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Category Archives: Spud & Charli

Ebola, Lyssa, Hendra? Don’t believe everything you hear

How are you enjoying the news at the moment? Sick of media beat up? ISIS, G20, Ebola Virus? Me too! My media filter is mostly pretty good, but sometimes … enough is enough.

Here’s what got me cranky. A story a week or so ago in news.com.au

Lyssavirus fears as three bitten by infected bats

The story explains that: “THREE NSW residents were bitten or scratched this week by bats carrying the potentially fatal lyssavirus­. One was a wildlife worker, one a veterinarian and one a member of the public.”

Potentially fatal – yes. But no-one died, right?

Oh, but don’t worry, if that didn’t scare you, this will: “In the past month, 32 people required ­rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) following high-risk exposures to ­potentially infected animals.”

Disaster! Rabies, here in Australia? But then you read a bit further and discover that “only five of those people reported “local” bat exposures, while the remaining 27 people had animal bites or scratches while travelling overseas.” So, the people exposed were mostly affected by animals outside Australia? Mmm, that’s not so scary is it?

Oh yes, it is scary. Scary enough that the reporter is thrilled to report that, luckily, a “shoot-to-kill bat policy has been approved targeting nuisance colonies that drop faeces, shriek next to homes and schools and bombard farms.” And, wait for it “An anti-bats package will give councils outside metropolitan areas extra powers to move on nuisance flying fox ­colonies.”

Oh thank goodness! An anti-bats package. That’ll do it. I mean, bats are terrifying! We’re all at risk, 3 people were scratched weren’t they (2 of whom work with bats)? Because, as the environmental minister says in the article:

People’s health must come first!

So, is this the plan? We get rid of all the nasty, scary, annoying bats, save 3 people from getting scratched while doing their job, and then we all die from malaria and the effects of global warming. Because, Environment Minister, micro bats eat mosquitoes (the worlds biggest killer), and mega bats pollinate rainforests (which help balance carbon emissions). Without bats, far more than 3 people’s lives are at risk! Isn’t it time we got our priorities right?

Since the release of my second book, Spud & Charli, I have been spreading the word about bats and how crucial they are to the environment. Ugly, noisy, smelly … yes, but if we want a healthy planet (and we do, don’t we, Environmental Minister?) – crucial.

Please do your bit. Help me and other animal lovers diffuse the media beat up that feeds on scare tactics. Be informed, and understand the truth behind crazy media stories.

Full news article

Worlds deadliest animals

A cup of tea with Louise Saunders

 

Louise saundersA few weeks ago, Louise Saunders was kind enough to spend the afternoon with me to talk about bats. With my new story Spud & Charli, about bats and Hendra virus, due out in September, I wanted to make sure I had my facts right. Louise has been a bat carer for over 21 years, and was so impassioned by bats, that she founded Bat Conservation and Rescue Qld. http://bats.org.au

So, Louise, what happened 21 years ago that turned you from successful artist to bat carer?

I went on a Batty Bat Cruise around Indooroopilly Island and fell in love with the bats. When the organisers said they were looking for more bat carers, I offered to raise one. One soon turned into many…

But, aren’t you scared of catching a deadly disease – like Lyssavirus?

BatNo. As carers, we are trained to handle bats properly, and we always take the right precautions. I have been bitten by an infected bat, but because I am vaccinated, I am still okay.

What message would you most like people to receive about bats?

Don’t be afraid of bats. We can live with bats in close proximity without getting sick as long as we don’t touch them. A bat found alone needs help. Report sick or injured bats, don’t touch them, and stay safe.

Louise’s passion and knowledge about bats is inspiring. Here are just some of the amazing batty tit bits she shared with me:

