Andy, if the golden rule of telly is “never work with children or animals”, what’s the golden rule of kids’ book writing?
Never underestimate the power of exaggeration, mischief and surprise! I think my readers really enjoy seeing the everyday world turned upside down and normally respectable characters acting in quite unusual and non-respectable ways.
What might inspire the topic of a book – is it generally a ridiculous, random situation or is it through brainstorming what entertains a child?
Both are excellent sources of ideas, though paradoxically, some of my most well known stories have can come from quite ordinary problems and challenges, for instance, trying to find a toilet in a multi-level shopping centre or trying to pretend that you're too sick to go to school. Generally I find that starting with an everyday problem and then asking, "What's the worst thing that could happen next?" is a sure route to finding a story that will entertain a wide audience.
Have you and illustrator Terry Denton developed a somewhat psychic link, or does he sometimes imagine characters very differently to you?
From the time Terry illustrated my first book cover I was amazed by how he'd tapped into my sense of humour and then extended in it in complementary but surprising ways. Over the years we've become very tuned to each other's strengths. I know what he's capable of and I often write with that in mind, but he's still capable of surprising me and then I have to lift my game to match his... and vice versa. It's a very happy and harmonious relationship where ideas just grow and it's very difficult afterwards to say who thought of which ones.
How does Melbourne rate as a city for children?
I was born and bred in Melbourne so I've never known any other city, but I'd say it was great for me. It was the adopted home town of Edward Cole who produced the wonderfully inspirational and amazing series of 'Cole's funny Picture Books' which were such a powerful influence on me as a child. When I travel to other cities in Australia I find that not many other people know about them, so I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in Melbourne.
One of your best-selling books is called The Day My Bum Went Psycho. Have you had any titles or ideas that have been of the eyebrow-raising variety that never made the grade?
There are many other parts of one's body that could go psycho, but only one is funny. For every title or idea that makes it, many thousands of others bite the dust, but it doesn't bother me. I tend to go for quantity and just trust that one or two of those will be quality. It's a boring cliché, but persistence is pretty much just as important as talent.
Some children’s authors – notably Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, but I’m sure there are platoons more – were quite dark characters. Is that something to be harnessed in writing kids’ books?
Definitely. Childhood can be both a time of great joy, wonder and magic but it can also be confusing, lonely, frightening and mysterious. Some of the best stories and authors acknowledge this fact and seek to give names to these otherwise nameless fears and show characters taking positive actions to work through them. Even though my latest book, Just Doomed, shows Andy in a number of apparently doomed situations, he never stops punching. He doesn't always succeed, but he never stops trying... an important take-home message for the attentive reader!
You’re an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which takes you off on remote trips to run writing workshops. How rewarding is that?
It's an incredible privilege to be able to travel to some of Australia's most remote communities and meet, work and laugh with the children in them. While the surface details of their lives can be very different from those of children in the cities (emu egg hunting, dealing with crocodiles and snakes and taking part in ancient rituals to name just a few), underneath they are the same as children everywhere – they are highly intelligent, curious and quick to laugh.
How can our readers contribute to the Pyjama Foundation, which provides literacy-based mentoring programs to children in foster care?
Their website contains full details of this incredibly important program and how to donate. The program began in Brisbane and has expanded to New South Wales but a far as I know they're not operating in Victoria. But knowing the energy and vision of the founder, Bronwyn Sheehan, it won't be long before it is.
'The Children’s Book Festival comes to The Wheeler Centre and the State Library on Sunday March 25. Come down and meet the storytellers and illustrators including Andy Griffiths, Hazel Edwards, Graeme Base and Boori Monty Pryor.