I recently chatted with Serenity Press author, Teena Raffa-Mulligan. I can’t remember the first time I met Teena, but she has always impressed me with her warmth and kindness, and breadth of experience in children’s writing.
NLK: You worked for many years as a journalist. What initially drew you to writing children’s fiction?
TRM: I was writing for children before I became a journalist. From the time I learnt to read I knew I wanted to be a writer. In primary school, my dream was to become a famous a ballerina and write novels in the dressing room between performances. By the time I was in my teens that had changed to living in a garret in Paris and writing novels, but my life plan changed dramatically when a good-looking surfer with a sense of humour and a gift for making a girl feel special came on the scene. My writing ambition was dormant for a couple of years while I got on with the business of being in love, getting married and setting up home. Once that part of my life was on track, I began submitting short fiction and poetry to literary journals–without success. When our baby son arrived, I read to him from the time he was only a few months old and it was then I realised I wanted to write for children. In those early years, I received rejections from publisher after publisher so I took a detour into journalism, but I never lost my desire to be a published children’s author. There’s something special about writing for young people and my children inspired so many ideas in those growing years.
NLK: You’re a versatile writer having written romance, picture books, junior fiction and middle-grade fiction. What are the advantages of writing across a wide range of genres, and does this raise obstacles?
TRM: Writing across genres has always felt like a natural expression of my creativity. The man in my life calls me ‘the butterfly’ because I am constantly flitting from one thing to another and I do find it difficult to slot myself into one particular pigeonhole and stay there. I used to think I should be more disciplined and choose just one area of writing to focus on to avoid the ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ tag, but now I accept this is how I work best. It does probably mean my eclectic range of titles is not easy to ‘brand’ from a marketing perspective.
NLK: You’ve had a number of books published internationally and in Australia, do you have a favourite book and can you tell us why it’s your favourite?
TRM: All are special for different reasons. Big Nanna, Little Nanna is based on my own childhood growing up with an Italian and an English grandmother, while Grandpa Goes to Mars is all about following your dream to make it come true. A question my younger daughter asked as a child inspired Who Dresses God? And of course, special mention must go to my very first picture book published, You Don’t Know Me?, a rhyming stranger danger tale which brought me five minutes of fame when it was published in 1982 and introduced me to the joy of sharing my passion for books and writing with children.
NLK: Can you tell us about your writing process?
TRM: I’d like to say I go into my office and produce X number of words each day and complete a book a month…but I don’t. My process depends on what I happen to be writing at the time. Ideas for poems, short stories and picture books will grab my imagination and refuse to let go till I’ve sifted and sorted the words into a satisfying shape. A lot of writing gets done off the page while I’m going about my everyday life. I scribble random sentences and paragraphs on scrap paper as they take shape and when I finally sit down at the computer, it’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I simply put the various story or poem fragments in the right order and play around with them until all the pieces feel like they’re slotted into the right place. Easy!
It’s a different story when it comes to writing anything of substantial length. That’s a real challenge for me and novels grow slowly and haphazardly. I go blank if I sit at the computer with the intention of writing a scene or chapter, so I scribble bits and pieces down as I work them out. I like to have something on paper to start with, then I can flesh it out. Often I will leave the document file open on my computer and duck in and out of my office as I get ideas for the next paragraph or block of dialogue. Sometimes I do try to be more productive, setting daily word counts and deadlines, but then I feel stressed and that doesn’t help with creativity. I do get frustrated that I have unfinished novels but I try to remind myself there’s no need to force the story – it will come in its own time if I make the space. And in the meantime, I write short stuff!
NLK: Can you remember the first piece you wrote?
TRM: It was a poem, when I was quite young. I remember it began ‘Go to the land where fairies dwell, go to the land of the wishing well.’ That’s all I remember. I do still have a poem I wrote when I was 14 called The Search. It was read on an ABC radio program for children called The Argonauts and I felt like I was a real author.
NLK: What writers most influence your work?
TRM: That’s a tough one. I’ve always read voraciously and eclectically and it’s difficult to pinpoint specific writers who’ve influenced my own writing. Probably all of them because I’ve absorbed their words like a sponge soaking up water! I am inspired by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other books about creativity; also Natalie Goldberg who wrote Writing Down the Bones; and more recently, Dani Shapiro, whose book Still Writing I came across when it was referred to by a FB author friend.
NLK: What advice would you give to emerging writers?
TRM: Write in the way that feels right for you. Measuring yourself against how or what others write is a waste of creative energy. Remain open to possibilities. Having a rigid mindset about the kind of writer you want to be can lead to missed opportunities.
NLK: What are common traps for emerging writers?
TRM: Rushing the process. As with any other skill, it takes time and practice to develop as writers. I look at some of the manuscripts I submitted to publishers when I started out and with what I’ve now learnt about my craft over many years, I can see they weren’t ready. Changes in technology have made it so easy for writers to publish their own work, and often the important steps of revising and editing are skipped in the excitement about releasing a title quickly.
NLK: What has been your greatest career satisfaction so far?
TRM: Getting published! I have always found it far easier to write stories than to find publishers for them. It sometimes takes me years to match the right story with the right publisher at the right time.
NLK: What does literary success look like to you?
TRM: I’d like to walk into major bookstores and department stores and see my books on the shelves next to titles by household literary names. Still dreaming of the day…
About Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Teena Raffa-Mulligan is a reader, writer and daydream believer who believes there is magic in every day if you choose to find it. She discovered the wonderful world of storytelling as a child and decided to become a writer at an early age. Teena writes for children and adults and her publications range from poetry and short stories to picture books and novels. Her writing life has also included a long career in journalism. She shares her passion for books and writing by presenting talks and workshops to encourage people of all ages to write their own stories.
Connect with Teena
MG Novel, Illustrated by Ella Mae
Joshua Jones has no one in the world except a fruit loop of a gran and they live in a tiny city flat so he can’t even have a pet.
When a spectacular creature on a seven-day visit from Jupiter offers to be his houseguest during its Earth stay, Josh thinks his luck has changed. His nothing life is about to become awesome.
His celestial visitor eats frozen peas and crossword puzzles, answers questions with questions and is invisible to everyone except him. That should have warned Josh to expect the unexpected.
But soon Traveller will be gone and Josh’s life will be back the way it was… or will it?
Picture book, Illustrated by Veronica Rooke
What makes a friend special?
Join Koala and a delightful menagerie of Australian creatures to celebrate the many way in which friends brighten up our days.
Playing the clown to turn frowns into smiles…caring and sharing… sticking around in sunshine and storms. Life wouldn’t be the same without friends.