Andy Griffiths and Jill Griffiths are a unique writing partnership. Along with illustrator Terry Denton, they are the team behind some of the most successful children's literature in Australia. They are best known for the Treehouse and Just! series, but their entire body of work is truly impressive.
Andy's first published work was Just Tricking! (in 1997). Jill - now Andy's wife - edited Just Tricking! and has been his editor and collaborator ever since.
Andy and Jill's books have been New York Times bestsellers, adapted for the stage and television and won more than 50 Australian children’s choice awards. These include (and are by no means limited to):
- Book of the Year for Older Children at the Australian Book Industry Awards in 2012 (for The 13-Storey Treehouse)
- Multiple ABIA Awards (for The 26-Storey Treehouse, The 39-Storey Treehouse and The 52-Storey Treehouse)
- KOALA Award Fiction for Older Readers 2016 and Long-listed for Children's Book Council List of Notables 2016 (The 65-Storey Treehouse)
- Short-listed for Indie Book Awards 2017 (The 78-Storey Treehouse).
In 2008, Andy became the first Australian author to win six children's choice awards in one year for Just Shocking! (the third in the Just! series).
Andy is an ambassador for The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Pyjama Foundation, and was awarded the 2015 Dromkeen Medal to honour his contribution to Australian children's literature.
- Carmel Bird taught Andy and recalls what he was like as a writing student.
- As a child, Andy read Edwards William Coles’ Funny Picture Book, all of the works of Dr Seuss, Mad Magazine, Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, May Gibbs’ Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie, as well as all of Enid Blyton (and his favourite was The Magic Faraway Tree).
- Jill read loved Astrid Lingren’s Pippi Longstocking, Tove Jansson’s Fin Family Moomintroll series, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm.
- At the time of this interview, Andy was reading Barkskins, by Annie Proust. Andy recommends the Uncle series, by P. Martin.
- Andy considers Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg his writing bible.
- The Treehouse series, which features Andy, Jill and illustrator Terry as characters, was influenced by Seinfeld at the time, as Jerry Seinfeld was also a character in his own fictional fantasy world.
- Children’s literature is not without classical influence. Andy jokes he has made Jill compose poems to sound like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He also refers to Henry Lawson’s The Loaded Dog.
- Carmel Bird, another author on The Garret, taught Andy Griffiths before he published his first book.
- Andy quotes his friend and fellow writer Markus Zusak, who says writing is whatever you can get away with.
- Andy embraces absurdism as art. He was influenced by Salvatore Dali and Monty Python, as well as new wave music (including Devo) and The Young Ones.
- Andy loved Filthy Rich and Cat Flap and Bottom, and credits Bottom as an influence for the Treehouse.
- Andy mentions Gerald Murnane as a perfect example of an artist who does not need the love of an audience.
Nic Brasch: Welcome back to The Garret. This is the first episode of Season 2 of The Garret podcast. Season 1 featured interviews with Graeme Simsion, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Andrew Rule, Kerry Greenwood, Toni Jordan, A. S. Patric and John Marsden.
We have a fantastic collection of chats with Australian writers coming up in this season, including Carmel Bird, Tony Birch, Alicia Sometimes, Leigh Hobbs, Jeff Sparrow and Anita Heiss.
I’m excited to share all of their stories with you.
I typically begin each episode by finding out what an author was reading as a child.
This episode features two authors who are writing for children. And in the not too distant future, I hope I’m interviewing someone who says they grew up reading Andy and Jill Griffiths as a kid.
Andy and Jill Griffiths are the literary equivalent of The Wiggles. Along with illustrator Terry Denton, Andy and Jill have created a global phenomenon known as the Treehouse books.
Andy and Jill, welcome to The Garret.
Jill Griffiths: Thank you.
Nic: Would you guys have read the Treehouse series as kids?
Andy Griffiths: Totally, totally.
Andy: Well, I was always looking for fun, and I was looking for pictures. I was brought up on Coles Funny Picture Book, a good local product, and also Dr Seuss, Mad Magazine, Magic Pudding was in there, and Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie, which I’d, you know, drag myself through just for the fun of the Bad Banksia Men. But also Enid Blyton.
Andy: And Faraway Tree was one of my favourites. And really, the Treehouse series for me is a pastiche of all of those influences.
Nic: Well its interesting, as you were just talking about them, I could see every one of them as an influence in different ways, Mad Magazine, and both – even though Terry does the illustrations, you can see the influence of those both in the writing, in the stories and also in the illustrations. Very much so.
Andy: Yeah. And when I began writing, you know I’ve always loved that stuff, but I thought I should be a serious writer now. You know, put that childish stuff away. But it was quite frustrating to me, every time I’d try to be serious these influences would burst through and destroy the project. So, after a while I accepted that, oh I must be a comedian at heart, and a children’s storyteller.
Nic: Yeah, yeah.
Andy: And I could use all of these things, rather than try to push them away. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it took a few years to get there.
Andy: Because I thought, oh I have to be this certain sort of literary serious voice that might qualify for a literary grant.
Andy: You know, my stuff would not qualify for a literary grant.
Nic: No, I can’t see it…
Andy: So I had to give up that idea.
Jill: I would basically read everything when I was a kid.
Nic: Ok, yeah?
Jill: So, of course I would have read them too. I would have loved them because they were funny. I loved funny books, I loved absurd humour. Some of the things Andy loved were the same for me, like Mad Magazine…
Jill: But I also loved animal stories, sad stories. So yeah, I would have loved them.
Nic: Any particular books stand out in your mind from those days?
Jill: I loved Pippi Longstocking, because she was funny and she had animals. And the Fin Family Moomintroll, I remember loving those.
Nic: Oh, goodness. I loved them.
Jill: They were nutty.
Nic: So nutty.
Nic: I’ve still got some of them at home.
Jill: Yeah, me too, I’ve still got my childhood books. And I loved Alice in Wonderland… and Professor Branestawm, which was a book my brother had, I loved.
Nic: I was just about to say. I’ve still got them next to my Moomintroll book.
