Author Q&A: Samantha Wheeler (Devils in Danger)
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
I absolutely adored Samantha's latest release for middle grade readers, Devils in Danger. Samantha kindly agreed to answer some questions about this book and her writing process - with some very insightful responses.
Devils in Danger
Published by: UQP, August 2021
Eleven-year-old Killarney thinks school is boring. She'd rather be exploring the wilderness around her Tasmanian hometown or helping her hairdresser mum. When strange things start to happen - ear-splitting screams in the dead of night and missing items found under the house - Killarney is too busy solving the mystery to do schoolwork.
Before long she discovers the culprit: a wild Tasmanian devil, denning under the house! When rumours about dangerous devils begin spreading, Killarney is determined to protect her precious visitor. But can she convince an entire town these wild creatures are worth saving?
I love the environmental themes in this book and note that you have previously published novels about Aussie animals. What inspired you to write about Tasmanian Devils?
Thank you! That means a lot! My love of Tassie devils began when I participated in a fundraising walk with the Wilderness Society in Tasmania a few years ago. Early one morning, after sleeping in a rustic cabin near the Pieman River, we walked along a stunning stretch of untamed coastline, thick with heathland shrubs. The sandy path had become narrow and winding when I saw something I’ll never forget. A weird wiry dropping near a set of small unusual footprints. A wild Tasmanian Devil had passed just ahead of us! I spent the whole rest of the walk consumed with thoughts of that wild devil, and how I could write its story.
What was your research process for the facts about Tasmanian devils, that you have woven so skilfully through the narrative? Did this blending of factual details through a fictional narrative come easily or require conscious effort?
I began my research by connecting with David Pemberton from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. David gave me so much information about the problems and future for this incredible species, explaining about the decline of the devil due to the horrible facial tumour and about the insurance populations and current research trying to save them.
Blending the information I learn is incredibly difficult. Dumping big blocks, either as dialogue or as narrative makes reading so boring, so I have to play with this endlessly. Along with my fabulous editor, Cathy Vallance, we try to make any information shared as seamless and realistic as possible. I love all the fact finding: I always learn so much about each animal in my stories, but I don’t need to tell the reader every single thing I’ve learnt.
What was your writing process for Devils in Danger – did you sit down and outline the plot or plan it as you go?
Once I began my research, I was delighted to find that Tassie devils sometimes den under suburban houses, causing much ruckus and concern. It was such a great premise for a story. But what was going to happen next? I tried planning everything out, but it all got a bit corny and I kept getting stuck. So I just wrote until the story began to unfold. At first the plot followed Killarney as she saved the nearby reserve (to give the devil a place to live), but then it became about her neighbours and friends objecting to a devil living in town. In short, I’m a bit of mixed bag: part planner, part winging it and always hoping for the best.
I love the narrator Killarney – who is passionate about animals and protecting the environment around her. I also love her character development in the story. How much of your own personality is injected into Killarney – or is she completely fictional? How did you select her name?
Oh, I’m so pleased you liked Killarney! I just love her. She’s very much like me in her love of being outdoors, but then not like me as I am rather a study-head whereas she doesn’t like school. I wanted to develop an easy-going character (whereas I can be a bit of a worrier) who shrugged off bullies/friendship issues to just get on with the task. And her lovely name… I used to live in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, in a suburb called Killarney. One day while writing Devils in Danger, I was teaching a writing workshop when I met a girl called Killarney. I immediately thought, what a great name for a character!
Along with enjoyment of story, what do you hope young readers will take away with them from reading Devils in Danger?
When I asked what I could do to help the devils, David from the Tassie Devil Program, said the most useful things people could do were the every-day things. Like being careful on the roads, keeping dogs on leads, not clearing trees unnecessarily or using poisons like rat sack in the home. I really wanted to include these messages without losing the flow of the story. It took a few edits to get this right, but I hope young readers will feel inspired that everyone, absolutely everyone can help our wildlife, even if it seems a tiny thing. Everyone really can make a difference!
What other authors of middle grade fiction are you inspired by?
Oh, so many! I just finished We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestead – amazing. I’ve devoured everything by the talented Karen Foxlee, Peter Carnavas, Nova Weetman, Meredith Costain and Allison Tait. I’m also a huge fan of Sonya Hartnett, Catherine Bateson, but also Michael Morpurgo and of course Roald Dahl.
As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?
Oh my goodness! Just one? I’m going to go out on a limb and say a donkey. I have a gorgeous miniature donkey here at home, called Freckles. She is so brave and curious, rather ugly but beautiful, and she has the biggest heart: she makes friends with everyone. So I’d love to be a donkey, just like her.
Thank you so much Samantha for your amazing insights into your writing process for Devils in Danger! I loved the story and characters and it was so interesting to hear how you went about planning this book and blending in the research.
Author Bio: Samantha Wheeler fell in love with animals when, at the age of six, she received a tortoise. She went on to study agriculture, work with dairy farmers and teach science, until writing her first children’s book, inspired by koalas, in 2011. Her books, which include Smooch & Rose, Spud & Charli, Mister Cassowary, Wombat Warriors, Turtle Trackersand Everything I’ve Never Said, have been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards, the Readings Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature and the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Whitley Awards. Samantha hopes her books will encourage everyone to make a difference.
If you want to know more about this fabulous book you can read my earlier review of Devils in Danger here on my blog.
You can purchase your own copy of this book here: