Tuesday, 14 April 2015

In Conversation with Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Today we welcome the passionate and creative Aussie children's author, Teena Raffa-Mulligan!
Tell us a little about your writing journey.

I grew up in an English/Italian family, surrounded by natural story tellers whose tales about their lives captured my imagination. Once I learnt to read, books opened a wonderful window into the world of make believe and I decided at an early age to become a writer. I also wanted to be a ballerina so I thought I’d write novels in the dressing room between performances while travelling the world. Reality woke me from the dancing dream but I didn’t give up on the ambition to become an author and began submitting short adult fiction and poetry to publishers in my late teens. When I became a mum at the age of 21 and began sharing books with my small son I realised I wanted to write for children. The path to publication wasn’t easy and a spate of rejections at the start prompted me to take a detour into journalism and that became a successful career.
I continued to write for children in between family and work commitments and my short stories and poems began to appear in magazines. My first published book was a stranger danger picture book that was endorsed by the West Australian police and education departments when it was published in 1982 and used in schools around the country. I thought I’d made it as an author but it was 15 years before I had my next two picture books published. My short stories and poems were regularly appearing in magazines and anthologies during that book publication drought and that was enough to keep me going as a writer.


What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

Playing with words and following ideas to see where they take me. In my imagination I can be anyone, go anywhere and do anything.

What is the hardest aspect of being a writer?

Finding publishers! The writing is easy in comparison. Obviously you have to craft the best story you can but once you feel certain you’ve done that, it’s a case of having the right story land on the right desk at the right time and sometimes it can take years for that to happen. Fortunately persistence is one of my character traits.

Writers are sometimes influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Are you?

Yes. My picture book Big Nanna Little Nanna was directly drawn from my experience of growing up with English and Italian grandmothers, while a question from my then four-year-old younger daughter inspired Who Dresses God?, a picture book based around a conversation between a mother and child on their way to kindergarten. It’s inevitable that who we are and what we experience will influence our writing, either obviously as with these two stories or on a more subtle level. What I tend to do is take a simple incident or comment from everyday life and embroider it until it becomes something quite different.

Tell us about your publications?

My newest picture book is True Blue Amigos, illustrated by Barrie Smith and published by Wild Eyed Press. It’s a rhyming tale about friendship and belonging. Blue the red kangaroo takes her Mexican friend Pedro the Chihuahua on a tour around Australia. After their exciting adventure, it’s up to Pedro to decide on a place to call home. The book is available from the publishers www.wildeyedpress.com.au/ and various tourism centres and gift shops around the country.

Catnapped, a beginning chapter book, was released in October by US publisher Xist Publishing. When Jenna’s Nanna Horgan wins Lotto, not everyone agrees with how she plans to spend the money. A couple of teenage crooks think building a special home for cats would be a waste of Nanna’s millions so they decide to nab her beloved cat Oscar and hold him for ransom. It’s available from the publishers http://xistpublishing.com and Amazon.com http://amzn.to/ZtpxVQ

What is the most surprising thing about writing/publishing you have learnt?

It’s still work even if it’s your passion. In my earlier years as a writer I wrote only when I was inspired and the words flowed effortlessly onto the page. I thought my life as a writer would always be that easy. I didn’t know there would be times when the words wouldn’t come and I certainly had no idea about the level of learning involved in writing for a market. 

Other than writing what else do you love?

Reading. I’m totally hooked on books and love losing myself in stories. I also love flowers, birdsong and the ocean in all its moods. Top of the list though is my family. I love spending time with my husband, three adult children and their families.

What would your dream location for writing be?

A cosy stone cottage in a sheltered seaside location. The bay window in my book-lined study would frame views of the ocean and when I needed inspiration I would amble down the winding path to the rocky shore, perch on my favourite rock and listen to calls of sea birds and the song of the wind. 


Five words that sum you up.
Enthusiastic, optimistic, creative, caring, persistent.


How can we learn more?

Twitter: @TraffaM

Thanks so much for being on the blog Teena. I too grew up with an Italian great-grandmother who was my most favourite person in the whole world!


  1. What an entertaining interview. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and having a peep into someone else's background to writing.

  2. It was a pleasure to read this interview that lost none of its charm despite offering a realistic and down-to-earth snapshot of a writer's life. Over the years I have bought a number of Teena Raffa-Mulligan's books for my child and can highly recommend them. They are informative, utterly entertaining, beautifully written and always heartwarming.

  3. A beautiful interview. I love the way the warmth of Teena's personality comes through in the subjects she writes about. I have several of her books and they are truly delightful. She is a naturally gifted writer without any pretentiousness.

  4. A lovely interview. Very nice to meet you, Teena.

  5. Thank you for your lovely comments, Anna, Nora, Gyps and LD. A big thank you to you too, Melissa, for giving me the opportunity to share a little of my writing life. Dreaming big and reading often is a practice I happily share with you. Without books and dreams, our lives would lack a little magic.