Jill: Falling apart,
Nic: Absolutely. It was fantastic.
Jill: So, I’ve read everything, yeah.
Nic: And there is also a touch of Professor Branestawm in your works today, actually, that sort of nutty, type of anything goes, pushing the boundaries with the imagination, and you know…
Jill: And Terry, he’s a little bit older than us, so he has different books as well. So, his stuff, what he grew up with as well feeds him and he’ll put that in the illustrations.
But it’s kind of like a Venn diagram, there’s certain books in the middle that we all loved, and then we each have our own kind of personal ones.
Nic: Ok. What about now, what do you read now?
Jill: I still read a lot, all over the place. I read a lot of non-fiction. I love reading non-fiction.
Nic: Any particular subjects?
Jill: Sort of, I guess, social studies kind of stuff, I guess you’d call it. And a lot of fiction. I still just, I don’t know, I can’t think of anything at the moment, but I read a lot. Yeah.
Nic: What about you, Andy?
Andy: Well I’ve just finished Barkskins, by Annie Proust, which is a 400-year saga, multigenerational… I just got lost in it. It was fantastic.
Andy: So, look, I tend towards non-fiction, I love biographies of creative people and explorers… Often whatever I’m reading is feeding whatever story I’m working on.
Andy: So yeah, I have just a varied, random diet, and I still go back to my comics. I’m still discovering classic children’s books, like Uncle, which is J. P. Martin. He was 86 before he got published.
Andy: He’s dead now, but he was English – I think a Minster of some sort – and he used to make up these idiotic, insane stories about an elephant and the town they lived in. Publishers rejected him all his life, but then his kids really took up the mantle, and just before he died they got one published. And these books are legendary among fantasy, and particularly science fiction, writers.
Andy: And I’ve just found one and I went, oh my god. That is, you know, pure absurdity, and wonderfully inspiring that you can just lose all the markers of common sense and reality and just go into this world of freedom. And I think, that’s when I think of reading for me – both then and now – it was a freedom from the real world.
Nic: And in all the stuff you’ve written, and even all the stuff when we go back to the stuff you read, that notion of freedom, a world with freedom, freedom to do and act and speak as you wish shines through.
I mean, if you think of Dr Seuss, the worlds he created I mean are not unlike some of the worlds you create, where anything goes but it’s still in a way that you believe could happen.
Andy: Yeah, yeah, it’s got to be believable. And it’s a fine line when anything can happen, why shouldn’t… why are there any problems? Because you could just solve them all by magical absurdity.
Nic: That’s right, exactly.
Andy: So there is – and this is where Jill and I spend a lot of time being very rigorous – going well, yeah, you can paint a cat yellow and throw it out of the tree and it will grow wings and turn into a ‘catanary’ once. Maybe twice. And we might get away with it three times… But not every time, you’ll start to lose the readers belief that this is a real world.
So, I do it intuitively these days. Through keeping in touch with everything that I loved, and just studying humour in general, there’s a certain logic that has to be respected.
Andy: And it is very difficult to explain it, but yeah… the first thing we have to do is to get the reader to believe in the story and in the world. I guess I’ve always had that quality in my writing, even when I was a young boy I could write things, and I would write things, that featured me apparently doing things, you know, totally untrue. But I would write them as if there was no question, this happened.
Nic: Of course, yeah, yeah.
Andy: So, I think that’s why I’m able the lead kids into these worlds.
Nic: Now you’ve touched on the early days when you started writing. Can you perhaps take turns, Andy then Jill, on your career progression, if you like, when you decided you really wanted to write. How you went about it in the early days, and I know you created your own stuff, maybe you can tell us that story.
Andy: Yeah. Well, for me it was growing up in Vermont, in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. A lot of kids everywhere. No Internet, so we were all out on the street just entertaining each other and getting into trouble. But I would tell kids ridiculous stories as if they were absolutely true, and just enjoy that, how far could I take their belief before they went, ‘no that’s not true’. And I just keep inventing credible supporting details, and that became a story writing process for me. It still is today.
But then I started writing these things down, and printing them in high school on a fordigraph machine. I made a magazine featuring jokes and some fake news articles of things that had apparently happened at school…
Andy: … which were totally preposterous, and selling that to the kids. So, for me it was always really fun just to get a typewriter and to see my words in print, and then to distribute them to my friends.
Andy: And we had a private joke all through school that we were great rock stars in a band, and we’d write the songs and design the album covers and the world tours. It was all nonsense, but it kept us hugely entertained. Very pure, I think.
Nic: And something, I mean a lot of kids do – well, I did a lot of things like that – but kids today, I guess their process, the technology has changed, they’re doing it in different ways, but they’re still doing it, they’re still discovering things. I mean, they’re writing, their drawing, you know, they may not be doing it in the same sort of way, but they’re pretending they’re in rock bands, they’re designing their covers… but they’re using the latest technology so it sounds a lot better than it did when you and I did them, but they’re still doing exactly the same thing.
Andy: At its heart, it’s play.
Nic: Absolutely. And it’s part escapism, it’s part dreaming.
Nic: But more than anything else, it’s just fun, isn’t it?
Andy: It’s fun, and for me it was always about making my friends laugh. That was the pay off. And we put together this band on the final day of Year 12, and did a punk rock concert for the whole school, did the school hymn in a punk rock version. And I think great writers are stirrers too.
Andy: They’re annoying to the authorities for the entertainment of the masses. So that became real for me for a number of years. I became the frontman for a number of experimental bands, always writing. And eventually I realised that’s where my real love was. So, I started studying, formally taking some early writing courses, in Melbourne. I did a Dip Ed at the same time. I’d done a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Literature…
Nic: Carmel Bird is part of this season as well, and I know that she taught you. She said some wonderful things about you.
Andy: Oh nice.
Nic: Very nice things about the young Andy.
Andy: I guess I’ll have to say some nice things…
Nic: I was just going to ask, do you have anything to say about Carmel?
Andy: She was brilliant, because she refused to tell me the secret of writing, because I was sure there was.
Nic: Well, yes.
