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Thanks to our teachers

Can anyone make a difference?

I’ve been privileged these last few weeks to speak in some local schools about koala conservation while talking about my book Smooch & Rose. What a delight it has been! I have attended koala consevation meetings and read articles about the rapidly falling numbers of koalas in SE Queensland, and I often find myself in a state of despair about the fate of our furry little friend. But after my recent school visits, a tiny ray of hope has broken through the gloom.

Welcome sign from Redlands State SchoolNot only have the students I’ve visited been well informed and enthusiastic about wildlife conservation, they are encouraged to embrace this passion by their wonderful teachers. When I ask students about what is killing our koalas, they know the answer. Habitat destruction, disease, dog attacks and car fatalities. Over 16,000 koalas have been killed in the last few years, which is way too many. Students as young as seven have great ideas about how to prevent these unnecessary deaths and they are confident and optimistic with their views.

This confidence comes from great teaching.

So thanks to the teachers and parents of our next generation. Thanks to you, I am starting to feel hopeful that our koala may have a future. If the students I’ve met these last few weeks are any indication, standing up for Australia’s favourite icon will be second nature to them. They haven’t lost their way about what is important and as one boy put it, ‘we need koalas because they make us happy’. Yes they do. Like many things in nature, koalas can’t be quantified in dollar terms or by a list of their useful products. Koalas make us happy and our children’s children need to have them in their lives.

When I wrote Smooch & Rose, I hoped that the message ‘anyone can make a difference’ would stick. I’m starting to see it will. I just hope it won’t be too late.

What can you do to help?

Koalas should be protected.

I declare this book … launched!

Sam and Michael Gerard BauerNerves jangling. Cup cakes iced (thanks Rachael). Bookmarks bundled up and interstate visitors collected. Several outfits later, (it was an unseasonably hot night and the previously chosen dress was too hot) and then … it was time!

The launch of Smooch & Rose!

Koala cupcakesBeautiful Krysi, from Riverbend Books, made us feel welcome from the start, and the talented Michael Gerard Bauer was very kind with his words of encouragement and praise.  Heart thumping, I looked over the sea of happy faces and felt immensely grateful for such a wonderful opportunity. All those smiles, thanks to books and writing. It was quite an emotional moment!

Smooch?A quick self conscious read of Smooch & Rose accompanied by an explanation of its roots, and lots of thank you’s and it was time to sign some books and chat. Smooch & Rose was officially launched! Thank you everyone for coming and for those who couldn’t make it, thank you for your support.

On Being Edited

Samantha Wheeler's Blog

Image credit: 123RS.

So you need something drop dead gorgeous for the ball? Something to really impress? You don’t go shopping with hubby … he’d rather be watching the footy right? And you don’t take your mum … she thinks you look great in everything. The reverse is true for your teenage daughter. She thinks you look terrible in everything. The best person for the job is …your fashion conscious, honest to a tee, girly best friend.

Together you’ll wade through the junk. Discard anything that shows off your nasty lumps and bumps or hides any assets you have left. You pull out the gems from the murky clothes racks and accessorise till they shine. Not too much bling, just enough. By the time the two of you finish, you’ll look divine. You’ll be so proud of yourself, you’ll start to wonder why you had doubts in the first place. And when it comes to the big night, you’ll be divine!

And so it is when you work with an editor.

Unlike your mum, she doesn’t love everything you write. Unlike hubby, she doesn’t get distracted and wander off to check the game score. And unlike the teenager (and some more ruthless critiquing groups), she’s kind and tactful with her comments.

Book with writing

Image credit: 123RS.

That’s not to say at first her comments don’t hurt like hot wax ripped from your upper lip. Sharp and painful, instantly swelling to red. But when the pain settles, you realise – wow, she was right! I do say ‘gasp’ and ‘hug’ and ‘smile’ a million times in one paragraph. And I do have too many physical reactions all centred around the heart.

And like your girly best friend who just told you your boobs looked flat in that, you need good advice. Just as you don’t want to arrive half baked at the ball, you don’t want your book to arrive in the hands of your readers half written.