  • One of people’s biggest complaint about bats are their smell. But this comes from their pheromones, not from their poo. The more you stir up a bat colony, the more they will release their pheromones, and the more they will smell. The same goes for noise. The more you stir bats up, the noisier they will become. So, leave bats alone.
  • Bats are capable of pollinating up to 60,000 trees in one night, flying over 100km looking for food. The pollen from flowering Eucalypts and other native trees rubs off on their faces when they feed on the sweet nectar. This pollen is taken to the next tree they visit, spreading the genetics across many kilometres. So, bats are making forests while we sleep.
  • If bats are annoying you, check out the trees growing in your backyard. Introduced trees like Cocos palms produce a lot of sugary fruit, attracting bats to feed in your yard instead of on the native trees. The palm fruit isn’t good for the bats, and the poo it creates is sticky and smelly. Removal of these trees might solve your problem.
  • Bats not only spread pollen, but they also spread fruit. This is because of their raider/resident behaviour. The “resident” bat is the bat who “owns” the food tree, and will eat while hanging on the tree. The seeds drop close to the tree, which is not an ideal place for a new sapling. However, young “raider” bats flying through the area will duck in to the tree, steal a fruit, and fly away with it. This is an effective way to spread the seed of native trees kilometres away from the mother plant, where, if the conditions are right, they will germinate and grow into new trees.
  • The roosting habitat of the bats is their home. Bat colonies are often formed in Melaleuca wetland areas where the micro climate is perfect to keep them healthy. However, if we remove these vulnerable wetlands (and we do), the bats look for other less suitable places to roost. These may be in parks or schools or your backyard. These roosts are unsuitable, for us and for the bats. They have no way of keeping cool in these new roosts, and can often die in their thousands when the temperature soars over 43 degrees. So the trick is to leave the natural roosts alone.

Fllying batHere is what Louise had to say when she was interviewed by Sixty Minutes after their segment on Lyssavirus. http://www.batsrule.org.au/batsrule-helpsavewildlife/2014/3/9/extra-minutes-australian-rabies-interview-with-louise-saunders-bat-conservation-and-rescue

Bats are incredible animals, and according to Louise, probably the most important wildlife in Australia. After 34 million years of evolution, they have hardly changed, and the worst thing we can be is ignorant. Learn more about bats, and be amazed!

Here are some websites I found useful:

Batty Boat cruises, through Wildlife Queensland

Bat Conservation & Rescue QLD

All About Bats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the year has flown …

signing a bookA year ago this month, a book with my name on it hit the shelves for the first time. Although Smooch & Rose didn’t fly off the shelves like Hillary Clinton’s new book (100 000 copies in the first month), it has done well for a first time author published by a small publishing house in Australia. I thought I’d use this space to reflect on the year gone by, answering 10 questions to explore whether being published has met my expectations.

Was seeing ‘Samantha Wheeler’ in print a dream come true? No, it was completely nerve wracking. I’m not being modest. I could hardly bear to open the package when I received my two ‘advance copies ‘. I held them in my hands, but couldn’t open their front covers for about a week. And when I did, it was like every word was wrong. It was as if it hit me for the first time that people, people I didn’t know, would be reading my story. Those nerves (peaking at my book launch) stayed with me for about three months, until I started doing school visits, and saw I wasn’t a fake. Children genuinely loved the story. That’s when I relaxed and finally allowed myself to feel proud of my very first book.

What has been the biggest joy? Connecting with readers. I’ve met lots of passionate kids, some barely older than seven, who, declaring Smooch & Rose their favourite book, plan to be wildlife carers when they grow up. I’ve heard of fridges with Save the Koala posters, schools doing fundraisers for koalas, and I’ve met many kids who love to write, inspired by the great books out there.

Did a first book bring any other ‘firsts’? Yes. I had my first radio interview, my first article in the Courier Mail, my first invite to speak at a Writer’s Festival. My first royalties pay check, however, is still to arrive …

What has been the biggest frustration? Probably the difficulty in getting local books into bookstores. Walking into a QBD or an Angus and Roberston with a huge stand of Enid Blyton books, (who’s fabulous, don’t get me wrong), when there are so many great Australian writers not on the shelves.

What’s been the hardest thing? Not comparing myself to others. Facebook in particular makes it hard for anybody these days not to feel inadequate. Some one somewhere is doing it bigger and better. However I’ve got better at travelling my own journey in the last two months, and think this quote helps sum up how I feel.

Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing. Melinda Haynes.

And how about reviews? Initially I sweated on a three and a half star rating vs a four star one, and read all sorts of meanings between the lines, but now that I’ve met so many kids that loved Smooch & Rose, I don’t feel so worried about the ratings. The belief in my story has to come from me, not from others.