Andy: Now I’m published I know that I don’t.
Nic: Now you get asked that as well.
Andy: I say, you’ll find out.
Nic and Jill: [Laughter]
Andy: But she would give me confidence, and we talked about humour, and kids fantasy. Yeah, she was fabulous. And in her own writing, she takes her own path.
Nic: That’s it.
Andy: She is not doing what everyone else is doing, she is following her own light. And that was the most inspiring thing.
Nic: And she would have been a good person to talk to about humour, comedy and writing and how to make it work.
Andy: Yeah. And she ran the class, the fifteen people all writing a piece of fiction, every few months. And you had to sit there and listen while everyone gave five minutes of feedback, mostly misinterpreting your work of genius…
Nic: Of course.
Andy: … And you didn’t have a right of reply. So, you realised how easy it was to misdirect readers.
Andy: And that was the biggest thing I learnt that year, because when you start, everything you write seems utterly clear, and utterly a work of genius, and you can’t understand why the world doesn’t see it that way.
Nic: That’s right, that’s right.
Andy: And I did an editing course at the same time, and that helped me to get out of my own head and be ruthless with words, and see how much you can cut away and reorganise something and it’s still intact, only better.
So when I finally met Jill, who was the ideal editor for me in terms of she was ruthless with words, and also very sensitive to comedy, that was a fortunate thing.
I became an English teacher, basically, and all my students told me they hated reading and writing, so I just did exactly what I did in high school for my own friends. I started writing ridiculous, provocative stuff for them, and I’d self-publish some of my little collections, and self-publish some of their writings, and so then I was back on the path of creative writing, and that’s how I started.
Nic: And at what point did you go…
Andy: I did four years of English teaching, and I was reading a how to write book every week. It was pre-Internet. Writers Digest used to have a mail order service, so one week I’d be reading something about character, the next about plot. One week I got Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, which is my bible. She taught me all about writing practice, and I just instituted three or four hours of writing per day.
And so I got myself to a point where I couldn’t learn any more, and I knew I needed someone professional to take me to that next level. And so I took leave without pay for two years and just lived of savings in Melbourne and studied with Carmel and did the editing and wrote twelve hours a day for two years.
Nic: And this is when you were trying to be a serious writer?
Andy: Yeah. By the end of one year of that, I realised that the twenty per cent of stuff that I was doing that was good, was always funny.
Nic: Right. And I hate to use the word serious, I don’t mean serious as a negative, because writing is a serious business. I’m not saying what you are doing now isn’t serious! It’s just that you used that term yourself…
Andy: No, no, I take my humour writing very seriously.
Nic: You have to, absolutely.
Andy: Of course, it’s fun, and when Jill and Terry and I get together and we’re just throwing around words and he’s drawing ridiculous pictures, that is really fun.
Nic: Of course.
Andy: But the work comes later when you are trying to sequence it all, and be ruthless with it.
Nic: I’m going to ask you the same questions in a second, Jill, but just… the point at which you got your first book published. How did that come about?
Andy: I had a collection of fragments, which were little instructions and dreams, and little non... They weren’t stories, they were just random blasts of absurdity. I had about 100 of them.
And Carmel Bird looked at them, and said you need to organise those in some way. And I was going, ‘but I like random absurdity’, and she goes ‘I know that, and you know that, but the publishers don’t know that, and they need to have it packaged for them’.
So, I collected them under headings. And it went around to many different publishers who all rejected it, but an educational publisher called Longman Cheshire said, ‘We see you’ve been a teacher, if you could write some exercises we could package this as a creative writing textbook to inspire kids in high school’.
And I was like, ‘I really wanted a trade book published, but no one is offering me that, so I’ll do this and I’ll get experience, and that will be a step along the way. And they had the brilliant idea of getting this illustrator, Terry Denton, who they knew had a good sense of humour to just illustrate it. So, I saw what he’d done, and it was intuitively what I would have done if I could draw.
As a result of publishing the textbook, I promoted it at various teacher’s conferences, I was getting invitations into schools to run workshops and talks for the kids, and I met Terry there one day, at one of the writers’ festivals. And he said, ‘you and I should publish a book of trade fiction because people are publishing a lot worse stuff than yours’.
Nic: [Laughter] What a vote of conference. Not, ‘you’re doing great stuff, Andy’ but ‘there is worse stuff than you’re doing out there, so give it a go’.
Andy: Well, I already knew that. And I said, ‘I want to, but no one will publish me’. And he said, ‘tell them I’ll illustrate it, I’ll be on board’. And he was a well-established illustrator already…
Andy: So, then I was not such a risky proposition for Janet Rowe at Reed Books, who took it on. I’d written 200 practical jokes that were about 100 words each. They were surreal jokes that you couldn’t possibly play, like ‘make yourself all big and yellow and hot, and then go up in the sky and make life evolve on Earth, and then when everyone is evolved go ‘just tricking, I’m not really the sun’, and go out’.
Andy: She said ‘I don’t want to publish 200 of those’, and I said, ‘well, I could write about a kid who thinks he’s really funny and plays jokes, but they always backfire’. And so then I wrote a couple of those stories, and that became the basis for the first book Just Tricking!
And Jill was Janet’s right hand woman, editor, and that’s how I met Jill. So we’ve worked ever since.
Nic: And so how did you get to that point, Jill?
Jill: Well, like I said I was always reading, but I didn’t know there was a job where you could just read. So, I just thought I can’t do that as a job, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I always read, and like Andy, I was always reading about writers, I was reading books about writing.
But every time I tried writing it just didn’t really work for me. I’d get Kate Grenville’s writing book and I’d try a couple of the exercises, and I’d just get bored, you know. But I would not stop buying books and reading books about writing. I’d buy books about plot and character and everything, and I was just so interested in writing, but I didn’t know I could do anything with that.
And then in my late 20s I discovered editing somehow, I can’t remember, and I was, I read a description at some sort of careers place, and went ‘that is everything that I love, I could do that’. So, I joined the Society of Editors, then went to a few workshops and got very excited about being a pedant, and you know, just thought ‘I love this’.
