I’m delighted to have Australian Visual Storyteller, Nicola Tierney, drop by the Writing and Moonlighting couch today for a chat about everything from her new book The Gribble’s Gift to her creative influences, to her miniature fantasy models, and her ability to channel her subconscious to help her stories unfold.
Nicola and I first met back in 2009 when we, along with a dozen other local writers, were recipients of a Regional Arts Development Fund grant from the Gold Coast City Council to undertake a series of workshops mentored by award-winning fantasy author, Louise Cusack. Nicola and I have been following each other’s creative journey for years, and it gives me great pleasure to put Nicola under the spotlight for a few quick questions to learn more about her latest achievement.
Nicola, congratulations on the publication of your first novel, The Gribble’s Gift, a fantasy adventure for the young, and young-at-heart. I understand it’s recently undergone a second print run. It must be very gratifying to read the reviews coming in from readers around the world! What has been your proudest author moment since releasing The Gribble’s Gift?
Thank you, Rebecca, for inviting me along to talk about my book The Gribble’s Gift. It has been almost fourteen years in the making, and there were many times I thought about giving up, but I am so pleased I did not. My proudest moment was when I received the proof copy my book. To actually hold in my hands the culmination of all the tears, hopes, dreams, and hard work over such a long time was heartwarming.
I completely understand, Nicola. There’s no feeling quite like holding your book baby in your hands for the first time! Now, The Gribble’s Gift was a labour of love, years in the making, which I’m sure many writers can relate to. What do you think were the biggest challenges in transitioning your characters and world to the page?
The biggest challenge for me was twofold. One was getting to know my characters. In the beginning I seemed to be able to relate to the Gribbles and Scruffy the dog much better than I could Ebony, the main protagonist. I am not sure when it was that I actually started to understand her. I think it was when my grandmother died, which was quite late in the writing of the book, and I had to go back and redo some sections.
My grandmother Agnes (the cook in the book) was almost 102 when she passed on, and fortunately I’d had the opportunity to travel to the UK and read her the first chapter of my book when she was 99. I found the loss of my grandmother ended up in Ebony’s story. It wasn’t planned, it just happened, but it turned out to be the link I was looking for, without knowing it. I needed to know why Ebony’s parents sent her away to a boarding school for girls with a delicate disposition, rather than keeping her at home. I had no understanding as to why they did. The loss of her grandmother gave me the answer. It was also a way of coping with my grief.
The second challenge was learning how I wrote. In the beginning I didn’t even know if I could write a story. I listened to so many different authors on how they wrote, and I was nothing like them. Then one day I found an author who wrote like me. Up until that point I thought there was something wrong with me, it actually stopped me from writing. But now I know how I write, and there is relief and an ease in my mind in this knowledge.
I allow my subconscious to write for me. I give it questions, and it gives me the answers. It might sound like a simple thing, logical, but I am amazed at what I get back. I do feel as if my conscious mind and my hand are just a tool to be used for the words to be put onto the page. I also ask the universal energy to give me answers to something I might want in my story, and low and behold a thunder storm turns up that pushes me to the ground, a stray dog, frightened by the fireworks exploding in the sky, sits on my lap shaking right down to his paws. Many, many things that are written in the book are there because they have appeared in my life so I can add them to the story, just like adding spice to a stew.
Thanks for those fascinating insights into your writing process, Nicola. I find your world building fascinating too – it’s delightfully complex, which is satisfying for lovers of fantasy. When I enter Tanglemire Forest, the dramatic setting of The Gribble’s Gift, I’m instantly transported to my youth where some of my favourite fantasy worlds such as The Magic Faraway Tree and The Dark Crystal give me a nostalgic wink. What have been some of your greatest influences (if any) when it came to creating Tanglemire Forest?