Advice for other writers still hoping to be published? It might sound weird, but my advice would be ‘celebrate the writing.’ The true joy in being a writer is the writing. Being published is just the icing on the top.

Was it hard to come up with another story after Smooch & Rose? I’ve always got a million stories zooming around in my mind, and the worst part is trying to get them to wait in line. But settling on the next story to follow Smooch & Rose was difficult. I tried way too hard and completely complicated the story. The editing was huge. My third story was probably easier to write than my second.

Has  life changed? Yes, I think life has got busier, and I spend more time on my computer, mainly due to edits, website updates, that sort of thing. I probably spend about the same amount of time writing, and thinking about writing as I did before Smooch & Rose. I still find myself avoiding the word ‘author’ when people ask me what I do.

Any new skills developed along the way? Thanks to Peter Ball at QWC, I now know what an author platform is, but I’m still no expert. I’ve learnt how to tweet and to load pictures on to Facebook. I’ve also learnt how to be more confident when asking people questions for research. People love the idea of helping when it comes to books.

So, overall, an amazing, rollercoaster year. Can’t wait to see how it feels to have a second book on the shelves, with Spud & Charli out in September. I hope it’s a whole lot less nerve wracking …

 

Yes … I do my own stunts.

writing spot So you thought writing was for bookish types? People who like to sit in front of a computer with their uggies on – day in, day out? Or perhaps you thought writing was for stay-at-home mum’s who have run out of Mills and Boons and are looking for something else in life?

That’s where you’re wrong.

Penning a great story involves hours of planning, internet roaming, library stalking, book reading, sleepless nights and copious cups of tea or coffee – depending on your weakness. Until finally sitting down in front of the laptop, fingers poised, mind racing, it’s time to start that great new story. Exciting stuff. Definitely not for the faint hearted, or nerdy types prone to hovering in the aisles of your local library.

We writers are adrenalin junkies!

That’s right, writing involves adrenalin. Lots of it! Not dissimilar to high risk sports like white river rafting and base jumping. But the adrenalin of writing doesn’t begin with the first brush of the keystrokes. No, the excitement has started well before that, during an event loosely called research! And doing research means, in my case, that new Hollywood trend, doing your own stunts.

Bats in trees from ShelleyFor example, how else would I find out about deadly bats* for my newest story, Spud & Charli?  Yes, that’s right, I had to tromp through a bat colony myself, trying to ignore the smell, the noise, the mossies and the risk of getting any number of the infamous bat viruses that the media believes are rampant in all bats.

All in the name of research.

Then there were the cassowaries. Braving the bats was nothing compared to tackling cassowaries. They’re not listed as the world’s most dangerous birds for nothing. Have you seen the size of those giant claws? I could have been ripped to shreds in seconds – that is if I’d actually seen a wild cassowary **.

And I assure you, it was only for research, that I braved the wilds of Ecuador to get up close and personal with the famous Galapagos tortoise. Those babies were massive! Slow moving I know, but easily able to crush a girl with one giant death roll.

100 year old plus some

So, I’ll leave you with this thought. Harlan Ellison is quoted as saying “Anyone can become a writer … the trick is to stay a writer … ” I think we all know what he’s saying, right?

To write is to live on the edge.

 

*Note to readers: the author of this blog is prone to exaggeration. The bats were not actually deadly. Very few bats actually carry Lyssavirus or Hendra virus, and seeing as she didn’t touch any, and wasn’t bitten or scratched, she is unlikely to have been in any risk.

** Perhaps we should clarify … the author thought she heard something like a cassowary, while visiting the rainforests around Mission Beach, and although she wasn’t 100% sure it was one, she ran like the clappers back to the car. She will be unlikely to admit this, even if hard pressed.

Jumping to conclusions

BatThe idea for my new story, Spud & Charli came about when the Hendra virus crisis was at its peak, in 2011. This deadly disease, spread by flying foxes, had left four people dead, along with many horses. The fear among us horse owners was raw: both for our horses and for ourselves. The dearth of misunderstanding and rumours filling the media had us all jumping to conclusions.