And then eventually just got into publishing as an Editorial Assistant, and then worked my way up. And then I worked for a few different companies, so I worked in educational publishing and trade publishing and children’s, and mass market and the publisher I was working at was a half-trade half mass-market, which is where I met Andy at that point.
Nic: His first book, what did you need to do to it to make it publishable?
Jill: I do remember really speeding up the action a lot, because he would have his character Andy coming downhill in his pram, in his runaway pram, and there’d just be like two pages of his thought processes. And I’d be like, ‘this, we don’t have the feeling here that he is really plummeting down the hill because he has all of this time to think’. So, I do remember cutting a lot out.
I remember I really liked his sense of humour, and I really loved working with him. He was a lot of fun to work with, and it was exciting to be working on something I was having so much fun reading.
Jill: So, it was a good meeting.
Andy: It was an unusual book, because I was the main character, and again I felt I wasn’t doing it properly. But I’d been watching Seinfeld at the time, and he was a character in his own fictional fantasy world…
Andy: So, I thought that would be great, because then I could be the character, because that is how I tell stories to kids, it is always happening to me.
Andy: I tried desperately to tell it in third person, second person, every person I could, but it never felt true to me. So, I needed to find that way, and I thought, ‘well again, this is not going to be regarded as proper literature because the author is never the actual character. But I’ll do it, and when I come to visit the schools’, which was becoming a good source of income for me, I thought if I get away with this the kids will think the character of the book is coming to visit them… and make it even more exciting for them.
Andy: So, it worked well in the end.
Andy: What I discovered from reading those books and listening to many writers talk is that they would all contradict each other at a certain point.
Nic: Don’t they.
Andy: Someone would say, ‘oh, you have to do a lot of research, I have these notebooks, and they’re full of millions of little articles and research…’. And I’d go, ‘that’s not they way I work, but maybe that’s the proper way’, so I should try, and it doesn’t work. And then someone else says ‘I never do research, I just start writing’. And so, then the light came on and I just thought, ‘ah, there is no proper way, it is whatever suits you’.
My friend Markus Zusak loves quoting a friend of his who said it is whatever you can get away with.
Andy: And so, if you know what the conventional ways of doing things are, that’s an advantage. So, if you are breaking the rules, at least you know what rules you are breaking and why you are breaking it. Then you are ok.
Nic: Learning the rule first means you are never reinventing the wheel. I mean, at least you know you aren’t wasting time.
Andy: Yeah, and in those short stories we wrote, they were really classical structures. They became, the Just series became more and more experimental, but the first three or four books, there are nine three act plays in each book. So, I was learning structure, and then I began learning how to subvert structure.
Nic: Sure, but even the Treehouse books, they still, I mean if you analyse the structure, it’s almost the classical three act structure where you’ve got the set up, then you’ve got the main…
Let’s take the latest one, where you’ve got the Seventy-Eight Story Treehouse, you’ve got the set-up of the treehouse and the characters, you’ve got the inciting incident which happens to be this movie being made, then you’ve got a hell of a lot of conflict where things get worse and worse, and then you’ve got this resolution at the end. So, in many ways, it’s very much, is it not, a classical structure in that way?
Andy: Yes. Yeah. With the one proviso that comedy can stop the dramatic escalation at any point.
Nic: That’s right.
Andy: And just waste time.
Nic: Yes. In fact, comedy is the only thing you can do, is it not, putting in humour and comedy is the only thing that can be there without any conflict?
Andy: Yes, yeah. As long as it is funny… it belongs.
Nic: Exactly. You can put it in. That is exactly tight.
Andy: But that was… I would do a course with Robert McKee, who was very good on this point. He would be teaching you how to write drama, and he’s say, ‘well it’s got to escalate, and then another gap opens up, and the character really has to reach’. And I’d go, ‘but I like bits in my books where a dog just barks for four or five pages’.
Nic: [Laughter] Exactly.
Andy: And I realise you could have it.
Nic: Of course you can.
Andy: Comedy is a beautiful thing. But it still needs the drama. The drama is played not always for drama, but for just pulling the rug out from under the character.
Andy: It’s played for laughs. But you are still building tension, whether you are writing comedy or drama.
Nic: That’s right. Your Just books launched what has been an amazing writing career. I assume writing those books was more of a solitary process than the one you follow in the Treehouse series. Do you miss the solitude of those days?
Nic: And how does the process… Leading on to that, tell us about the process the three of you undergo, if you like, writing the Treehouse books.
Andy: Yeah. No, I don’t miss it, and it surprises me to say that, because I loved the control and the solitude after being in bands, where you are trying to keep four other people happy. It’s a nightmare.
Andy: But no, I loved the control. But Terry, when Terry started illustrating the Just books, I said ‘don’t just do illustrations of what’s happening in the books, that’s kind of pretty obvious. Just go around the edges, and be the character, as if he is decorating his schoolbook’.
Nic: Yes, and in the Just books you see that all of the way through.
Andy: Random squiggles. That served two things. It gave the books, it made them look utterly unique.
Andy: Am I allowed to say utterly unique?
Nic: I was just about… I was just thinking the same thing.
Andy, Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Andy: Jill is here…
Nic: Technically not.
Andy: You’ll notice the Jill character in the Treehouse books is always correcting Andy and Terry.
Nic: I have noticed that. I was going to ask you about that…
Andy: It’s not that far away.
Nic: But I was going to ask you, is Jill as organised and as pedantic as she appears in the books? And at the same, time, are you as sooky as you appear?
Andy and Jill: [Laughter]
Andy: Both are exaggerations, but both have a core of truth. And building a story on a core of truth was another thing I learned. I thought, ‘oh this is great, because it is totally believable to you then’. And when you need to stretch it and tell a lie, then that is fine, but you always come back to reality, in a sense.
Now, where was I? Utterly unique.
Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Nic: Solitude versus the…
Andy: Now we will have long discussions, and sometimes Andy will say ‘utterly unique’. And Jill will say, ‘you don’t really need to say that’, but I’ll go with the rhythm of it, and Andy’s misunderstanding that there is no qualifier for unique is really funny.
