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 across genres and her publications include poetry and short stories for children and adults, picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, romances, YA and women’s fiction. She shares her passion for books and writing by presenting talks and workshops to encourage people of all ages to write their own stories.

1) Who or what inspired you to become an author?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Words fascinated me, stories enthralled me. I grew up in an extended Australian/Italian family captivated by the stories my parents, grandparents and aunts told me about their lives.

From the moment I learnt to read and discovered the excitement of entering other worlds through the pages of books, I was well and truly hooked. I wanted to write stories, too.

2) What has been your journey up to this point?

When I decided to become a children’s author after my son was born in 1971, it was a time of typewriters and snail mail. I was working in isolation without any contact with other authors and while I had a natural gift for story telling I knew nothing about writing for publication. It took me 10 years of rejections before my first picture book was published. You Don’t Know Me? (Darelle Publications 1982) – a stranger danger tale about a tiger and an elephant – was the 27th picture book text I’d written and I’m sure it was the topic that got it over the line with the publisher. The book attracted a lot of publicity, was endorsed by the WA police and education departments of the day and used in schools around the country. After that initial brief success as a children’s author, it took me 15 years to get my next two picture books picked up, though my short stories and poems were being accepted by magazines and anthologies. My biggest challenge was to hold onto my dream of becoming an author in the face of all the setbacks because there were many. Fortunately I am resilient. I continued to write, rewrite and submit my children’s books until some of them became the right story on the right desk at the right time. My list of published titles continues to grow and is now a mix of traditional and indie publishing, with some of my books picked up by small presses here and in the US, others released under my own imprint Sea Song Publications.

3) What are you focusing on right now?

I’m a bit of a butterfly so it’s rare for me to be working on one project at a time. There are always multiple works in progress, plus plenty of ideas brewing. At the moment I’m flitting between a book for primary students on how to write stories, a quirky middle grade novel, a romantic novella and a book about living a writing life for adults.

4) As a child, what was your relationship with books?

I was your typical bookworm, always with my nose in a book. On sunny Saturdays and Sundays I was often hiding away in the parked car in our drive, curled up on the back seat with a book so I didn’t have to help Mum around the house. At home we had only a small collection of books in Dad’s book case in the lounge. There were two sets of encyclopaedias, a selection of books on philosophy and some boys’ own adventure stories. Most of my reading material came from the local library, where we were bussed by the school once a fortnight to exchange the two titles we’d borrowed during the previous visit. I loved those library visits. I also went to the library of an evening with my dad, and while he was selecting his books to borrow, I’d read true-life ghost stories about haunted houses and scare myself silly so I couldn’t sleep afterwards.

5) What is the most important thing about what you do?

I used to think it was reaching readers with my stories. Now I’m more inclined to believe it’s the encouragement, support and practical advice I offer to other writers.

6) What are the challenges you face in this industry?

Finding readers in a flooded marketplace. Dealing with the comparison syndrome caused by social media. Staying true to my creative self.

7) What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?

Write in the way that works best for you. If that means having a nine to five working day five days a week and planning every aspect of your work before you start writing, then do that. If your creativity works best with an unstructured, fluid approach, embrace it. Try to avoid measuring your productivity and achievements as a writer against anyone else’s. The creative spirit is sensitive — it needs a positive environment to flourish, so be gentle with yourself. Explore where your writing takes you and enjoy the journey.

8) What is your definition of success?

When I started out as a writer my focus was on being published. I couldn’t see the point of writing stories that nobody read so having my books accepted by mainstream publishers, taking pride of place in bookshop windows and reaching millions of enthusiastic readers was my vision of success as an author. I now have quite a different concept of success, probably due to age as well as personal experience. Publication still matters to me and a manuscript acceptance or book release is always something to celebrate. I’ll never lose the thrill of receiving that first copy of a new publication. But I’ve realised success is a matter of perception and we’d all enjoy ourselves more if we let go our ideas of what it is and simply did what we do without expectation of outcome. I’m learning not to lose sight of what’s most important – creative expression for the joy of it.

9) What is your ultimate goal?

To live an authentic life without apology or compromise! I like to dream big.