When I had the opportunity to talk at length with Teena Raffa-Mulligan at W.A. Authors’ Day at Just Add Passion in Stoneville a few weeks ago, I was totally intrigued by her resounding knowledge and passion for reading. Teena is a breath of fresh air and her enthusiasm for reading sparkles with every word she shares.
Teena is a reader, writer and daydream believer with a lifelong passion for books and writing. Her first published book was a stranger danger tale for young readers that was endorsed by the West Australian police and education departments of the day and used in schools around the country. Teena writes across genres and has published more than a dozen children’s books, a romance novella and many short stories and poems for children and adults. She shares her passion for books and writing by presenting talks and workshops to encourage people of all ages to write their own stories. Her writing life has also included a long career as a journalist and editor.
It is with much pleasure I share her Confessions of a Readaholic.
Confessions of a Readaholic
by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
I’m a writer who is addicted to reading. I was well and truly hooked from an early age, with an insatiable appetite for stories.
In those days, growing up in a working class family with little money for extras, I wasn’t surrounded by books. Stories, yes, for my expanded English-Italian family was rich in natural story tellers who readily shared tales about themselves and their lives and they had a wide-eyed listener in a small girl who knew even then that she wanted to be a writer one day.
A gift from a school-friend stands out vividly in my memory. I kept my promise not to open it until Christmas morning, but my fingers itched to tear away the paper wrapping of what I knew was a book. That copy of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was treasured for years.
The small primary school I attended had a single bookshelf as a ‘library’ and I quickly worked my way through the entire stock. We were taken by bus every fortnight to the public library in ‘town’ and I loved this outing, revelling in the opportunity to explore the shelves upstairs in the children’s section. My favourites from those days were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, E. Nesbitt’s Five Children and It and The Railway Children and of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. What Katy Did also struck a chord, as did books by Elizabeth Goudge.
I also went to the library with my Dad and while he selected books I found all sorts of interesting things to read. Enthralled by the true-life mysteries and ghost stories intended for an adult audience, I would usually find myself unable to sleep for days afterwards. On weekends, I’d tag along with him to the tannery in Fremantle where he worked so I could sit in the car and read undisturbed. Dad had a bookcase in the lounge room that he’d bought before he married Mum and his ‘library’ also fascinated me: science, philosophy, the spiritual writing of Paul Brunton and Krishnamurti. There was also a Richards’ Topical Encyclopaedia set that provided many hours of enjoyment for my younger brother and me.
Mum wasn’t a reader, having had an interrupted education due to so many family moves and then leaving school at 13 to get a job. She was often frustrated at how difficult it was to get me to take my nose out of a book long enough to help with household chores. In later years, however, she took great pride in my small successes as a writer and kept cuttings of many of my early newspaper articles.
My high school English teacher encouraged me in my writing aspirations and also introduced me to the pleasure of reading science fiction. I became a big fan of John Wyndham and later the dragon fantasies by Anne McCaffrey before moving on to DH Lawrence and Guy de Maupassant in my early twenties.
Books have been constant companions throughout my life – on a first date to a football match; to the beach to pass the time while my boyfriend surfed; even to the Labour Ward at the maternity hospital, where the matron was rather taken aback to see me calmly reading a novel when the birth of my daughter was imminent.
My family was served many burnt offerings because I was at the stove with a book in one hand and a spoon in the other, or in another room finishing ‘one more chapter’ before I checked what was happening to the spinach pie in the oven.
I can’t get through a day without reading. Anything will do: books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, emails, labels on bottles and cans. My nightly ritual is to read a couple of chapters of a novel last thing before I go to sleep, however I will often tuck snugly into bed on a wintry afternoon to finish a gripping page turner. Other favourite reading spots are the recliner chair in the lounge near the front window, enjoying spring sunshine on the patio, or on the deck out the back overlooking the grove of trees frequented by all manner of birds.
My reading spans a wide range of genres including suspense, psychological thrillers, women’s fiction, historical sagas, rom-com, biographies, inspirational non-fiction and personal development. Some of my favourite fiction authors are Anita Shreve, Jodi Piccoult, Barbara Erskine, Joanna Trollope, Liz Byrski, Sheila O’Flanagan, Monica McInerney and Susan Lewis. When I find an author whose work I enjoy, I will read every book by that author. I keep discovering new and exciting books and authors. As a writer, I’ve been inspired by Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write, The Sound of Paper), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), Oriah Mountain Dreamer (The Invitation, What We Ache For), and more recently Dani Shapiro (Still Writing).
I used to berate myself over the countless hours I’ve spent reading during my life. If I’d put all that time into writing, I’d have produced so many more books and stories. Now I realise what an important aspect of my development as a writer all that reading has been. By reading other authors, I’ve learnt how to structure my own work, write convincing dialogue, develop interesting characters, inject emotional depth and include tension and conflict.
Reading has been a wonderful way for me to increase my knowledge about all manner of subjects. It’s opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, of perceiving my world. And I bless the person who invented glasses so that despite my visual impairment I am able to read. And I bless all the many authors who have filled my life with such an enriching experience.
I’m definitely hooked on reading. But it’s not an addiction I want to cure.
You can learn more about Teena via the following links:
Blog (writing tips and author insights): https://intheirownwrite.com