Jill: I would also say, I don’t think I would say that about Andy because I know Andy’s voice. He doesn’t have a clue, so I wouldn’t say that about him.
I remember once being really annoyed when I read a review, I think it was a teacher or a librarian, criticising the writing in the Just books, that they weren’t real sentences, that they were just fragments, and you know, she was really saying this was terrible writing. And I was like, ‘it’s a voice, it’s a character telling a story!’. That, oh, I felt like writing to her sand saying, ‘we know how to write properly, but Andy doesn’t’.
Nic: That’s right. In a book, in a TV drama, whatever…. If a character says or uses a qualifier for unique, and that’s what they would have done, then that’s what they do. Absolutely.
Andy: So, Terry was decorating the margins, and that made it look like Andy was really in the book. It gave the books their unique look, and it also made the kids – who I knew would be picking up the books suspiciously to see how big the print was – they would be able to do the flick-pictures on the side, so they would be getting fun out of it, they would be playing with the book before they had even committed to reading a first sentence. And then I’d put a lot of work into those first sentences to drag them into the book. So, I assumed they weren’t going to read my book. But that was an early assumption which was very smart.
And a lot of writers are making the mistakes that readers are just hanging out for something to read, like there’s not a million other distractions. So, you need to work right from the title, and that is why I have the outlandish titles, and the cover images that kind of grab you by the throat. Because I don’t trust the reader at all. And I know – because I am one too – there is a lot of distraction. So, it is your job to get their attention.
But Terry would leave all of his work to the last minute, while I would develop the stories over nine or ten months and write them. He would get like a month with the manuscript, and for three weeks of that month I am pretty sure he was just sitting there playing with his toes.
Nic: Oh look, he’s an illustrator. It doesn’t take long to doodle a few things, does it?
Andy: Of course not. He works completely differently. He works very intuitively, you know, he just draws. And so, by his own admission, he often won’t be able to tell you why he’s drawing what he’s drawing. It’s just drawing.
Andy: Whereas I can make up a good logical story about why I’ve done what I’ve done. Whether it’s true or not, who knows.
He – and I remember he called me down to his place in Mornington one time – he said, ‘I’ve got still 100 pages and the deadline is tomorrow’. And I said I could come down and suggest some stuff. And so I did, and I was sitting up there in his studio, feet on the desk, going ‘Draw! Draw the Three Blind Mice, or no, draw Hickory Dickory Dock and the Mouse going up the clock. And then, instead of just coming down, he rips the hands off the clock and sets fire to it’. And he drew that, and we were just in hysterics, and I’m back in Year 8.
Andy: We did this a few times, and I said, ‘I’d love to do a book just like this, without all that boring plot’. So, we started meeting every week at an office I had outside of the house at that point, because our daughter was 1 or 2 years old and it was very distracting in the house. So, I got this office. So, Terry would come there once a day, once a week, and we would just write and draw. And that became The Bad Book, which was a collection of random fragments, all connected by the idea that we were breaking rules. Bad characters, setting fire to everything, explosions, nursery rhymes but bowdlerised… little cartoon strips.
I know now, ten years later, that was the beginning of the Treehouse books.
Nic: Yeah, yeah.
Andy: But it was all over the place, and we were upsetting people, we were transgressing unwritten laws that you are not allowed to set fire to a cat, even in fiction, unless the guy setting fire to the cat suffers more than the cat.
Nic: That’s right, the morality tale.
Andy: Yeah. And we learnt this just by trial and error. And we did a number – probably half a dozen – experimental books. The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow, The Cat on the Mat is Flat, What Buttosaur Is That? What Body Part Is That? We were just stabbing around, trying to figure out how to make our words and drawings mesh together. And then that finally bore fruit in The Thirteen Storey Treehouse, where you can see we’ve pulled all of those things together under the auspices of the tree. And we’re writing the book, only we’re not writing it because Terry’s not doing his work.
See, that’s based on that different working approach.
Andy: And me kind of being a little bit more angsty about the deadline, and that’s true too.
Nic; And what’s your role in the books, Jill?
Jill: I guess I solve their problems, which is sort of what I do with the story. Like, Andrew will say, ‘I’m up to here, what happens next?’ or ‘How do I get from there to there?’. So, I guess I help with structure. So, in the stories, Jill tends to come in and solve their problems.
I guess around the time of The Bad Book 2, Andy came to me and said, ‘Can you write some Bad nursery rhymes?’ So that is the type of writing I can do and I like to do, if you give me a little project or some parameters, I can write within that, but I can’t just sit down and spin something out of nothing. So, I wrote a lot of the Bad nursey rhymes. So, I guess my role – in the Treehouse too – is that I’ll write a lot of the rhyming stuff. So, he’ll say, ‘we need a poem for the ninja snails epic journey. So, get out The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and get inspired’.
Andy: It’s got to sound like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and it’s got to cover 1,000 years where the snails are transversing an ever-changing landscape, and I’ve just got to go and do this…
Nic: You have the best job. You shunt off the hard stuff.
Andy: Or, I can get it rough enough, I can roughly smash out a poem and give it to Jill, and she’ll just roll her eyes and say, ‘leave it with me, I‘ll make it proper’. And then it will go back and forth between us, and we’ll come up with something.
With Terry there, we come up with something that none of us could have actually done by ourselves. And that is the long answer to your question, why I love the collaborative stuff these days.
Nic: Do you still edit the books, Jill?
Jill: Yes. Well, it’s interesting, I don’t copy edit it much anymore.
Jill: Like as we’ll be working, he’ll say, ‘Oh, what should that be? A colon or …’, and I’ll say, ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. Someone down the line will check that for us’.
Jill: Because I find it very hard, now that I am more involved in the writing process, that it is very hard to get that distance that you need to edit it.
I guess I’m structurally editing it, but it then goes to a copy editor, and she’ll send it back with hardly ever any comments to do with the structure or anything like that, it will really just be… she’ll pick up repetitions and she’ll correct punctuation and find mistakes and stuff like that. And I think towards the end it goes to a proof reader as well, and they may find a few things. There are always still mistakes, you can’t get everything.
