In the morning, when I went outside, I saw lots of Tasmanian Devil paw prints. I decided to follow them and see if I could find their den.
I walked for a long, long time. Tasmanian Devils travel far!
Once in a while a wallaby (a smaller kangaroo) would pop its head up. As soon as I said "hello" the wallaby would run away.
I found a big hole in the ground. could it be a Tasmanian Devil den?
Then I heard a noise in the bush- and out came a big, old wombat.
I could tell it was his den. So I moved on.
Then I came upon some thick brush. Surely, a Tasmanian devil might like it in here.
Someone peeked out their head.
It screamed at me. Yes indeed, it was a Tasmanian Devil- and just a baby!
I was surprised that a baby would be so loud and territorial. I moved back several feet and the pup ran back into the den.
I sat down and drew my experience, but I could hardly capture the excitement.
I wondered if there were more pups in the den.
I wondered if they all cuddled up together, like marsupials do- even scary screaming ones!
And as I drew sketches I wondered- Where was their mother?
Were the pups alone?
Was the mum out getting food?
Or- was she maybe sneaking up behind me?!
Then I wondered if the mother wasn't coming back- maybe she was hurt, or caught in a trap, or hit by a car out on the road some three miles away.
What if these pups were all alone? What would they do? That's when the idea for a story began to come to me.
I waited a long while, but it was obvious that the Tasmanian devil pup was not going to show again. I moved down to the foreshore to let him be. I made some more sketches and the idea for a story was coming to me fast now- what I needed was a Beginning, a Middle, and an End.
I went back to the fishing shack to do some writing.
By the time I got back to the shack it was night time and a big full moon lit the ground. I went into the shack and made myself a meal, then sat down to work. But then I heard noises- scratching noises, maybe from outside the shack....or under the shack. I wondered what might be causing the noises. Could it be that a Tasmanian Devil was right under the floor?
I had heard stories about Tasmanian Devils- about how they sometimes got into houses...and fishing shacks. How they might run around, get into the food, even take things like aluminum foil, toothbrushes and even (I am not kidding) clothes!
What if they got into the shack tonight while I was asleep and raised a ruckus?
Wow- what a great story that would make! I could call it NASTY DEVILS!
But then I remembered other stories I had heard. Stories about how timid Tasmanian Devils really were. And how the pups needed to feel each other near them and how they curled up with their mum to sleep.
I also remembered watching the Tasmanian Devils over the last few nights, and I remembered how cute the little pup was that I saw earlier that day. Really, Tasmanian Devils were not that scary. They were just struggling to survive like everything else on our planet. And sometimes people caught Tassie Devils in traps, to get rid of them- poor Devils!
And the Tasmanian Devil pup I saw earlier- was he alone in the den or were his brothers and sisters in there, too?
Where was their mother?
Did the pups miss her?
How long would he and the other pups wait in the den for her?
What if they left the den alone for the very first time and went to look for her?
What if they came around the my fishing shack to find her?
The more I wondered "What if?" the more ideas came to me for my story.
Eventually the scratching noises went away. Whatever animal it was, it was more scared of me above the floorboards than I was of it, below the floorboards. And no Tassie Devils trashed the shack that night.
For the next few days, I went out with my small field sketchbook and painted the landscape and animals I saw. Then it was time to go back to my Melbourne studio and try to put the story together.
Back in my Small Street studio, I wrote out a very clear Beginning, Middle, and End. Then I wrote out my story as quickly as I could, with as much energy as I could. It was full of mistakes and misspellings, but all I wanted was to get the story out of me in a logical order.
Then I began my rewrites- correcting every flaw I could find, then looking for better and best words, and finally, trying to use fewer words.
When I felt I had done the very best I could do (and rewritten it about 20 times!), I sent it to my editor at Philomel Books.
My editor liked the story! Oh, she had plenty of suggestions about how I might make it better, and I still had some rewriting to do- but I had a story. Next, because I am both a writer AND an illustrator, it was time for me to figure out what art I would like to make for each page. So I made hundreds of sketches.
After several weeks of drawing sketches, I selected the ones that worked together best and copied them, then pasted them into a practice version. I made many practice books, as you can see here.
Finally it was time to actually make the finished paintings. First, I roughed out the drawing, then I roughed out the colors, then I took several days to build up the paint.
And finally, once each painting was done, I took a photo of it, scanned it into my computer, and tried out some type styles on it. You may not know this- but the words are not on the finished painting- they are put on later, when the book is printed.
When writing and sketching LITTLE DEVILS I stayed in Tasmania four different times over four months. The finished paintings took me eight months. So the whole book took me an entire year to make. I hope you think it was worth it!
Oh, and here is a picture of me with Big Stanley.
Enjoy LITTLE DEVILS!