A Place to Belong: Behind the Book Article by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

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Teena Raffa-Mulligan‘s description here, of both her family history and her journey to publication are as touching and meaningful as the story itself. Solo Dan refused to be forgotten. As Teena’s manuscript bounced from publisher to publisher, it eventually found its forever home. How fitting! Hope you fall in love with Teena’s story just as much as I have…


Behind the Book: Solo Dan

Daniel, the boy in my newest picture book, Solo Dan, has never had a place to belong. He bounces from one home to another, like a ball no one can catch. He makes out he’s okay with that, for families can be too much trouble. His shadow is all the company he needs. Behind the bravado, though, is a deep longing to find a home he can call his own.

It’s a story about hope, love and belonging. Interestingly, I didn’t set out to write about those themes. Dan’s story came to me in a dream. I woke with the feeling that I knew him and how he felt, yet his experience was so different from my own.

Young Teena, her brother and parents in fancy dress

I grew up in a loving family surrounded by a whole tribe of relatives: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. There were always people coming and going at our house and Mum loved animals and birds, so we had a cat and a dog or two, plus an aviary of budgies and canaries in the backyard. On more than one occasion she rescued tiny birds that had fallen from nests in the trees in our backyard, lined a cup with cotton wool and fed them with eyedroppers till they could be released to make their own way.

Mum’s parents left England in the mid-1920s, bravely venturing into the unknown to farm the South West of Western Australia at a time when there were no roads through the bush, no community amenities and accommodation at first was tents or tin shacks with dirt floors. What a shock that must have been for my gentle grandmother after London’s shops and bustling crowds.

Conditions were better for my Italian grandmother, who left Sicily to make her home in Fremantle after marrying a friend of the family, a man she barely knew. My grandfather, a fisherman, had come to Western Australia earlier with some of his countrymen and now that he was settled, wanted to establish his own family in a country that offered a brighter future.

Neither woman ever returned ‘home’, so their own growing families were the centre of their world. From my earliest years, family has been all-important to me. Perhaps Dan’s story came from that place in me that recognises our universal need for a sense of belonging, of feeling like we have our own special place in the world.

I woke from my dream that long-ago morning, reached for the notebook beside my bed and jotted down the first version that began, “I don’t have an uncle. I choose not to.”

As with so many of my publications, Solo Dan took a long time to be the right story on the right desk at the right time. An early version was published as I Don’t Have an Uncle in The School Magazine in August 2003, five years after I wrote the first draft. Before arriving on the desk of Jennifer Sharp at Daisy Lane Publishing in February 2019, it gathered a grand total of 44 rejections and underwent many minor and two major rewrites following feedback from publishers. Twice it reached acquisition meetings only to be knocked back and I gave up seeking publication and focused on other stories.

Dan’s story refused to be forgotten. After Jennifer accepted my picture book When the Moon is a Smile, Solo Dan popped into my mind as a possible fit for her list. Although her call-out at the time was for romance, I sent her a picture book manuscript as well as a romance novella…and she accepted both!

The timing was right to share a story about a boy who wanted his own forever home.

Takeaway tip: Don’t write off your manuscript because you’ve had a string of rejections. Stay open to feedback. Keep developing your skills as a story teller. Craft your story to the best possible standard. Be alert to opportunities and keep submitting. One day your manuscript might land on the right desk at the right time and the response will be an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

 

Teena is a reader, writer and daydream believer. She writes across genres and her publications include picture books, chapter books, novels, short stories and poems. Her writing life has also included a long career as a journalist and editor.

Follow Teena Raffa-Mulligan at these links:

Website: www.teenaraffamulligan.com

Website for readers and writers: https://intheirownwrite.com

Facebook | Instagram

 

Follow Kym Langfield at these links:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Solo Dan is available for purchase at Daisy Lane Publishing | Booktopia


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