Nic: I’ve always found it interesting that the processes of writing and editing are obviously very closely entwined in the production of a book, but there’s not that many editors who actually write, even though they love reading and they love their work. I mean, there is a few who have famously made it, but most editors don’t actually write themselves. And I’ve always found that to be quite strange.
Jill: Yeah, I think it’s, I think because when you’re editing you’re analysing and I think you can’t be free. If I try and write, I am immediately trying to edit it at the same time.
Nic: Ok, yeah.
Jill: It’s like I can’t turn that off. Whereas Andy, I think, he can turn it off and he can just be free. His writing can be really messy in terms of, it’s just thrown on the page, really.
Nic: Does he know where the apostrophes go?
Jill: Um… yeah?
Andy: I do… If I am in a calm mood. But when you are in – and Jill will do it, it’s really interesting, when she is being creative – she will spell things wrong, a ‘they’re’, ‘their’ and ‘there’ are often easily transposed, because you’re working in a holistic fashion. Your sort of working, pulling things from all over the place. Whereas editing is not holistic, it’s focused and zeroed in.
That’s what I learnt from Natalie Goldberg. She says you need an editor, but you need to turn it off. So, she would put a recommended time limit, three minutes, on the subject ‘blue’. And you just write without stopping, without editing, without judging, and see what comes out. And you’d go well off the topic, and you’d often find something really profound or really disturbing. But if you’ve got the editor there, the editor is trying to protect us all the time so we don’t look bad in front of the world. And it is the worst part of us to have when we are trying to tell a story, because we will modify everything.
Readers love it when you can be honest with them, and say ‘I really screwed up here, and this is how I screwed up in great detail’, and we’re all leaning forward and you tell us more. But when we go to write something, we think, ‘oh, I shouldn’t write that, what will people think?’ So, the Natalie Goldberg method of timed writing practice teaches you to leave that behind. That is what I did for many, many years.
But I think also with a writer there is a certain desperation. You can’t stop, you can’t keep a writer down, you’re just dying to entertain that audience, or engage with an audience. And I don’t think Jill has that desperation, and so that is often what I look for if someone is saying ‘I want to be a writer’. I’ll be trying to probe them, ‘how desperate are you, how badly do you want this?’
Andy: Because you’re going to need thousands of hours of learning and practice. Just the sheer repetitious practice, it’s like a musical instrument or any other high level activity.
Only I think with writing people get a mistaken idea of how easy it is, because we can all write, whereas we can’t all play a violin…
Nic: That’s right.
Andy: But we can all write something.
Nic: So you think you can just go and do it.
Andy: Yeah. And you can, to a certain extent. A good writing teacher can give a timed writing practice and everyone can tell quite a compelling, interesting story. It’s when you are trying to create a much bigger thing that you need some technical skills.
Nic: With that in mind, how have you got better as a writer over the years? In what ways do you think you are better now than you used to be?
Jill: I think you use fewer words than you used to.
Andy: [Laughter] [Hesitation]
Jill: I think that’s a definite improvement I’ve seen. When we look back at early books sometimes, we go ‘oh!’. And he’ll say, ‘what were you thinking, why didn’t you get rid of that?’
Nic: It’s your fault, it’s your fault.
Jill: I’ve gotten better as an editor too. I wouldn’t let that through now. You’ve certainly got better at telling a story, I think.
Andy: Yeah. The reason I had to hesitate, is I got my first story published when I was 13, called ‘Lost in Time’. It was in Pursuit, a Department of Education magazine. I was in Year 8, and it was science fiction about going to the MCG, trying to buy a pie and a Coke, and suddenly finding I was many tens of thousands of years in the future, and having to get back and join my Dad at the MCG, which I did thanks to a time machine. And Jill will never…
Nic: And St Kilda still hadn’t won a Premiership in those thousands of years.
Andy: No, no. I think we would have been at the Collingwood-Fitzroy game. I’m Fitzroy, Dad’s Collingwood.
Nic: Ah, ok.
Andy: It was a really sure-footed kind of thing, because I’d set it in the real world where I was buying a pie and a Coke. There were real details there, and I was really wanting to go into the future but anchoring it in reality. So, I was working correctly, like I’ve learned to do. But Jill will never let me forget the description of the time machine, which was called Ernie, which they sent me back to my time in. I said it was an ‘amazing machine, it had buttons and levers and was everything an electronics enthusiast could wish for’.
Andy: And Jill taunts me for that. But I don’t care what the buttons or the levers look like, not even remotely interested.
Jill: I remember when we were working on The Day My Bum Went Psycho, and the editor at the publishing house was talking to me one day, and talking about Andy, and we were trying to say, ‘what does the bum-mobile look like? We’re finding it really hard to picture it based on your descriptions of it’. And we were asking him, and he’s going, ‘I don’t know, I’ve got no idea’. ‘And we were going, ‘you should know, you’re the writer’.
Andy: It’s a bum-mobile. They get in it and they fly around…
Nic: And it looks a bit like a bum…
Andy: … And an unpleasant gas comes out the end.
Nic: That’s right. And the kids can’t picture it on their own from that?
Jill: I think it’s a strange thing… when I say to people that Andy does not notice details, he’s not very good at observing things, they’ll go ‘but he’s a writer!’ And I think that is a thing people assume about writers, that you know what everything is, you observe behaviour, you read people. But you don’t have to be, it depends on what sort of writer you are.
Nic: That is exactly right, that is exactly right.
Andy: And I think the feeling that you don’t know the names of trees – and Jill has told me this, I think you read once ‘writers know the names of trees’…
Jill: It was something I read as a kid. Because I read all the time, my mum would sometimes say to me ‘why don’t you write? You love reading so much’. And I remember thinking, ‘but I haven’t got an interesting life, I’m just a suburban person, I don’t have an interesting life and I don’t know the names of everything!’ you know, because when you would be reading, particularly reading a lot of English books…
Nic: They would describe things down to the last detail.
