When I was a cadet journalist, one of the first interviews I did was with a local journalist who had just published a children’s picture book about stranger danger. I visited her in her home, not far from where I grew up, and she told me about how she came to write the book, and why it meant so much to her to see it published. A short while later, we were working in “opposition”, at competing local newspapers, and then colleagues on the same paper. She was always a delight to work with — and against! We saw each other periodically over the next couple of decades, as our paths crossed and recrossed. In 2015, Teena’s was the first familiar (smiling) face I saw at an event to guage interest in a writers’ group in the Rockingham area, and the two of us again had a common interest as we became inaugural committee members for Rockingham Writers Centre, extending into the Friends of Rockingham Arts Centre, where the writers’ group was based.
Teena is one of the hardest working writers I’ve met, one of the kindest people I know, and incredibly generous in her willingness to help others to achieve their dreams. She juggles an assortment of fiction, non-fiction and poetry projects from week to week; facilitating a blog that includes guest posts by fellow writers, illustrators and other creative types; editing books and stories; presenting workshops and writing courses for adults and children; and helping to run a series of events via the writers’ centre. All of these things she does with a positive attitude, sincere encouragement to others (myself included), and a great deal of aplomb. She is a woman, and a writer, I greatly respect and admire — and whom I feel proud to count among my friends.
Teena also has a couple of new books out with my friends at Serenity Press, including a children’s picture book in collaboration with gifted illustrator Veronica Rooke, who is currently working on the illustrations for my picture book. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know a little about Teena through her responses to my questions, and I hope you’ll follow some of the links at the end of her guest post, so you can find out a little more about her.
Q. Teena, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I write poems, short stories, picture books, chapter books and novels for children and recently started a flirtation with romance, which I’m rather enjoying. Working with words has been my business and my passion throughout my adult life.
These days I’m retired from journalism, but I find myself busier than ever writing my own stories, doing occasional proofing and editing for other authors and looking after the Australian Children’s Poetry blog and my own In Their Own Write blog.
Whenever I have the opportunity I also present author talks and workshops for people of all ages to encourage them to write their own stories.
I don’t have a disciplined work routine. At this stage of my life I prefer to let things evolve in their own time – though I can still work to deadline if required. My writing day usually includes a meandering walk along the beach path with The Man around the House and our dog Chloe, along with some time out to watch a TV show, read a book or chat with friends. Did I tell you I love my life?
Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?
A. I’m a bit of a butterfly so it’s rare for me to be working on one project at a time. There are always multiple works in progress, plus plenty of ideas brewing.
At the moment, I’m flitting between a middle grade novel about a kid who finds an alien object and begins changing colour and a romance about a single mother with a secret whose past comes back to haunt her seven years later.
I’m also working on a special project that is close to my heart. When my dad died in 2010 he left me all his spiritual writing ‘to do with as I saw fit’. I published three books several years ago and I have another six in production that I hope to release by the end of this year. I edit and format them for production as e-books and POD paperbacks.
Then there’s the ‘how to write’ book for kids and the kids’ book about a dramatic rescue that I’ve wanted to write for years…you get the picture!
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. We have a small bookcase in the lounge, a full-size bookcase in one of the back bedrooms and a bookcase in my office. Plus there are always a couple of books on my bedside cabinet.
We don’t have a lot of books now. When Dad died it was such a huge job to clear out my parents’ house where they’d lived for half a century so I committed to keeping things relatively simple at our place from now on. We’ve moved on boxes of books as part of that process. These days I don’t keep novels. Once I’ve read them they’re passed on to the next person. I never reread fiction — there are too many wonderful stories I’ve yet to read.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. My bookshelves are fairly organised according to genre. The bookcase in the lounge is for our photo albums and big books. Not surprisingly, my office bookcase holds my writing craft books, copies of my published titles and sales stock; and the big bookcase in the back bedroom is for all our other books. It’s also where I store my memory box, hard copy manuscripts, assorted photos that should be in albums, and the various bits and pieces I use when presenting creative writing sessions.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. Spiritual and self-discovery titles (I started reading them in my teens), how-to art books because I’m a wannabe artist, general fiction on the to-read shelf, and a selection of children’s books that I use when I’m presenting writing workshops.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. I’m totally addicted to reading and will read anywhere and everywhere. As a kid I would hide myself away in Dad’s parked car in the driveway so I could read undisturbed. These days I can often be found curled up with a book in the armchair by the window in the lounge, tucked snugly into bed on a wintry day or out on the back patio in the spring sunshine.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’m reading Natasha Lester’s Her Mother’s Secret. I read A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald and found I couldn’t put it down, so of course I wanted to read Natasha’s new story. Essentially it’s a love story that spans the decades. I’m particularly enjoying the insights into early 20th century society and the attitudes towards women.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. Anita Shreve, Jodi Piccoult, Barbara Erskine, Joanna Trollope, Liz Byrski, Sheila O’Flanagan, Monica McInerney, Susan Lewis, Julia Cameron, Dani Shapiro, Natalie Goldberg…the list could go on indefinitely. 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.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. This is too hard! I’d need at least a small suitcase to carry my special books, including about a dozen Krishnamurti and Paul Brunton titles, and of course a copy of each of my published books.
If I have to make a choice, I suppose it will be The Happy Children, a beautiful hard-cover edition of my dad’s account of growing up in Fremantle as the son of Italian immigrants. It’s an important part of my family story.
Then there’s We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn, presented to me when I participated in a Youth Speaks for Australia competition at the age of 15. My English teach selected me to enter, I wrote my speech and practised it before the class and got off to a great start when I took to the stage. Suddenly I realised I had a roomful of people listening to my every word — and completely dried up and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this.’ At the end of the program, the judges asked if I would like to have another try. I did and successfully completed my speech to enthusiastic applause. Of course I couldn’t win, but was presented with the book. I’ve kept it all these years because it reminds me it’s OK to falter and stumble; what matters is picking yourself up and carrying on. It’s interesting to think that after this dubious public speaking start I’ve gone on to present countless talks and workshops to people of all ages and always welcome the opportunity to share my passion for books and writing.
Finally, I’d take a little book called Mister God This is Anna by Fynn, a magical, warm-hearted, moving story about a remarkable six-year-old with surprising powers of perception.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. Mary Poppins. That was my nickname during my local newspaper days and a sprinkle of magic never goes astray; Julia Cameron, whose books The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write opened a new perspective for me on the creative life at a time when I was struggling to ‘be’ an author; and the Bronte sisters (it would be rude to invite only one).
Find out more about Teena at the following links: