LD: According to several sports icons, including John Konrads and Duncan Armstrong, and the IP Picks judges, Wobbles is no ordinary sporting memoir. This narrative spans the growth of an athlete from a young girl into a fierce, Olympic competitor; but it also brings something else to the reader. How would you describe the additional elements that make this book more holistic and appealing for a wide audience?
NN: WhenI began writing Wobbles I knew that I wanted to write a story, not just an account of my trials and triumphs in the pool. I wanted to capture the voice of the little girl with a dream, the angry teenager facing obstacles, the maturing young woman on a mission and the lost soul at the end of her career. I wanted these voices to speak directly to the audience so they could learn and grow and experience the journey along with Nadine. So I employed all the literary skills I had learned through my love of literature and my English teaching to try to bring this story to life. It is honest; the language reflects the character ateach stage of development and the structure takes the reader into the world of the competitor in a way that I believe is quite unique for a sports memoir. My swimming journey was not one that ended in the glorious victories that so often characterise such memoirs and I believe that this very fact enables the reader to connect with the story in an intimate way, a way that I hope will shed some light on their own situations.
LD: An Australian breaststroke swimmer in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, you are now a successful educator and motivational speaker. Wobbles reflects a desire to encourage not only the next generation of athletes and their families, but anyone with a dream. Tell us about the memoir’s themes of setting goals and pursuing dreams against the backdrop of harsher realities.
NN: My ‘little girl dream’ of going to the Olympic Games was innocent of the trials ahead and I am so grateful that my parents, no matter how amused they were by my ideas at the time, never dampened my enthusiasm. If I had said that I wanted to be an astronaut or a dancer or a collector of bugs they would have supported me and I think this is the most important ingredient in making a dream come true – someone to believe in you when you forget how to believe in yourself. I faced some enormous obstacles and I sometimes doubted that pursuing my dream was really worthwhile, but with the help of my family I was able to reassess my goals, adjust them, break them into manageable ‘baby steps’ and get back on track. And in the end, despite perhaps not achieving my ultimate dream, I was able to realise that the strength, discipline, self-confidence and courage that I had developed as a result of all those years of striving was reward enough. I guess that’s why I’m now pursuing a new dream – the journey is always worth the effort in the end.
LD: One of the most substantial themes of this book wrestles with contemporary definitions of success. At a time when achievement can be associated with material, fleeting or superficial qualities, what are some of the deeper messages you would like readers to consider?
NN: So often the people we look up to as role models are the superstars that achieve things beyond many of our wildest dreams and when mere mortals fall short of those lofty ambitions, we can be left feeling cheated, or worse still, like a failure. It took me a long time to learn that success is about striving and growing and fearlessly looking challenges in the face regardless of the outcome. It is this message that I hope readers will take from my story: the idea that striving for a beautiful, exciting goal, no matter what it may be, is worthwhile for its own sake. Whatever riches, accolades or fame may come is icing on the cake, but just being there and giving it a shot is what really makes you a success. It can be hard to remember this when the media only reports on the ‘winners’, when ‘losers’ are chastised and threatened with being dropped from their teams, when the big sponsorships go to the record-breakers and when the only pictures in glossy magazines are of the ‘golden’ girls and boys. But I believe the people who are always there, doing their best, working on improving themselves, are the true heroes. They are the people I cheer for.
LD: You mentioned that Wobbles is the product of ten years of writing and editing. What has drafting and revising been like for you? How have you managed to get through the endurance trials of creating a good, solid story?
NN: Drafting and re-drafting has been an amazing experience. Initially my writing was a purging process, an opportunity to vent all my frustrations, past hurts and demons. What emerged was extremely cathartic, but completely unreadable! I put this first draft aside for almost two years before I braved a second shot at it and I was amazed to find how much my view of events had changed with a little distance. Over the next eight years I found that each time I revisited the book, I learned something new about myself. I was able to heal deep wounds and find a sense of peace and satisfaction with my achievements. It has almost been as though refining my self-indulgent, sentimental drivel into a solid, entertaining read has allowed me to shape a clearer perspective on my personal history. The last phases of editing with the help of some amazing critical readers has taught me an enormous amount about writing and I’ve realised how much I still don’t know about the art! Overall, it has been challenging and at times overwhelming, but like every great dream, it has been worth every minute.
LD: As a wife and mother living in Maitland in New South Wales, what were some of the writing resources which supported you through this process? Have you got any tips for writers?
NN: I’ve received an enormous amount of help from the New South Wales Writers Centre through their mentorship program, short courses and newsletters. I’d recommend every writer connect with their local writers’ centres. I have also drawn great inspiration from writers who have shared their approaches to the craft. Books like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King and Finding the Secret River by Kate Grenville have reminded me that even the masters get blocked, feel unsure, face rejection and self criticise to the point of despair. I’m also often pressed for time with a busy one year-old to keep entertained, so I do most of my writing in my mind on car trips, during feeding time, while preparing dinner or folding nappies. And when silence finally descends upon the house and I find myself paralysed by the inner critic, I try to remember that the important thing is to get something down, anything down, because you can always fix it later… either before or after your critical readers have told you that it needs ‘a bit’ of work!
LD: Writing a memoir often alters the way we perceive ourselves. How has writing Wobbles changed the way you see yourself, your journey and the people around you?
NN: Wobbles has changed everything. I have been forced to recognise and change destructive thought and behaviour patterns. I have been challenged to see my life from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve learned to appreciate the gifts and the trials in equal measure and I feel that my life is so much richer for it. I have realised that there is no hurt that cannot be healed with the right help and that gazing at one’s navel long enough does indeed reveal profound truths, metaphorically speaking! I have found my new passion, a path I can envisage treading for the rest of my days, and I have been given the chance to pursue my writing with the unwavering support of family and friends. But best of all, my publisher proved that miracles do happen – when the world told me that a book about an unknown swimmer would never find a place on the shelves, IP came along and said ‘Yes’.