Jill: they would also be telling you there’s a think of oaks, and a thing of this, and a thing of that… How do they know what all the trees are called, I know like two types?’
Andy: But I would always skip those passages…
Nic: Same here.
Andy: … because as a child I don’t want detail.
Nic: I still do, I still do.
Andy: Get me to the magic tree…
Andy: Get me into trouble… And I think Enid Blyton, if she’s got one thing to teach us, it’s this. Just kids, goodbye parents, here’s the tree. We don’t need all the tree, because a child’s imagination is pretty lively already.
Andy: You just see ‘tree’, and they go ‘got it’, and on they go.
Nic: And the tree looks however they want it to look, and one kid’s tree will look different to another’s, but it’s just as real.
Andy: It’s everything a tree enthusiast could wish for.
Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Andy: It’s got a trunk, and branches, and leaves, and let’s go in.
And so I think my weakness, well, in inverted commas weakness, is I’m not very good at descriptive writing, is actually a strength…
Nic: I agree in that regard.
Andy: … When it comes to certainly writing for children. And I would go further and say – and this will get me into trouble – that a lot of the books that adults think are really good writing for children actually have a lot of this description, because adults love complexity and detail.
Nic: But they also don’t realise that times have changed. Some of the best advice I got when my kids were young I got from a friend who works in the industry, he said ‘never give your kids the books you read when you were young and expect them to like them’. As soon as he said that it totally made sense. I’d given them, and I’ve still tried to get them onto Professor Branestawm, and the Moomintroll, and they are not in the slightest bit interested. As long as they are reading something that’s relevant to them… And I still find people who are giving them The Magic Pudding, and all those sorts of things, Blinky Bill. And it’s like, really? And often it is the descriptions that would…
Andy: And you know, there was a book of humorous Australian stories at the school I worked at, and I’d get it out for the kids, and they’d be reading Henry Lawson’s The Loaded Dog. It’s like, ‘stop watching The Simpsons and all of those amazing Hollywood movies, and listen to The Loaded Dog.
Andy: So that’s what I wanted to do, just update – I mean, it’s a very funny story – but update it for modern children, at a modern pace.
Nic: Are there aspects of writing you still find hard, or did you never find aspects of it hard?
Andy: Get Jill to list my deficiencies!
Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Nic: I’m not after deficiencies, I’m after the things you find the hardest to deal with. Go on, Jill.
Jill: The hardest bits are getting people in and out of a room. Like, just so hard…
Andy: Exits and Entrances. That’s going to be the name of my writing biography, autobiography.
Nic: But do you need exits and entrances? I mean, in theatre, in drama, they always say don’t start a scene with people introducing themselves, start in the middle of the scene. Do you need exits and entrances all of the time?
Andy: Well, yes. You do.
Nic: I could have solved your problem for you, you just don’t need them.
Andy: No, Bill the Postman needs to come and deliver them an important letter.
Nic: But you just need to see him delivering the letter, surely.
Andy: But is he going to ding-dong the doorbell, is he going to call up to them… It’s tedious.
Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Nic: Can’t he just slip it under the…
Andy: I really enjoy the outlining, and a book for me starts as a paragraph description, and then goes to a few paragraphs of a little more detail, and then slowly outlines each chapter. That to me is freedom, because I don’t have to decide all of those… how it is actually going to happen. And that is where Jill gets more and more drawn in, I think, as we go about the how’s and the whys.
Nic: Children are perceived as being uncritical audiences, readers and audiences. Do you find that is the case? Or in what ways are they critical?
Andy: Well I think they have very short patience for anything that is not engaging them. They don’t… If you’re in front of them, they are not going to make you feel better if your story is boring, they are just going to act bored. And they’ll tell you, they’ll go ‘it’s boring!’
Adult audiences aren’t usually quite that forthcoming.
Andy: Because I was a visiting author for years and years and years, this was a great method of feedback and testing of ideas. And I still recommend that. If you are going to write for kids, go and borrow someone’s class, you know, just the local primary school, just say ‘could I have them for 45 minutes and read them this story’. That will give you more feedback…
Andy: … than probably you wanted. Just observe them. Are they engaged, are they leaning forward, are they bubbling with excitement when you finish that story, or are they all like, ‘can we go now?’
I think they are a tough audience. Also, the other great thing – Tim Winton said this, I can’t take credit for it – he said ‘you’re writing for two audiences, no three.
You are writing for yourself, artistically you want to be engaged and proud of what you are writing. You are also writing for the child, you want them to be fully engaged and delighted by what you are writing. But you have to go through the gatekeepers, the adults, parents, librarians, who may not think that a novel about bums exploding and running away is the best thing.
So how do you keep them involved, and how do you get them to even put it on the shelf?
You’ve got to negotiate that gatekeeper. And if you look at all of my books, you’ll notice, you’ll see I was very careful in the first four or five books to never say anything explicitly. I would imply rudeness and the things, and the kids would put it together. I gave them credit for intelligence. And this is another thing that is common to all writing for kids that I admire, the writer treats them as intelligent, smart kids who don’t need everything spelt out.
But as my career went on, I became more and more fond of upsetting the gatekeepers.
Nic: Well, the more success you have, exactly, the gatekeepers’ say gets less and less important, doesn’t it? Because if the kids want it… But also, if the gatekeepers are seeing that the kids are reading, that in itself becomes enough for them.
Andy: They came back on side, so I won them over by just a long slow process of getting the kids on side. And they’d go, ‘that’s disgusting, but look how much the kids are reading’.
The other thing that I had to negotiate too was the gatekeepers would all think that if I write about a kid who glues up the shower cubicle so he can have a shower full of water, well that gives tacit permission for kids to go home and do that? Again, I think that’s not giving kids credit for intelligence.
Nic: Of course.
Andy: The basic intelligence to tell the difference between what is appropriate in real life and what goes in a story. And anything goes in a story, so I demanded my freedom, in a sense, and I had many arguments with…
Nic: And if a kid could do that and it worked, that shows an amazing scientific brain. You know, without any leakage…
Andy: Yeah. If they survive.
