you think is going to be worth reading, you’re going to give it to beta readers. Who again, going to give you a whole different set of feedback. Because one, one thing is doing research in the topic and the other thing is giving it to somebody who doesn’t really know the topic to see if it resonates with them. That’s what beta readers will do for you. Is that correct?

Exactly, and I relied heavily on one person that I knew who was a very intelligent and good writer and a good editor from the perspective of catching grammatical, punctuation and those kinds of things. And she knew me and she knew my work. So that was very useful. I relied heavily on her for this first book. The next book is not going to be as robust probably in terms of the content, like I was trying to bridge a big divide in this first book. Next book is not working from that place of trying to bridge a big divide.

Yeah. And that right there is a good point. You know, as an author, you need to know, is this something that’s going to be automatically accessible to everyone or do I need to build a bridge to bring them to where they need to be so this can be accessible to them and knowing where you’re coming from, knowing how it will affect your audience or how close they are to it already is actually a really good point right there. Evelyn, you have any other kind of tips or hints that you want to pass on to new authors?

Well, I will say this: every author that I know who’s completed a book on their own, and I’m not speaking about the people who write a chapter in a book where there’s a group of people together, but if you’re writing this on your own, it’s a lonely experience. It’s like birthing a baby. And the last month is really painful. I know that almost everybody I’ve talked to has said the same thing, you know? And so I think you need a good support group around you, even if they’re, if they’re not your readers, other people who have gone through or going through the same process can help you stay focused on getting to that end because, oh God, it was so painful. I had set myself a deadline and I really wanted to take it to that deadline. And, it almost killed me. Because I had to rewrite the book in the last three weeks. I didn’t have great editing. And from that, I mean a content type of editor. And so I gave it to a friend and close to the end and I was like, oh, I hope this isn’t a big mistake. And she was an author and a professional editor and publisher. So she sent me back some fantastic advice and said: “You have to move these things these this way.” So I had to sit down and rewrite it and restructure it in the last couple of weeks. So that was really stressful. So do all that farther ahead.

Great advice. Right. Get a developmental editor content editor early on before you’ve stitched together so that you can just do it once. Not that you’ll only write and revise once, but that’s so that you can do that big piece only once. That is really, really great advice. So where can people find you and where can people find your book?

Well, my book is available on Amazon and it’s also available on my website. If you want a signed copy I’m happy to take orders on my website. There is a place there to put in an order and also to say what you want. If you want it for a gift for somebody else, there’s a text field for you to enter what you want me to say inside of the book. So, my website and my business name is equinecoach.ca. I think this would be a great book for a, university graduation gift. Just because it talks so much about leadership and this is what they’re looking for, right. They’re stepping out of the role of student into the role of workplace where they have that potential to become leaders and their emotional intelligence is going to make big difference. So I think it’s a great gift for starting out your career, to get a good start on it.
If you’re interested in the book and Evelyn’s work, here are the links to the book and to Evelyn.

 Buy the book:

Let me know what you thought of the book in the comments! – Keep writing Melody Ann

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