Devils in Danger by Samantha Wheeler

Devils in Danger by Samantha Wheeler

Writing Devils in Danger, published by UQP, 2021

I was in Tasmania a few years ago on a fund raising walk for the Wilderness Society. We were spending 7 days in the Tarkine, an area of pristine wilderness where I hoped to see plenty of Tassie wildlife. We saw wombats and potooroos and then one day, as we set off down a narrow scrubby path, I saw a tiny footprint in the sand. Tiny like a newborn baby’s print. Definitely not a wombat, something smaller. But what? Later I spotted a funny looking dropping, full of bones and hair. A Tassie Devil? l was so excited, I spent the rest of the trip looking for more signs of devils -but I didn’t see a thing. Not even a tail.

When we returned to Hobart, I asked everyone about Tassie devils. Apparently, they sometimes denned underneath suburban houses, making a terrible racket. I was immediately hooked, imagining how fantastic it would be to have a family of wild, endangered animals living right under my house. But what if I was the only one who thought that was cool? Other people, my mum, for example, would be horrified.

I flew back to Queensland with the start of a story; a family of devils living under a house and the neighbours up in arms. I spoke with founder of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, David Pemberton and with the staff at the Bonorong Sanctuary and Unzoo, learning things like Tassie Devils give birth to a hundred babies but only raise 3 or 4. And that they are dying from a deadly facial cancer that spreads from one devil to another, killing over 80% of some populations. The best part of the research was meeting some gorgeous devils but the saddest part was learning a cure for the cancer was still a long way off.

As usual with my stories, the plot took some work, but with my passion awakened, and a feisty protagonist called Killarney in place, I was determined to finish the story. I sweated over a believable ending, how could we save the devils, until I discovered that scientists had noticed an unbelievable turn of events. The devils were fighting the cancer themselves! With some natural genetic changes, surviving devils were breeding immune devils that wouldn’t get the cancer. Fantastic news. After a few hiccups getting people to accept devils, Killarney and her off-sider, computer geek Noah, and her super supportive parents must just have a happy ending after all.

Samantha Wheeler (photo credit Jack Venables)

Devils in Danger is the sixth of my Middle Grade wildlife stories published by UQP, and you’d think each one would get easier. But I still struggle to get the right mix of adventure and science to best represent our wildlife. Luckily my hard work is rewarded ten times over with the response from my readers. Environmentally aware and determined to help, today’s young people have a zillion ideas about animals and how we can help them, and offer fabulous suggestions for future books. It is such a pleasure to write stories for such an eco-engaged audience.

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