Creative in the Countryside: Tiffany Francis
Nicola: You are a writer and artist who specialises in nature, landscapes, rural heritage and ethical living. Can you tell us more about the work you do and the journey you took to be doing what you love?
Tiffany: I’ve always loved nature, birds, trees and being outdoors. But the love I had during my childhood was abandoned slightly over my teenage years when I discovered boys, alcohol and other exciting things. After finishing college I studied English Literature in Bristol and then moved to London to complete my Masters in English at UCL.
It was here my curiosity for the natural world crept quietly back into my life after I started volunteering with the London Wildlife Trust in ancient woodland called Sydenham Hill Wood. This helped me rediscover my love for wildlife and, although I had always wanted to be a writer, I realised nature writing was my true calling. Combined with my hobby as a wildlife artist, I wanted to try and communicate the wonders of the natural world to others through my writing and artwork.
Now I produce both of these on a freelance basis for magazines and newspapers, and I also recently appeared on Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day and Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas on Channel 4.
My first book will be published in March, Food You Can Forage with Bloomsbury books, and I am about to be commissioned for my second - a narrative non-fiction book on our relationship with the night sky.
Nicola: You grew up in the chalky hills of the South Downs. How did this inspire what you write and teach about today?
Tiffany: I’ve spent most of my life in the South Downs, having now returned here after a few years away in Bristol and London. For me, it's a magical landscape bursting with wildlife, culture, and history. So many of my childhood memories originate from adventures outdoors in woodlands or along the coast, finding badger skulls and collecting conkers.
It was recently recognized as a National Park by the government, and I think this reflects how vibrant the area is. From the haunted yew trees at Kingley Vale to the flower-smothered gardens of Lewes, the South Downs are a huge part of who I am and will forever weave themselves into my work.
Nicola: Describe to us why nature is so important to you, and your passion for engaging others with the natural world.
Tiffany: It’s been said a thousand times over the last few years, but Nature Deficit Disorder is becoming a real problem in our society. Studies have shown that when we choose not to spend time in nature it affects our mental and physical health, as well as disconnecting us from our natural roots and rhythms. When I hear a great tit’s see-saw song in late winter, and know that spring is almost here, I am filled with the most intense sensation of joy that not even a stuffed crust pizza or photo of Harrison Ford (Blade Runner-era) can replicate.
Everyone can benefit.
From spending more time in nature and, aside from the positive effect it can have on our wellbeing, it is essential to the future of our planet. David Attenborough once said: ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.'
I want to secure a healthy environment for my children and grandchildren, and I hope that my writing and art will inspire others to cherish wildlife and nurture a new relationship with the natural world.
Nicola: Can you tell us about where you live and what a typical day looks like for you at the moment?
Tiffany: My days are extremely varied at the moment and, in the words of Prufrock, tend to be measured out ‘with coffee spoons’. I live in east Hampshire with my partner, right in the middle of the South Downs National Park. We live in a little flat in the pretty market town where we both grew up, although we didn’t meet until many years later! I’m currently in an exciting but scary stage of my life, as I recently made the decision to leave my job and pursue a freelance career with my writing and art. So over February, I’ve been tying off the loose ends at my job at Butser Ancient Farm, where I’ve worked as Creative Developer for over three years.
From March onwards I'll be spending most of my days writing, painting and getting distracted by the long-tailed tits hopping around outside our window, as well as spending lots of time outdoors for inspiration. I try to find time to go running a few times a week (something I only discovered recently), and I enjoy riding around the Hangers on a friend’s horse that I help look after. I also have an exciting calendar of talks, festivals and events lined up for this year, so I’llbe preparing for those and traveling around the country over the spring and summer months.
Nicola: Your first book, Food You Can Forage, is due out on the 8 th of March. Can you tell us what the book is about and why you wanted to write it?
Tiffany: My first book is all about foraging wild food and embracing the countryside, something that I am passionate to share with everyone. In my experience, foraging can often seem intimidating to beginners, or something they associate with horror stories in the news. But foraging can be an adventure for friends and families at any age, and I wanted to present it as a relaxed and rounded hobby that takes you outdoors into the countryside and ends with something delicious on the kitchen table. I really wanted to celebrate the hobby as a new way to engage with the natural world, so I also included sections on different habitats, what wildlife you can spot, folklore and mythology, my own illustrations, photos and a selection of tested recipes at the back.
I think the best thing about foraging is that it can unite everyone through a shared love of food.So even if you aren’t naturally drawn to spending time outside, this might entice you to take a walk in the woods in search of a moment of wildness.
Nicola: What did you enjoy most about writing your book?
Tiffany: It has to be writing the recipes! There are twenty recipes in the book, and I couldn’t help including two of my favourite food groups: booze and cake. We had hours of fun testing samples, deciding which type of gorse petal mead tasted best, or how much icing to drizzle over spiced elderberry buns. I’ve never written recipes for publication before but I love cooking and spending time in the kitchen, so it was brilliant to be able to share some of my favourite creations. I really wanted to include recipes as it makes the art of foraging so much more rewarding when you can transform your discoveries into a snack or meal, rather than just harvesting things and leaving them to wilt tragically by the coat-rack.
Nicola: And finally, if anyone reading this has a creative dream they would love to follow, what advice would you give them?
Tiffany: In my experience, being able to pursue a dream in the creative arts is all about opening yourself up to the universe. There are so many wonderful writers and artists in the world, each with their own voices that need to be heard, but I’ve found that the most successful artists I know are those that are proactive, seeking out opportunities for themselves.
My book deal actually came about through a lucky encounter - I wrote a blog post on foraging that was seen by the right person at the right time, and I’m grateful every day for that jammy moment that changed my life. But before that I spent many years throwing everything I had out into the abyss, writing and painting and creating things that I hoped would lead to new opportunities.
I went to networking events, joined online forums, interacted with others on Twitter, and tried my best to share my work with the world in the hope that it might lead somewhere - and it did! I would encourage everyone to keep creating, particularly at a time when the world needs hope and creativity more than ever, and to try your best not to let the more mundane routines of life squeeze out precious hours of creative time. I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason, so long as you are in tune with the world and keep your heart and mind open to new opportunities.