Personally I loved being edited. Smooch & Rose was a much longer book when I first showed it to the publishers at UQP, and with their help I cut it virtually in half. That meant not only half the word count, but half the characters and half the sub plots too.

But what I loved the best was finding out about my habits and micro-writing style. Not using the same word again in the next sentence seems so obvious, but is something you miss when editing yourself. Using repeated physical reactions is another habit I was glad to have corrected. And then those movements and feelings that seem obvious to you, but aren’t to anyone else. Like where is that character now? Is she still on the floor, or has she got up? She’s been down there an awfully long time!

So if you’re wondering what it’s like to work with an editor, just think of the ball. Wouldn’t you rather be wearing the perfect gown? And really shine when your moment in the spotlight arrives? That’s a big fat Greek wedding dress ‘Yes’ from me!

New to writing? Consider these resources

July 24th

Front coverFor anyone who’s given birth, you’ll know the feeling. Chest swelling. Heart bursting. The unbelievable joy knowing you’ve created something unique, precious and incredibly amazing. And you’ve delivered it safely into the world.

Such is the excitement and anxiety over publishing your first book. (I know: books vs babies… hardly seems a fair comparison, but right now, that’s how I feel.) 

It has taken a little longer than nine months and has required a different process than the quiet warm womb of it’s adoring mother, but nonetheless …

On July 24th Smooch & Rose will be ready to hatch.

Rose and her koala, first appeared in my writing notebook in May 2011 – thanks to Dr Kim Wilkins and the Year of the Novel at the Queensland Writers Centre. I’d started the course with an entirely different story in mind – a pacey page turner for adults with an environmental theme – but it just wouldn’t take off.

“Why are you fighting your voice?” Dr Kim wisely counselled.

That month my homework was to write the blurb for my new story. Jack Russell Lizzie, fuzzy koala Smooch, eleven year old Rose and her stalwart gran arrived on my page, suitcases in hand. Funny how two years later, after much editing and re-arranging, these four main characters stayed pretty much the same.

The story developed between the monthly sessions of YON: plotting, building transition points, fleshing out characters (what was Rose’s biggest fear?), drawing up scene maps, rising to a climax and rounding to a satisfying end, all under the guiding hand of Dr Kim. By the last session in November, the first draft was complete.

Pile of manuscripts

Just a few more edits!

Christmas holidays 2011 was a good time for editing, and I had two wonderful friends read and critique the story. I also paid a manuscript assessor to tell me what the major flaws were and where I could improve. By early 2012, I started submitting. I used the QWC magazine to check for submission opportunities and sent the story off to Allen and Unwin, Walker Books, Harper Collins and Hachette. Harper Collins were enthusiastic: they liked the writing. Allen and Unwin were generous and kind, but the climate was tough and the story wasn’t their type.  

Koala information

Some of my inspiration and research

Then registrations for the annual CYA Conference in July 2012 came around. I still hadn’t found a home for Smooch & Rose so I booked a pitch for another story to Random House, and one for Smooch & Rose to UQP. I hoped my determined Rose would fit with UQP’s list of warm, courageous books. It was the second time I’d pitched to UQP, and their wonderful publisher, Kristina congratulated me on the improvement in my writing since she’d met me three years before (go Dr Kim!). Just as I’d hoped, Smooch & Rose did hit a chord with Kristina, but more than that, some advice I’d received along the way about always being professional, networking, making sure you place yourself in front of the right people, however scary, held me in good stead.  

Sam with advanced copy

Me with the advanced copy of Smooch & Rose

Although much of the writing process was done in isolation, creating the finished product was by no means a solitary act. First there was the editing, which, for the record, is the most amazing process. It really helped me improve my writing. My story was too long for my readers’ age, with too many characters, and I repeated the same physical reactions: a lot! Next came the chapter illustrations and the beautiful cover, thanks to Aileen Lord. Seeing her professional art work was a very exciting reality that my story was going to hit the shelves. Then came author profiles and photos and marketing bits and pieces, all of which have been another part of the exciting journey. 

So, July 24th is a big day. Scary, exhilarating, but a dream come true. Six more sleeps …

For further information check out:

Queensland Writers Centre

University of Queensland Press

CYA Conference