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We’re back with the fabulous Teena Raffa-Mulligan to discuss more on her latest YA novel, Monelli & Me! Have you ever wondered how an author such as Teena, who writes across genres, adapts and shifts mind set to suit writing style and target audience? Does this require careful plotting? What is the process of character development? So many questions! Teena answers them all, plus more, below! 🙂
You consider yourself a ‘hybrid’ when it comes to writing. How have you managed adapting to things like your writing technique, the writing preferences of critique partners, and research into your target audience when alternating between genres?
I focus on the story I’m telling at the time and how to write it for the particular age group or genre falls into place. For the past 14 years I’ve been in a critique group of multi-published authors who offer me wonderful feedback and constructive criticism on everything I submit, whether it’s a picture book, a MG novel, a romance or women’s fiction. We meet every 4-6 weeks and submit work for critiquing a week ahead of time. I’m in SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) and participate in WIP rounds at our annual Rottnest retreat, plus I have the opportunity to have critiques from other members. My daughter-in-law Monique Mulligan is also an author who writes across genres and she’s always happy to offer me feedback. The only market research I do is reading: I’m a bookaholic and read an eclectic mix from picture books to psychological thrillers, so that keeps me up to date with what’s being published in various genres. I also read everything I can about writers and writing. You could call me a tad obsessed about everything to do with books.
I’m not a plotter. I have an idea, a few characters and an overall concept. Then I just start writing and see where the story takes me. Kate’s story began many years ago as a play for my teenage daughter and her cousin who had joined the local theatre company. It was never produced and sat in my filing cabinet for years before I decided it might be worth turning it into a YA novel. Both begin with Kate answering a phone call from the father she doesn’t know about and realising those she loves most have not been honest with her. As I transformed the play into a novel, the story changed, mainly because I was more experienced as a writer and could see areas where the first version didn’t work. Along with plot changes there were changes to the title and the characters’ names. Some of the characters in Monelli & Me weren’t in the play, and there are more layers to Kate’s story in the novel. What didn’t change along the way was the conclusion to Kate’s story. I always knew what her decision would be – but not how she’d get there.
Your main protagonist, Kate, is a strong-willed young woman desperately trying to navigate confusing and life changing developments in her self-identity. Although a fictional character, are there elements of her personality or experiences that you personally relate to?
Like me in my long-ago teen years, Kate’s the ‘good girl’ at home and at school, shy with boys, self-conscious about her looks, eager to be liked and accepted. She sees herself as tiptoeing rather cautiously through life, whereas her best friend Lisa strides boldly ahead. Kate reacts to the upheaval in her life in ways she never thought herself capable of, and I’ve seen that in myself. Sometimes events bring out behaviour in us that we didn’t expect from ourselves. Kate’s experience of uncovering a family secret about her parentage is purely fictional and has no connection with my life. I grew up in a close, loving, traditional family unit of Mum, Dad, younger brother and me and had a strong sense of belonging and acceptance from my earliest years. I like to think my children have had that too.
What main premise do you want readers to take away from reading Monelli & Me?
Keeping secrets might feel like it’s in the best interests of everyone concerned, but ultimately the truth will come out and that will have consequences. However, far from being seen as a reminder that ‘honesty is the best policy’, I’d like Kate’s story to leave readers feeling confident that strong family connections and a sound sense of self can help us to deal with whatever life throws our way.
What are your favourite YA books to read? Did you draw inspiration from any of these when writing Monelli & Me?
A few favourites that come to mind are A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. No, I can’t say I drew any inspiration from any of these titles, but they did make me wish I’d written them!
What tips can you share with authors in regard to presenting at conferences and workshops?
- Be clear about what’s expected of you in regard to topic, session time, audience numbers and presentation format.
- Find out where you will be presenting and what facilities will be available.
- Be prepared. Do what you need to do to feel comfortable about giving your presentation. Draw up an outline of your talk and jot the main points on some small cards to jog your memory on the day or prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Practise at home. Organise handouts and any props or activity materials. I find a small wheelie luggage case perfect for packing everything I need on the day, plus books for sale.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to travel to the venue. Factor in set-up time. Make sure you have a contact number ready to call if you are unavoidably detained on the way to your presentation.
- Be prepared to ‘wing it’ if the event doesn’t go according to plan. There’s no guarantee against technology failures, storms, flooding, or air-conditioning breakdowns, not to mention an eleventh hour venue change from the city library to a local school’s outdoor assembly area with a whole-school audience instead of one class.
- Most importantly, be yourself. Not everyone is a natural performer. Tell jokes and be larger than life if that’s your style. Otherwise, share your story and your expertise simply and honestly.
My next release is at the other end of the scale from YA! It’s a picture book called Solo Dan, illustrated by Kym Langfield and scheduled for release by Daisy Lane Publishing in November. It’s a story about hope, love and belonging. Orphan Dan has never had a place to belong. He bounces from one home to another like a ball no one can catch. He’s okay with that. Families can be too much trouble. His shadow is all the company he needs. Or is it? Perhaps what he really wants is a forever home.
Thanks so much for your time, and truths, Teena! 😊
Monelli & Me can be purchased through the following links:
Ebook – https://books2read.com/u/m2VZer
Teena writes quirky, whimsical books for children and her publications include picture books, junior fiction and MG novels. Her short stories and poetry for children and adults have appeared in magazines and anthologies and she has also worked as a journalist and editor on a diverse range of publications. Monelli & Me is Teena’s first novel for YA readers.
Follow Teena at these links:
Facebook: Teena Raffa-Mulligan Author
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