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Strength of a name

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, March 11, 2018

SOMEONE once said that writing is a mixture of the calculated and the instinctual. No one writes through pure dazed ins

piration; questions of craft and calculation enter in quite quickly. It's a solitary affair — just between you, the subject and your material.

For Tulia Nacola, an entreprenuer and author, it's about capturing her family's story and identity. We sit with the first-time novelist to talk about her new book Strength of a Name which was launched early last month. The book is sold locally at Samson Lee Fiji on Butt St, Suva, Aladdins Cave in Palm Court, Suva, USP Book Centre, Suva, Taste Fiji Nadi and is also available as an e-book on Amazon.

Be sure to check it out.

Q Tell us about the inspiration behind Strength of a Name what made you explore this subject?

I had an idea for a book but I didn't really know how I was going to write it. In December of 2016, my furniture business, Cove Furnishings, took on its last project. I shut it all down to kick-start the writing process, I knew if I wanted to write this book, I had to focus my full attention on it. I couldn't do both at the time. Once I reached the third draft of the book in July of 2017, I opened up the business again and at this time it was manageable to juggle the two. I was lucky to have a great team in the furniture workshop which allowed me more freedom to write. Writing and furniture designing/making both involve a creative process so I would bounce off one when I would get frustrated on to the other to clear my mind.

We've all only ever known our parents as who they are, we have never known them as children. One day I was playing with the idea of what it would be like if I could go back in time and grow up with them as a friend or a sister and see how they encountered situations as we all do, but to see how they did it. At this point I had an idea for a book, I then invited my parents over to my home in Waikalou, Navua for three weeks and asked them to share their stories with me. It was magical, I was transported to a place that I never knew of and I will never see, but I now appreciate. And what I learnt from that experience would have been selfish of me to keep for myself. This was going to be my first novel.

Q Describe the process you went through in compiling this book?

I knew I had to prepare myself mentally and create a foundation before the writing process began. So I moved to a quiet secluded place, surrounded by trees and mangroves, a river, beautiful birds, amazing sunrises and breathtaking sunsets. I had to physically and emotionally detach from my busy life schedule and reconnect with myself. I didn't attempt to write for two months until I knew I was ready. And when I was ready, I sat at my laptop and wrote the preface in one sitting.

I visited my parents in their home in Nadi and interviewed them over a period of three months. It was their stories that was moulding the structure of the book. Once I knew I had everything I needed for a book I ran with it and never stopped. I was writing almost every day, there were times at night when I would wake up scrambling in the dark searching for a pen and paper because I had an idea and I had to jot it down before I lost it.

Q Did at any stage you had self-doubt creeping in while writing this book and what were some secret techniques you used to overcome it?

There were moments when I couldn't link chapters or stories in the book and I would get frustrated and walk away. It's when I got to my second draft that self-doubt started to creep in. Only because I had taken my attention from the book to how people would perceive it, or me. What if all this effort was for nothing? What if I don't finish? It would freak me out.

To help, I started listening to motivational speakers off the web and took on a proper routine where I surrounded myself with positive things. I would meditate in the morning, then listen to a playlist of motivational speakers before opening my laptop to write. I learnt that if I believed in what I was doing and made the decision to finish, it would happen. It took me exactly a year to complete. I started in January 2017, and finished in January 2018. It was one of the most intense processes I have ever been through and I can't wait to do it all over again. I am currently working on an idea for my second novel.

Q Tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up and how did your childhood days influence you to be where you are today?

Growing up in Suva, my dad would fill our shelves with encyclopaedia books, dramas and plays. We didn't have a television so he would throw a white sheet over two chairs as a big screen, set up a light so we could see his shadow from the other side and he would mime for us to guess the character. We would laugh and jump and squeal! My early childhood days I remember being entertained with books and stories and during school breaks we were in the village with our grandmother fishing or collecting firewood, making bamboo guns for new years or trekking up to plantations. Life was an adventure.

Through primary school after doing our homework, we would have to write a short story for my dad to read and mark.

High school came, then the distractions set in, life happened and through the experiences I came full circle.

Q What is the best thing you consider about your book?

The stories that are captured in this book were told to me by my parents, and were told to them by their parents. I wanted to transport the reader to a place that was and will never be, the story is told in a way that you grow up with the characters and you learn as they learn. For what has been taught through oral history has been lost and I wanted to capture these stories in a way that the reader would appreciate. The characters are relatable where any age group would feel them as real people and understand their experiences in certain situations. I wrote the book so that the generations that come after will know and appreciate their ancestors.

Q Favourite authors?

I like lots of authors but one that gets me is Stephen King. I like him because he would allow the reader to cross the line that you wouldn't normally do in real life. I like Audrey Niffenegger because her writing style captures me, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, because her words are true and gripping.

Q Would you like to add anything else?

My main priority this year is to get healthy, build a cabin on a hill in my village where I can continue to write and farm. In five years' time I hope to still be around, writing and publishing books. My dad and I are also hoping to help local writers or anyone wanting to write, teach people to keep the art of storytelling alive, it is so important to our identity.

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