'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Guest Post: Andy Griffiths

Andy Griffiths received the 2015 Dromkeen Medal for his outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Ambassador for The Indigenous Foundation and the Pyjama Foundation, he has spent his writing life creating books that draw kids to reading.

His The130-Storey Treehouse was released to coincide with the Coles Collectables campaign. His current release. The 143-Storey Treehouse will be available in mid- October 2021. We ask the delightful Andy to share a portion of his life with us.

Are you like you seem and write; zany, expressive, obsessive, imaginative?
These are all strong parts of my personality but many people are surprised to learn that I can also be quite serious, thoughtful, ruthlessly logical and extremely hard-working. When I pick up a pen, however, the silly side immediately seizes its chance to come out to play—especially if Terry and Jill are in the room—and the nonsense then flows very naturally. Mind you, when it’s time to edit and rewrite, the other parts come into their own. A lot of the humour of the books comes from logical attempts to solve illogical problems.

What things do you enjoy doing apart from writing uninhibited books for kids to read?
I’ve been a lifelong reader of both fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels and comic books. The day begins and ends for me with reading. I also love walking, running, circuit training and gardening—physical work helps to balance the long sedentary hours at the desk, and also provides a chance for my mind to rest and the subconscious to solve knotty plot problems. Oh, and my other great passion is music—rock, alternative, punk, experimental. I get enormous energy from music, which I think seeps into and powers the writing.

You are a collector. What sort of things do you like to collect and do they show up in your books in one form or another?
I’ll collect literally ANYTHING. It started with a shoe
box in which I kept precious objects such as rocks, bottle tops, the internal workings of clocks, chewing gum wrappers and little plastic toys from cereal packets. Everything is interesting—and a potential story idea trigger—to me. My shoebox has since expanded into a number of fishtanks and fishbowls (without the water or fish!). I also collect odd toys and curios I find in op-shops and bazaars. I will also just pick up stuff I find on the ground while out walking (you should see my road-reflector collection!).

It appears you are deeply in touch with your inner child. How do children react to you at book and school events?
They are sometimes surprised (and occasionally shocked!) to discover that I’m a grown man and not actually a child, but it doesn’t seem to matter. What they pick up on in me—and I in them—is a playful frequency where it’s okay to entertain the most bizarre, silly and topsy-turvy ideas and notions. Even as a child I loved tapping into this frequency in younger children and just saying—and doing—silly things for the sheer fun of it. As a result, my talks are often riotously funny events that seem to be verging on out-of-control (especially if Terry is on stage as well!). We love provoking and stirring the kids up and celebrating the wild—and often very funny—possibilities of the imagination.

The 143-Storey Treehouse will be released in October. For how long do you feel that the extensions could go on, and will the foundations hold up?

Well, given that it’s imaginary, it could of course continue growing forever with no problem at all. Terry and I are committed, however, to challenging ourselves to keep each book fresh and not fall into recycling story or level ideas. But we did start with 13 storeys and each book has 13 chapters so, by the logically illogical logic of the treehouse I’m guessing 13 books might be the exact amount.

Do you keep blueprints of the ever-growing treehouse?
Not really. It’s more a dreamlike structure that shifts and changes with the requirements—and additions—of each new book and what’s going on with the story. It’s more of an organically evolving idea—a feeling of freewheeling possibility—than a carefully plotted out structure.

Many adults are drawn to your books with the same anticipation that kids are. Do you accept responsibility for this?
Oh, totally, and I’m very happy to hear that. We don’t write down to the children—we write as children (there’s a big difference)—and as such we are writing in the first instance to entertain ourselves. Terry, Jill and I all have to be happy with an idea for it to be right. If any one of us is not happy we’ll work until we are. Our long experience writing books for—and running events with—children gives us a very good intuition on whether a particular idea will amuse younger readers as well, but as I said, we are our first audience and we are well aware that parents, teachers and booksellers will be reading the stories with the children. A good children’s story should be able to speak to children of all ages!

Can you share with us one personal thing about yourself?
My birth name is Andrew. When I was little I couldn’t say, ‘Andrew’ so I called myself ‘Noo-Noo’. My friends at school called me Griff. And when I started writing books, I changed my name to Andy. Okay, that’s FOUR personal things.

You have worked successfully with Terry Denton for many years. How alike/different are you, and how do you both sustain the relationship?
Like the characters of Andy and Terry in the books we are similar in some ways and quite different in others. For instance, Terry can draw and I can’t. I like to plan things out and Terry prefers to just go with the flow. I like to listen to punk rock when I work—Terry prefers classical music. I achieve my humour through the rigorous misapplication of logic—Terry seems to do his thinking free-associatively through the process of drawing. When we get together, though, we are both very similar in our love of creative anarchy, surprise and extreme silliness. We tend to bring these qualities out in each other very strongly—with Jill there to help guide us from getting too far off the story track. We’re like brothers I guess. We just love playing with words, pictures and ideas.

How do you define success and what does it mean to you?
One of the most important measures of success for me is whether something I write is something that only I could have written. Likewise, when Terry and I create books together, we have a particular original energy that only we can generate and the more truly that we can transfer that energy to the page the more successful I consider our work to be—and, happily, the more our audience seems to like it. Our success in connecting with audiences over the last 25 years has been incredibly gratifying and has allowed us an enormous amount of time to develop and refine our ideas, skills and humour. We’d been writing books together for almost twenty years before we hit upon the treehouse as the most perfect blending of our respective talents—and it led to a larger reading audience than we could ever have dreamed of or expected.

Regarding the Coles Collectables campaign, what outcome had you in mind when it was conceived, and was that outcome realised?
I was fortunate to grow up in a house full of books and to have access to a public library for more. But I’m well aware that many children do not grow up with a personal library and I loved the idea that these little books would be going into hundreds and thousands of homes along with the groceries, and for some children would be the first books they ever owned. The amount of books produced was truly astronomical and they were extremely well-received with kids swapping them in the playground. This is how books should be—something to play with and get excited about—a completely normal part of life, and I think the Coles campaign was very successful in this.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes. Please come on a camping adventure with us in the 143-Storey Treehouse, but please be careful when you’re chopping wood so that you don’t chop me in half like Terry did.