Ever since I was young, even though I didn’t realise it, I’ve been interested in the minute things that make this world tick. I have also made lots and lots of things, too many things really, which spilt up my energies and concentration, which meant everything took too long or never got finished. So on one hand I love writing about the minute things of this world—the things that cannot be seen with the naked eye, but are there non-the-less—and on the other hand, I love building miniature fantasy worlds. These two things have never left me. One day my dream is to build a world so big I can actually walk around in it, and maybe other people might like to come and join me.
When I was young I devoured the Narnia Stories by C.S. Lewis, The Borrowers stories by Mary Norton, the many stories of Marry Poppins by P.L. Travers, all the way through to Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss and in-between, and I am still reading every night someone’s creative writings.
On the model making side, Jim Henson was (and still is) a great influence in my life. His creativity was outstanding. Roye England of Pendon Museum (in Oxfordshire, UK) was also a great influence in my life when I was young. His exactness of the work he achieved, his dedication to the models he built was a real inspiration, and I have had the good fortune to see Pendon twice in my life.
All through my life I have absorbed everything that goes on around me, the things I see, hear, smell, feel and sense, and all of it ends up in my miniature fantasy models and my stories in one way or another.
I daresay that being such a sensory and sensitive person underpins all your creative outlets, Nicola. You describe yourself as an Australian Visual Storyteller, which is a great way to define your multifaceted talents as a writer, illustrator, and miniature fantasy model maker. Do you have a preference to what creative medium you work in when it comes to brining Tanglemire Forest to life?
I think I’m torn between the two: writing and building models. I found the more I built, the more stories would trudge through my mind about the characters living within them. But the more I wrote, the more I wanted to build the new things I had just imagined. The idea had always been to build what was in the stories so that the two were combined, so when people visited the models, book in hand, they could physically see what was written in the book right there in front of them (well, as best as it could be shown).
The Gribble’s Gift is a gift in itself when it comes to the myriad details you’ve thought about for your book. From the beautiful illustrations contained in its pages, down to the amazing presentation readers are surprised with upon delivery, through to sourcing an Australian-based printer, you have compromised on nothing. Did these benchmarks always tie in with your vision for your book series?
Yes, it was always very important to me to have an Australian illustrator, printer, and a company near me, who would allow me to sit down over coffee, and actually talk to a person to help get my book published.
I chose Andrew MacIntosh, from Melbourne, as the illustrator of the front cover, and he has done an outstanding job as most people who have purchased the book have never asked what it is about. (And the blurb on the back tells you just a smidgen about the story).
The company here on the Gold Coast, Publicious (Andy McDermont), has done an outstanding job as well, and I have been an exacting customer that no doubt drove him a bit nuts, but Andy listened to everything I had to say and made suggestions where they were needed. He also enabled my book to go out into this world where I would never have been able to get it to by myself.
Also I like (need, I should say) to be in control, and the thought of sending my book off where I didn’t know what was happening to it, was more than I could bare, especially as this was my first book. I have spent so much time, effort, and heartache to get this story to where it is now; I had to have control of it.
That’s wonderful you’ve had such a positive experience with Publicious and your cover illustrator, Nicola. Now, ever since we first met, I’ve admired your philosophy of eco-sustainability, and quiet commitment to nature and the environment, both in your creative work and your professional work in pond making. I know these themes tie heavily with your vision for Tanglemire. What is one piece of advice you’d give to upcoming visual storytellers/model makers in this regard?
Goodness – Advice? Um…well, I think the most important thing would be to trust yourself. DO NOT listen or believe what other people say IF it is negative. Those people are only projecting onto you their inability to see your vision and want to control what you do because they, themselves, have probably never achieved what they wanted to achieve in their life, so they attempt to stop others for achieving their dreams, (this has been my reality). Constructive advice is a different matter.
Most people, I find, do not even think of breaking out of the envelope that our tiny, puny lives (compared with the enormity and complexity of our world, let alone the universe) are modeled into by our upbringing, the media, tradition, our own doubts, fears, the negativity of other people, anything that stops you from being you. I have fought all my life to become who I am. I have fought everyone just to get this book published the way I wanted it to be. I fought even against myself to get what I really wanted. Trust yourself. You know what you want, you just have to get out of your own way, don’t hurt other people in the process, and believe you can do it, no matter what.
