AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Samantha Wheeler
Samantha Wheeler is not just a great author, but also a really lovely person, and a wonderful writing guide as well. Sam presented a workshop on plotting at the 2017 Greenleaf Press Writer's Retreat late last year (I highly recommend the retreat), and I picked up a HUGE array of helpful tips from her.
With Sam's latest book just released, I thought now was the perfect time to sit down with her for a Q&A to find out about her writing processes, inspirations, latest project, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explore?
Turtle Trackers is about Isaac and his mother, who manage a small caravan park near Bundaberg in Queensland. The summer holidays are in full swing, and Isaac is busier than ever with chores around the park. But when he visits the nearby turtle conservation park at Mon Repos, he witnesses first-hand the incredible journey that sea turtles undertake in order to survive.
Desperate to volunteer as a turtle tracker, Isaac must find a way to balance his responsibilities at the park and his new-found passion. Turtle Trackers is about friendship, perseverance and taking a risk to make a difference.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
Two things inspired me to write Turtle Trackers. The first was a newspaper article about foxes destroying turtle nests on Stradbroke Island in SE Queensland. The destruction led to members of a local wildlife group taking turns to sleep on the beach to keep the foxes away; a dedicated move indeed.
I had thought I’d set the story on Straddie, until my mum and dad convinced me to catch the Tilt Train from Brisbane up to Bundaberg with my eight year old niece to join them on their caravanning holiday. Mum mentioned she’d booked us on a turtle tour, but I didn’t really think too much about it. When we arrived at the caravan park, it was quite run down, a long way from the turtle centre, and very very windy! But Mum and Dad were so thrilled we had joined them, so I muddled in, and we set up camp.
The beach was a bit too windy and choppy for swimming, but when we wandered down late that afternoon, we saw a big green turtle waddling up the beach! My dad went nuts with the camera, and we kept our distance, but the turtle didn’t seem to mind that we were there.
What really struck me was how wide and distinctive her tracks were – so specific to a turtle rather than any other creature that may have ventured on to the beach. And then of course there was the actual turtle tour!
Seeing my niece’s face as we crept along in the dark, hearing her whisper in excitement, and having her small hand cling tightly to mine: it was wonderful. Not to mention the privilege of seeing wild turtle hatchlings poke their heads up out of the sand to discover our world for the very first time!
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?
I hope younger readers will empathise with Isaac, who longs to spend his holidays doing what other children do – swimming, hanging out with friends and watching the cricket on television. Instead, he works long hours so that he and his mum can continue to live and work at the park.
This text is well suited to independent readers in the middle grades, but is also an excellent choice for a class-based literature study, as it addresses important themes such as responsibility, action, conservation and relationships.
Do you have a favourite children's book (or top three) you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
My favourite three books as a kid were ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell, ‘Harry the Dirty Dog’, and ‘My Naughty Little Sister’. My favourite character was probably Pollyanna – remember her? So positive all the time!
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?
My biggest challenge for most of my stories is deciding what the story is about. It takes so many drafts to work this out whereas I wish I could just plot it out in one go and it would be perfect! I think I just dream up too many ‘problems’ and then try and squeeze them all in.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?
My biggest tip is be prepared to take advice and don’t be too precious about your writing. What you see in your head is often very different to what you have written, so be prepared to be flexible with your edits.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?
Absolutely! I’m very excited to be editing a story about a girl who can’t talk. Told from her point of view, the story explores how it might feel to be aware of everything around you but not be able to communicate your thoughts or needs. The story comes out with UQP in September and will be for upper primary, lower high school students. I can’t wait!
(Kellie's side note - this sounds so intriguing Sam! I'm looking forward to reading it!)
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book? For example, questions to discuss or ponder, activities to complete etc.
Sure. Here are a couple of questions from the Teachers Notes. There are heaps more in the notes, available for free from UQP’s website.
· Isaac has many responsibilities at the caravan park. How does this compare with the chores you are asked to do at home? Discuss the impact Isaac’s chores have on him. If you were Isaac, how would you feel about these added responsibilities?
· As you finish each chapter, take note of what you have learnt about turtles, including their behaviour and the obstacles they face. Use the following inquiry questions, or develop questions of your own as a class, to guide your research:
o How are different species of turtles distinguished from one another?
o How do turtles use light? How do campaigns like ‘Cut the Glow’ help turtles?
o What is the life cycle of a turtle?
o What dangers in oceans and on beaches impede the survival rates of hatchlings?
o In what ways does human behaviour affect turtles?
o What are some ways that humans can change their habits in order to help turtles?
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I cried so much in the first five minutes of Bambi, my mum had to take me home. I was an animal fanatic even back then.
(Kellie's side note - I'm with you on that Sam. I've never seen Bambi precisely because I know I would be a blubbering mess! I also put off watching Dances with Wolves for decades until a friend convinced me to watch it - bad advice. I was sobbing like crazy soon enough!)
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Persevere! And be patient. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. Say yes to everything and be nice to everyone.
What about a favourite word or quote?
I’m addicted to tea, so …
“You can never have a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”. C.S Lewis
You can follow Sam on Twitter at @SamWheelz, and on Facebook and Instagram at SamanthaWheelerAuthor.