Samantha Wheeler’s new novel for younger readers, Spud & Charli, is an action-packed adventure about horses, bats and getting carried away by your imagination. Does your imagination ever run wild? Charli is at riding camp, where her dream is about to come true – she will finally learn to ride a real, live horse. But when show-off Mikaela picks the horse Charli wants, her heart bungees to her toes. Instead of the beautiful palomino Razz, Charli’s stuck riding the massive retired racehorse Spud. And what about the bats that fill the night sky? Don’t bats spread deadly diseases? Riding camp isn’t turning out the way Charli planned, especially when she finds herself in the middle of a life-threatening disaster. A horse owner herself, Samantha Wheeler felt inspired to write Spud & Charli as a result of the misunderstandings surrounding the transfer of the Hendra virus between bats, horses and humans. These misunderstandings have led to many horse owners, like herself, questioning the safety of their horses and themselves. ‘We have three horses on our place, and a vet from the practice we use unfortunately died from the virus, sparking much speculation and fear. I wanted to capture this fear and show how misinformed rumours can cause more harm than good,’ she says. The more recent controversy surrounding bat colonies in the suburbs also planted a seed for her novel. ‘Bats are largely misunderstood and, as a result, are often unfairly persecuted. No-one wants smelly, disease-ridden animals in their neighbourhood, but actually, bats are essential for the health of our environment. They do more good than harm, since they pollinate our rainforests, and very few of them carry disease. I wanted to write a story that would show we can live with bats, rather than being scared of them,’ she comments. Younger readers will delight in this heart-racing story. Charli’s determination to save Spud will keep readers turning the pages long after bedtime.