If you could receive any gift from any children’s author or illustrator, what would it be and who would it be from?
I was finding it really tricky to come up with an answer to this one until I realised all the authors and illustrators whose books I’ve read and enjoyed over so many years have already given me the most wonderful gift of all: their stories. What more could I ask?
Finish the sentence… “I love… where I am in my life now. Every day I have the freedom to choose what I do, so I spend time with those who mean most to me, play with words and ideas and take frequent pauses to enjoy sunshine, bird song and the flowers in my garden.”
What has been the loveliest feedback you’ve received from a fan?
Not exactly a fan, but one of my critique group partners made me feel all warm and fuzzy when she wrote this on my manuscript: ‘I’m beginning to think you have bottles of delight and whimsy in your office and you sprinkle them on your stories because your stories are always delightful and whimsical.’
Have you ever received any feedback on your books that reduced you to tears? What was it?
My first attempts to become a published children’s author as a young and totally inexperienced writer were far from promising. The response from one publisher to a picture book submission was devastating. According to their reader’s report, my stories lacked original plots and ideas. The themes were hackneyed, I’d shown no fresh insights into old situations and my stories did not exhibit an imagination powerful enough to reflect real experience credibly. I cried floods of tears. If I wasn’t a writer, what was I? The well-meaning man in my life dared to suggest I find another ‘hobby’. I knew that wasn’t an option so I kept writing. Two years later my first children’s story was accepted for publication in a magazine. I’ve kept that publisher’s letter from 1977 and once in a while I read it to remind myself how far I’ve come as a writer…and how different my life would have been if I’d given up my dream as a result of this one response. I should add that the reader was right in every respect about those first three or four picture book manuscripts I’d submitted. I had a lot to learn!
What is the most heart-rending book you’ve read?
There’s a scene in a novel I read recently that touched me deeply and had me reaching for the tissues in my bedside cabinet. It’s towards the end of Australian author Nicola Moriarty’s Paper Chains. The blurb describes the novel as ‘a heart-warming story of love, friendship and forgiveness – and the crazy twists of fate that shape our lives.’ I found Moriarty’s writing warm, funny and insightful. I won’t give anything away about the scene that moved me to tears except to say every word of it has been lovingly chosen. It’s beautiful.
Which of the stories you’ve written is closest to your heart? Why?
My younger daughter was about three and we were tucked in bed for afternoon naptime when she asked me, ‘Who dresses God?’ Apparently she’d been having a conversation with my mum about God and was mystified that this higher being she couldn’t see, could see her without eyes, speak to her without a tongue and hear her without ears. She also wanted to know, ‘Who looks after Him?’ I answered her questions the best I could and thought no more about it until a few days later when a story came to me, like a gift. It almost wrote itself. A few early offers to publish it fell through and it stayed in my filing cabinet until a few years ago when I decided to have illustrations done for Who Dresses God? and release it myself. The little girl who wanted to know the answer to this question is now a mother and her nana is no longer with us but the book they inspired will always have a special place in my heart.
What’s not to love? It’s fun coming up with kid-friendly ideas and sifting and sorting words to find the right way to put them together. I love that being a published children’s author is my passport to sharing the wonder of books with young people. And I love it after a session when a child comes up and says, ‘I’m going to go home and write a book.’
If you could collaborate with any author or illustrator, who would it be? Why?
Karen Blair. The illustrations in her books Baby Beats and Baby Animal Farm are so sweet. She has such a gift for capturing the moods of very young children and I have several unpublished picture book manuscripts I think her style would suit perfectly.
Teena, I thank you with all my heart for the gorgeous interview! 💖
Teena Raffa-Mulligan is a West Australian author, editor, guest speaker and workshop presenter with a lifelong passion for books and writing. She writes whimsical and quirky stories for children of all ages and her publications include poems, short stories, picture books and chapter books. Her most recent publications are True Blue Amigos (Wild Eyed Press), Catnapped! and Best Beast (Xist Publishing).