Ciara Molloy Tan shares her favourite books as a child, her journey to Australia, and the story of her first book for children, Hermione Anemone and the Enormous Storm.
I’m from Dundrum, a small town in South Dublin, Ireland. I’m a 70’s kid. I was a very shy child so I was quite happy playing on my own or with just one or two friends. I didn’t like big crowds so I didn’t like school. I loved Art and English best. Anything vaguely mathematical was a disaster!
My Papa (my Mum’s Dad) used to tell me great stories without a book. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk and many others, and I would be right there in the story, completely engrossed. So he helped to fuel my vivid imagination from a really young age.
As I got a bit older I loved to write my own little stories with accompanying drawings. My parents were called into primary school once for a grilling by the principal. The class had to write a story with the title, ‘A time I was Afraid.’ So I wrote that my Mum and Dad had gone out to a party one night and left me at home in the dark, terrified and alone for hours! It took quite a bit of convincing that it was just made up and there was no truth in it. My Mum still reckons they didn’t believe her protests and kept expecting child protection services to knock on the door any minute.
I spent most of my childhood with my head stuck in a book. First it was the entire collection of Ladybird Well Loved Tales books. Then anything by Enid Blyton; Noddy stories, moving along to her collection of books about Fairies and Brownies, Mr. Pink-Whistle, and graduating to the Famous Five and Secret Seven when I got a bit older. I also loved Beatrix Potter, the Milly Molly Mandy series by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Ramona Quimby, age 8, by Beverly Cleary, and the My Naughty Little Sister series by Dorothy Edwards.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is still my favourite book of all time. I first read it aged 11. As soon as I started I couldn’t put it down. When I finished I began it again, and then the entire rest of the series one after the other, eight books in total. I didn’t come up for air for months! I must have read the first Anne book at least 50 times. I can’t wait until my own daughters can read it too.
I studied fashion for three years after school and then I got a job in a high- end boutique department store in Dublin, doing fashion styling and window displays. I had so much fun and met my 2 best friends there. The budget back then was really healthy and we had a lot of creative freedom. So my artistic flair was always being nurtured. I took a year off to travel the world with my friend in 1998. That year away opened my eyes and inspired me in so many ways. Then I met my husband Will in Dublin in November 1999. He’s from Sydney. We married in Ireland but I was persuaded to try living in Australia for a while. I was adamant I would only stay for two years, but the economy crashed and so we’re here seven years now!
I wrote Hermione Anemone and the Enormous Storm before I got pregnant with our first child, Maisy, who is now four. Writing became my project to take my mind off being homesick. Then I put the story away for a while, and it was only when I became pregnant with our second daughter Poppy that I looked at it again and Will said, ‘It’s really good, you should send it in somewhere!’ I had no idea how to go about it. I sent it in to Hachette and I was astounded when I got an email from the commissioning editor to say they really liked it! It was far too long at 23 verses. So I had to figure out which characters I wanted to keep and lose a few in the process. Hopefully they will get their chance in my sequel! There are a couple of Irish characters in my story, which was important to me. I wanted to make the story universally appealing even though it’s based in the rock pools of the Northern beaches in Sydney.
I can draw, but I didn’t even attempt the illustrations. It would have taken me years to get everything right even though I could see it all in my head. Michaela Blassnig did an amazing job. I sent her the character references and she did them brilliantly with all the visually quirky touches that make each character and scene stand out. It’s been such a pleasure from start to finish. I hope we get to work together again!