Interview With Author Grace Tierney

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Born in Dublin, Ireland I now live and write in rural Ireland. Although my name is Grace Tierney I’m better known now as Wordfoolery, the name of my blog about unusual English words which has been entertaining readers since 2009. My passion for the history of words has so far yielded two books on the subject “Words The Sea Gave Us” (nautical words, phrases, and sailors’ yarns) and “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (soldiers, inventors, stars, and villains who gave their names to English) which are available in paperback and ebook editions. I’m also a local news columnist and I mentor writers for NaNoWriMo ( each November. I’m a massive book worm and an official Ireland Reads ambassador, a regular radio contributor about the history of words, and I’ve serialised three of my comedy novels on Channillo (, the subscription reading platform (think Netflix for books).

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

My first book, “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is crammed with real-life stories as it’s a compendium of the people whose names are now English words (e.g. sandwich, plimsoll, jumbo, groggy, and boycott). These heroes and villains, inventors and fashion icons all had amazing lives and that’s why their names became words. For example, Casanova once escaped prison in Venice during a party, down a sheet rope with a priest, yet ended his life as a librarian. As for “Words the Sea Gave Us”, it’s crammed with sailors’ yarns, some of which were embellished by salty sea dogs and pirates, but I do try to find the truth. After writing it I decided I never wanted to serve in the Royal Navy despite the free rum rations until 1970, as the punishments for unruly sailors were far too grim. For example “flogging around the fleet” involved receiving a whipping on each ship in the fleet and you had to make your own whip.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

The words themselves are my inspiration. If something has an unusual spelling it catches my eye. My favourite word is floccinoccinihilipilification (to make little of something). The stories behind the words are even more inspiring. The first word I found for the sea book was strike, an industrial strike, as it started in 1768 with London dock workers striking (lowering) the sails of the fleet by cutting the masts and rigging – a brave protest that ended with workers hanged as an example. I love these little known historical facts. My blog readers often suggest words and I constantly add to my “candidate words” list from a variety of sources.

# How do you deal with creative block?

I always have several projects in progress at the same time so I’ll change to a different project. I find my mix of nonfiction and fiction helps me to stay fresh too. Failing that, a long walk on the beach or hills often sparks new ideas.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

In my opinion the biggest mistake is to write something boring. As a reader I want to be entertained and drawn into a story, whether that be fact or fiction. At a more basic level I strive for perfect spelling which isn’t easy when I have terms in Latin, Greek, Old Norse, Old English etc. My books are challenging to both spellcheck tools and proofreaders.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Titles are tricky. I’m lucky now with the Words series as each one follows a pattern – Words the Sea Gave Us, Words Vikings Gave Us, Words Christmas Gave Us etc. Finding a title that intrigues book buyers takes inspiration and skill. It’s always worth getting reader friends to brainstorm ideas with you. As for covers it’s important to see what cover styles are out there for your book type and then find a way to stand out. I’m very lucky to have a designer friend, Peter Sheehan, who knows my writing well and creates amazing covers. I trust him and give him free rein in his work.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I’ve previously worked as a paid book reviewer so I can see this one from both sides. Every writer encounters rejections and negative feedback. I do my best to extract any useful points and then move on. Not every piece of writing will suit every reader.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

Writing itself is something that improves with practice. Some of my earlier stories will never see the light of day! I’ve taken part in every NaNoWriMo since 2007 and that’s helped me to try new genres, learn from other writers, and crucially develop a daily writing habit and the ability to know how many words I can produce in a certain timeframe. Writing for various magazines had helped me write concisely (Book review in under 50 words? No problem). My methods for researching candidate words and structuring the books have evolved and improved too.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best – finding other word enthusiasts online and connecting with many of them in promoting the books. Word Twitter is incredibly supportive. I also got the chance to appear on a national maritime radio show to promote “Words The Sea Gave Us” which was a dream as I’ve listened to the show for thirty years.

The worst – a glitch with the printer’s ability to produce the cover art delayed the second book’s launch by a month, at the last minute. Not ideal.

The most surprising – the stories behind the words. I start with a long list of words and only the interesting ones make it through to the finished book. I always worry about having enough material but each time I unearth surprising stories and amazing people to share with my readers.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. That’s my excuse and I even have it on a cup I bought in the Nobel Prize Museum (Nobel is another person who appears in “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary”). I write the books for myself, but hope they also serve my readers. Luckily I know what they like thanks to my weekly word blog and my monthly word radio piece. Their feedback really helps.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

I think emotions play a huge role in creativity. My writing, in all forms, tends to have a light tone and that’s tricky to create if I’m feeling blue. I will sometimes pause a writing project if Real Life is intruding. Equally if a story doesn’t produce an emotional response in the writer then it probably won’t work for readers either. I’ve nailed a sad scene if it makes me cry. If I can make my writing group laugh with a story then it’s ready for readers.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

Walking solo helps my brain to wander and find ideas. I jot them down in my phone. Absorbing other art forms helps too. I read about 70 books annually, love visiting galleries and museums, taking history tours, am a total film nut, and have a teen daughter who drags me, willingly, to the theatre. I feel the creative brain needs plenty of input.

# What are your plans for future books?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, due for publication during Summer 2021. After that I’ll be writing “Words Christmas Gave Us” because I love the festive traditions and “Words the Weather Gave Us” – a topic I hope everybody will enjoy.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

My first paid piece of writing was a story told in single syllable words printed on cans of coffee.

I speak several languages – English, Irish, French, German – along with a smattering of Italian, all of which help me in my word history research. Thanks to my Viking book I now believe I can speak Old Norse (spoiler – I can’t).

Despite loving ships, writing a book about the sea, and growing up on the coast I can’t swim and get seasick in a nanosecond. This doesn’t stop me believing I would be an excellent swashbuckling pirate.

Links Grace’s word blog, new posts every Monday Where to get Grace’s books, including signed copies Grace on Twitter


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