Write Links member Samantha Wheeler, author of Smooch & Rose talks about being a children's author and her newest junior fiction novel, Spud & Charli, published by UQP.
Interview by Yvonne Mes.
I loved Charli's character, her insecurities and fears are easy to relate to. Still, Charli does not let anything stop her, her determination and inquisitiveness serve her well (when they don't get her in trouble), and of course there is that love of nature, and in this book, for horses in particular. Hmm, was this a case of 'write what you know?
Yes! We have three horses at home, and I was shocked to hear all the rumours surrounding bats and the spread of Hendra virus a few years ago. It gave me the idea of writing a story about a girl who jumps to conclusions when she only knows half the facts. I loved writing Charli, she reminds me a lot of me when I was her age- bossy, a bit of a tom boy, and never really one of the in-crowd (my mum always knitted my jumpers, how uncool was that?). And writing about horses was so much fun. I remember being so scared of them, but now I know they are just over grown dogs.
You write Junior Fiction, what is it that appeals about writing for this age group?
I enjoy the pace and the action in Junior Fiction. I loved adventure and animal stories as a kid, so now when I write them, I feel just like a kid again. A further appeal is sharing the stories with young readers and seeing their faces light up! Young readers are so honest compared to teenagers and adults.
What is your background, how did you get into writing?
Funnily enough, my background is in science. I loved English at school, but my dad told me there was more money in science. So I studied Agriculture, and taught science and biology in high school. Writing has been a big sideways leap. I started a few years ago when I was spending a lot of time at home with my special needs daughter, and needed an outlet to keep my brain busy. I did a writing course at QWC (The Year of the Novel) and have been addicted ever since.
What do you think are the main challenges children's writers face?
The market for Australian children’s writers is a particularly tough one. As a newcomer it’s hard to get shelf space in bookstores, where a lot of large series and big names (Enid Blyton, Andy Griffith) fill the shelves. The marketing is fierce, and as its often the parents and grandparents who make the buying decisions, they tend to go for books and authors they know.
And how do you deal with these challenges?
I have to be brave and do more marketing of myself and my books than I ever thought I would (or could). That means turning up at book stores, libraries, schools and introducing myself, and asking for signings, offering book marks etc etc. I get a lot of inspiration from self published authors like Caylie Jeffries and Nicholas Lochel, who do all of the above, with smiles and charm. My local store says that you haven’t made it as a children’s author until you have a row of at least five books on the shelf. Two down, three to go! I’m getting better, but marketing is definitely not my strength.
Would you like to share anything about your upcoming books?
Before Spud & Charli was released, I was working on two new children’s stories. Both of them are now with UQP under consideration, so we’ll see what happens. One is a story about a boy and two cassowary chicks up at Mission Beach, the other is about a girl who can’t talk. I love both the stories for different reasons. The cassowary one because its more along the ‘animal’ line that I have become known for writing, and the girl one because it’s a story close to my heart. In fact it’s probably the story I wanted to write all those years ago and didn’t realise it. It’s very important that I get it right, so I want to take my time and really polish it.
Congratulations on receiving May Gibbs Trust Fellowship! Was that the first time you applied for a fellowship, grant or residency? I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences in Adelaide after your complete your residency.
Thank you! Yes, this was my first year of applying for things, and I was thrilled to receive the May Gibbs Trust Fellowship. (Although my family are a bit panicky about who will feed the pets while I’m away). I also applied for an Arts Council Grant, and a Varuna residency, but I didn’t get either of those. It’s crazy how much every ‘no’ jolts your self esteem, so a ‘yes’ was very welcome. I have been jotting down plans and ideas since receiving the May Gibbs call, but the list seems more realistic for a year’s residency rather than a month. I wonder if they’ll extend …
Have you got any tips you would like to share with children's writers working hard towards publication?
If you love writing, and your mind is always buzzing with your characters and your story, then that’s the absolute best part of writing. The rejections hurt like hell but the thing that keeps me going more than anything is to keep telling myself I’m writing for myself. Like I’m learning yoga … not for anyone else, but for myself. Remember to love writing, and then anything else that happens will just be the icing on the cake.
I really love that last piece of advice. Thanks for answering our questions and we are looking forward to reading more of your stories!
We finish of with a picture of the group of Write Links members cheering Samantha on for her launch at Riverbend Books and a picture of Samantha and her daughter, who is very pleased that Spud & Charli is dedicated to her.