That’s such an empowering and thought-provoking response, Nicola. One thing I know about you is you have—despite all obstacles—remained committed to the strength of your vision. I’m proud of you and admire your tenacity and passion. So now that The Gribble’s Gift is out in the hands of readers, when can we expect the next book in the Tanglemire trilogy, The Swanling Child? And—without giving too much away—can you tell us a little bit about what this next instalment is about?
Luckily for me, I started writing snippets of The Swanling Child in 2008, which means I have 18 chapters written, but not polished.
It is difficult for me to say what the story is about because, for the most part, I do not know. In saying that, I do believe all my stories are already written in my subconscious, they are just waiting until I, the conscious part of me, is ready to write them down. What I do know is that little Veeleeta is stolen, kidnapped. (I can tell you I was stunned when that happened! I thought, ‘What have I just done?’ It took two years for her to appear again and she was underwater! I couldn’t believe it. Luckily she didn’t stay there for long but what she saw when she emerged was frightening.)
I also know that seven seeds of the Silver Lunaira trees have to be planted in another part of Tanglemire Forest before they die. Also Ebony, and her cousin Charlie (named after a cat of ours), ends up in the forest, and I know that Veeleeta and the Swanling Child have to stop a war. There is also the uncle of the Swanling Child who has gone a bit mad, but why? I think I have a solution to that, but how to fix everything else together, I do not know yet. It is all like a jigsaw puzzle—another thing I devoured when young, which is now turning out to be very useful! I have little bits of a story that have to be placed in just the right spot to make a complete picture (a novel). I need to find the strands to weave them together. I do at least now how it ends.
Hats off to you, Nicola – you’re the ultimate ‘pantser’, honouring your subconscious! Thanks so much for your time on the couch today. One final question—just for fun—what’s something about you people might be surprised to know?
Crumbs! Um… Well, I’m a private person at times and shut up shop and refuse to say anything, and then other times I will tell you anything you want to know.
When I was very young, living in England, in a time when children were seen and not heard, my mother took me along every time she visited an old lady. Neither of us can remember who she was. To keep me quiet and amused I was given a peg board that was painted green with a stone path through it, and paper walls around three sides. I was then given tiny plastic plants which I would use to spend my time making different miniature garden designs.
What is it that I do today? I earn my bread and butter by doing waterlily ponds (gardening) and I make miniature fantasy houses out of gourds and recycled objects that are covered in flowers and plants.
Who would ever have thought that when I was so young I knew nothing about this world, that this simple game was the start of a journey that would end up on the other side of the world writing stories, building words of fantasy, making my dreams come true?
Nicola, I love that your dreams are coming true, and all your hard work is paying off. I’m reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I’m certain your future projects are going to showcase those dreams as your characters adventure further into Tanglemire Forest…No Ordinary World!
More information about Nicola, and where you can purchase The Gribble’s Gift, and learn more about Tanglemire Forest.
Nicola J. Tierney lives on the Gold Coast, Australia, far away from where she was born in England, 1960. Her two children have flown the nest a long time ago and her long suffering partner, Garry, supports her is ways she thought no man would.
Her interest in the tiny, minute, detailed way this world works was sparked when she was very young and the world thought children should be seen and not hear. She had been given a toy garden to play with to keep her quiet. It is the main reason she builds, miniature fantasy houses out of gourds and recycled objects now. Her aim is to build a world big enough for her, and others, to walk around in.
Her love of fantasy worlds (sparked by devouring the Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis when she was young) have been with her longer than she can remember. Her determination to make her dreams a reality has been a driving force in her life – this is just one of the many things she wants to achieve to bring some magic into people’s lives. These two aspects of her life have calumniated in the publishing of her first illustrated fantasy fiction novel, The Gribble’s Gift.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days 🙂