Today on Behind the Pen, I am delighted to welcome multi-genre author, Monique Mulligan.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I have always been a writer – journalist, editor, book reviewer, blogger, curricula writer, training package writer … the list goes on. It’s always been part of who I am. It’s part of my need to live creatively, a need that comes from deep within. And I’ve always written, in one way or another.
But it was in 2015 that I decided it was time to stop waiting for One Day and to tell Self Doubt and Perfectionism to get lost (they didn’t listen – still working on that). Being a writer means accepting that self-doubt will be a constant companion, even when it’s silent.
I started by writing a short story, which was Highly Commended in a competition, and then found myself writing short romances, and a novel. It took a while to convince my husband that this was not going to be “just a hobby” – oh, the “discussions” we had about that! Now that I’ve had two picture books and a few short romances published and I’m working on a second novel (I’m looking for a home for number one), he’s accepted it and has turned out to be a terrific person to run ideas past.
Now I know that I write because I’m meant to. Because I have things to say, things to share, and words are my tools. And while I can’t imagine not writing now, here’s the thing: it has taken years to become the writer I want to be. To stop letting self-doubt and perfectionism drown my dreams. For, even when I finally seized the gift of words and gave them full rein, I still had doubts. But I’m getting stronger.
What is your favourite character from one of your novels and why?
This is actually harder to answer than I thought it would be. At the moment, it’s Jane, the narrator of my WIP, Wildflower. She’s 10 years old and her insights into life sometimes make me laugh. Jane’s a curious young girl who finally has a best friend, but is realising that her friend’s life may not be all that wonderful. It’s essentially a coming-of-age story, set in the late 1970s, with a focus on exploring the “boys will be boys” phrase and the older societal belief that you mind your own business – even if you know something’s happening that is not right.
What is your favourite scene from one of your novels and why?
I have lots! But the one I like at the moment comes from Wildflower, when Jane and her best friend Acacia are being teased by boys, and Acacia’s summing up their behaviour at the end. I can’t tell you what it is yet!
There’s also a funny scene in my first novel, Wherever You Go, involving a lemon tree, a goose and a chase.
And I can’t go past the nuclear-style climax in my picture book Fergus the Farting Dragon.
Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do you go about making time for your writing within limited hours?
I have a part-time “bread-and-butter” job at an arts centre (part of my role there is to run a Stories on Stage programme, which I founded in 2012, so it puts me in contact with lots of terrific writers). I am also co-owner of Serenity Press, so I fit that in two days a week. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time for my own writing! I have to wake at 6am to write before work, and often Sunday afternoons are my writing time, but this takes commitment, especially when I don’t feel like waking up.
I’d love more time for my own writing, but the reality is, I still need to work and bring in an income and my books aren’t doing that yet.
What inspired your most recent novel?
My work-in-progress, Wildflower, started as a short story. At the time, I was compelled to explore the ideas of domestic violence and how people often turn a blind eye – especially in the past. A manuscript assessor told me it would make a terrific novel or novella, so I’ve taken that on board, and a deeper story is now emerging, one that draws from my childhood, in terms of era, and one that is distinctively Australian.
Here’s my one-sentence summary: A young girl learns how far families will go to protect each other over an endless, simmering summer.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
Here’s what I’ve learnt about myself as a writer: I don’t like to plot or plan too much. Sometimes I write notes and ideas and then craft them into sentences, paragraphs of scenes later; sometimes I write part of a scene and save that for later. I don’t write, write, write as fast as I can just to meet a word count.
I write to-do lists but not plot outlines or character studies – I’ve tried. It doesn’t work for me. I like to plan my life ahead (mostly) but my stories and characters develop organically. I don’t like writing dirty drafts … but in the morning, I get more done if that’s exactly what I do.
In Serenity Press’s Writing The Dream anthology, I described the way I write as such:
Creative writing is like cooking a meal for loved ones: choosing the best possible produce, mixing ingredients, adding seasoning to taste and a dash of love, and plating it up with flair.
Strangely enough, I can churn out newspaper articles and non-fiction at a fast rate, but not fiction. Essays for uni also took me a while because I was aiming for High Distinctions. I can write blog posts quickly. Is it because I set myself a higher bar for creative writing or writing for examination? Probably.
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
It’s hard to pick one – Anne of Green Gables, Enid Blyton books, The Secret Garden, the Chronicles of Narnia – I loved all of these and still do. As a child, reading was my escape and I’ve never lost that love. I have to read every night before I go to sleep.
In Writing the Dream, I wrote about how being a reader was my training ground for writing and still is. I read books now partly for enjoyment but also to learn more about how writers do things – I work out what I like, what I don’t.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
I’m currently reading a lot of fairy tale and folklore books, both fiction and non-fiction. This is for my own interest, as much as for research as a publisher/editor (we are publishing a number of fairy tale collections, beginning with one from Kate Forsyth called Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women).
So, on my bedside table I have: From Beast to the Blonde and Once Upon a Time, both by Marina Warner; The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang; and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (I’m reading it again).
If you could write a letter to your teenage self, what would be your main piece of advice?
I did this for Jenn J McLeod a while back. Here’s a snippet:
“You were born to be a writer, just as your English teacher said. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself and tell Self Doubt to take a walk in someone else’s park. Make friends with other writers. Don’t waste precious time hiding your stories in drawers or waiting for the right time. Make that time.”
You can read the whole letter here: http://www.jennjmcleod.com/author-monique-mulligan-writes-a-letter-to-her-younger-self/
How has being Australian AND a woman impacted on your writing and/or writing career?
As an Australian, it influences my writing in terms of description and landscape – setting is important to me and I hope that in my words, people get that sense of place. As a woman, it’s affected me in terms of my belief that I had to put everyone and everything first, aka One Day, before I could focus on writing. You know, raise my kids, get them through childhood and then focus on what I wanted to do. I couldn’t conceive of how I could do both – it’s like I valued creativity less. I studied – I completed my degree while raising my sons, but to focus on something non-essential (to me), I didn’t let it happen. But I didn’t resent it. It was my choice. Just as it is my choice to write now, when it was right for me.
You can follow Monique and find out more about her books at the following places:
Under Her Spell
Writer Oliver Pendall has enough on his plate working on the set of Multiples, a clone movie based on his bestselling book. All he wants is time to write his next novel, but when he meets the bubbly but disconcerting Kaylie, life as he wants it is turned upside down and inside out. Kaylie’s on-off behaviour has him all hot and bothered, and the more he tries not to think about her, the more he falls under her spell.
But Kaylie’s not his usual type and Oliver’s words are as tangled as his emotions, setting the scene for near-miss that could break more than one heart. Will Oliver see what’s right in front of him? Or will he leave it too late?
Light-hearted and funny, Oliver and Kaylie will make you laugh, smile and tingle all over.
Available in print from Serenity Press or eBook from Amazon, iBook, Nook and Kobo.