 So, what are flying foxes?

map of batsLouise Saunders, bat guru, explained that bats are divided into two important groups. micro bats (which eat nasty insects that spread disease), and mega bats, bigger bats that can fly very long distances. The term flying fox refers to 4 mega bats that live in Australia. There are the Spectacled flying fox, the Little Red, the Grey Headed flying fox, and the Black flying fox. These bats like to eat fruit, and are important pollinators of our native forests. When however, we disturb their roosts, or plant delicious fruit trees in our backyards, they can often become a ‘pest’ by hanging out with us in the burbs.

And what is Hendra virus anyway?

According to the CSIRO: Hendra is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is able to move from animals to humans. It is closely related to the Nipah virus, which does not exist in Australia, and the evidence to date shows Hendra can be transmitted from flying fox to horse, from horse to horse and from horse to human.

Fruit bats show no sign of illness when infected with Hendra, although when they shed the virus, it is highly virulent. In fact, Hendra has been described as one of the most virulent viruses in the world.

How do you know if you have it?

Hendra causes a range of symptoms in horses; which are typically fast acting and death comes rapidly from either respiratory or neurological symptoms. Of horses infected with Hendra, 75 per cent die as a result of the virus. Horses found to have Hendra are typically euthanized to minimise any further spread of the virus. While the transfer of the virus from horses to humans is rare, four of the seven human cases since 1994 have resulted in death.

So, should we be scared of bats?

grey horseMany people campaign to remove bat colonies, using disease scare tactics to help their cause. None of us want bat poo on our cars and on our washing, nor do we want to be disturbed by their racket at night. But a world without bats would be an ecological disaster. Bats have been around for millions of years, and people like Louise say they are probably the most important wildlife in Australia.

No, instead we need to be bat wise. As horse owners, we should vaccinate our horses. As home owners, we need to avoid planting introduced plants that will attract bats to our backyards. And as responsible adults, we need to report sick and injured wildlife. Never touch a bat, even a dead one. Leave it to the experts.

Most importantly, we need to be informed. Find out more about bats and what they do for our environment. You will be amazed! Don’t let media scare tactics fool you into jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Useful websites:

All about Bats

Bat Conservation & rescue Queensland

Wildlife Queensland

CSIRO

In the business of selling

Capalaba signing small sizeI’m very fortunate to have a fabulous bookshop near me, which not only stocks good books, but offers great reading advice too. They have been super supportive of  my first children’s book, Smooch & Rose, and of my second, Spud & Charli due out in September this year. I often pop in for a chat, and make sure I support them too, as good bookstores are getting harder and harder to find.

I asked them 10 questions about book selling, and this is what they had to say …

How many books do you sell in an average week? Between 500 and 600. (Wow that’s a lot: more than I thought to be honest). 

Which would be your most popular genre of book? Crime Fiction and Kids books. (Mmmm, I thought it would be cook books. Weren’t they all the rage?)

What age group are the most prolific book buyers? Adults (Figures). 

How many new childrens’ books enter the market a week?  There is a lot going on a month in regards with kids books. We only see a small percentage that come through to the Australian market, but to give you an idea in the UK and US there are thousands of new publications every month. Bookshops in Australia don’t reflect the full range that is published monthly. 

How long do you keep a children’s book for before you send it back unsold? Approx 3 months. 

06/12/2013 FEATURES: The Year My Life Broke by John MarsdenWhat sells a kids book? Is it the cover, the way it’s positioned on a shelf, or do the children/adults come in asking for it? A bit of everything: cover, price, well respected author and a good display is always a winner. 

Do adults come in and choose books for children aged 8-12, or do children come in and choose their own books at that age? A bit of both, word of mouth between the kids at school help them to know what is good and what is popular.

How many people ask for your recommendation and go on that alone? About 6 out of 10 (Wow, that’s a lot! So it’s good to get to know your booksellers and keep up a good relationship with them.) 

Is price a problem for many of your customers. Eg: do they think they want a book, but then put it back because of price? (in your opinion?) Yes, price is a major factor in the buying process.

 

going on a bear huntWhat has been your bestselling children’s book ever? Best ever, Going on a Bear Hunt.

And has there been one which has surprised you?  The Wonkey Donkey was a big surprise for us: it sold heaps.

wonkey donkey

 

 

So there you have it folks. Just in case you were wondering … that’s how it works on the cold face.