Jill and Nic: [Laughter]
Andy: But I banked my whole career on the fact that kids would not automatically go out and do what I was writing about.
Andy: This was the purpose of writing, that it’s a laboratory for bad behaviour and to see what happens when you don’t play by the rules of adults, or by the rules of common sense.
And in the end… and Jill will tell you horrendous stories from educational publishing about what you can and can’t do, and you can’t do hardly anything.
Terry once said – he had to illustrate a lot of educational books – and he said, ‘I’m amazed they can right anything with the amount of restrictions on them, and get any story at all’. You can, but it’s not going to be a great compelling story.
Nic: No, it makes it hard.
Andy: And that is what you really want, if you want to educate kids into literacy.
Jill: I’d be trying to edit a story to try to improve it and make it a better story, more compelling, and say if there was something in it I’d say, ‘well this scene doesn’t serve any purpose, it just slows down the story’, and I’d want to take it out. And then my boss would say, ‘oh no, but we need that scene because that helps it tie into the theme of… this one’s going to go under the theme of family and society or something, so we need that scene of them meeting the neighbours’. So, it wasn’t really about the story.
Jill: And they would accept so many stories just because they needed a certain number if they were doing a big reading scheme or something. And for a lot of them… they weren’t very entertaining.
Nic: I do remember in the state of California you couldn’t have kids eating ice creams because that promotes fast food, and they would not allow anything in any educational book to have a kid with an ice cream.
Andy: Well, strangely enough, I felt a little guilty in the Treehouse series, because they live on a diet of marshmallows, a lemonade fountain and every bad food you can imagine. And I was saying to Jill, ‘I do feel guilty that I’m giving tacit permission to eat all this stuff’. And she said, ‘don’t be stupid, it’s fantasy. What features in an Enid Blyton book is lashings of ginger beer and cakes…’
Nic: Lashings of ginger beer, exactly.
Andy: But I did, to salve my conscience, in The Fifty-Two Storey Treehouse they have a problem with a whole load of vegetables who are sick of being eaten, and decide to eat the people. And we bring in the Vegetable Freedom Fighter Vegetable Pattie, who chops and dices and slices them all up and then turns to the reader and says, ‘that’s why we need you to eat your vegetables, because as soon as we eat them all the sooner we’ll get rid of them all of the face of the Earth’.
Andy: And I love telling audiences that, and I say, ‘that’s why you have to eat your vegetables’. And they go, ‘but the farmers will just grow more’. And then off we go, and I’m trying to justify it…
Nic: There would be kids out there, no doubt, who believe there is a now seventy-eight-storey treehouse.
Nic: They believe it is real. Fantastic.
Andy: And this is what came out of the margins of the Just books, where Andy and Terry gradually became characters. Terry would draw me being squashed by a piano, for instance. And the kids at the talks would say, ‘did you know that on page 52 of Just Stupid Terry draws you being squashed by a piano?’. And I go, ‘really? Did he? Where?’. And they show me. And I’d go, ‘right, when I find him I’m going to really smash him when I go home’.
And so, I realised they were starting to have a whole narrative of their own, about us and our relationship. So that was a hint that I could write about us living in a treehouse and doing that.
Just on that last point though, there is a really important point where if you try to write second-guessing your audience, I think that’s a really bad way to write. And it’s what I do notice a lot of writers for kids do. They’ll go, ‘kids like disgusting stuff and crazy stuff, so I’ll put some disgusting crazy stuff in to please the kiddies’. That doesn’t work because you are not being true to yourself.
Nic: And you are not being childish yourself either, you’re from an adult perspective.
Andy: You are not being childish. And the kids see through that instantly. They don’t want disgusting stuff for its own sake, they want it tied into a plot. Yes, if you can do that, and you are only going to do that if you are engaged and genuinely amused by your childish intuition that this is great.
So, writing… Second-guessing is always a bad thing. But it is bold and scary to just take of and go, ‘you know what, I’m just going to do this because it amuses me’. Because there may not be any guarantee of a wider audience there, but so be it.
When I finally said, ‘I’m going to embrace absurdity’, I thought I was cutting myself off from a major audience. For sure, I thought I’ll just be this kook who lives in my friend’s room that I’m renting, and I’ll just pile up these mad manuscripts that no one can care about. Although someone might find them and be inspired that this idiot spent his whole life writing mad things that no one read.
Andy: Because a lot of my heroes were outsider artists, who forced the reader to come to them.
Nic: Sure. Do you like absurdity in other art forms? In your viewing habits, reading habits… Do you like absurdity?
Andy: Yeah. It’s what I zero straight for.
Nic; Any that come to mind?
Andy: Oh, I remember the delight of discovering Salvatore Dali art when I was in high school. Monty Python…
Nic: Of course.
Andy: … was new then, and both Jill and I just couldn’t believe that something so lawless and wonderful was coming through the staid channels of ABC. Later on, it was punk rock…
Andy: … and new wave music. It is an endless store of bizarre ideas and absurdity. Devo were a particular love. They’re really absurdists, surrealists working within the punk genre. Comedians, The Young Ones.
Nic: Oh, The Young Ones. Absolutely. That is probably the most anarchic television series ever. I showed it to my kids recently for the first time – and I hadn’t seen it since the mid 80s when it came out – and it was still as anarchic then. And I realised, I don’t think there has anything been quite as anarchic since. But it also paved the way for all of those really weird, whether Red Dwarf or The Gentleman’s League, or those sort. I don’t think they could have happened without the absolutely anarchic nature. And that was punk anarchic, which was just brilliant.
Andy: Yeah. And that brought together my love of rock and roll and my love of drama, and I just went, ‘I want a book and some short stories that reflect that energy’. So, that was a major clue, and they did a beautiful series, Filthy Rich and Cat Flap, which is critically panned…
Nic: I know that one.
Andy: … and I think a great work of genius because there is almost nothing happening, they are just messing…
Nic: It is. They are just running around…
Andy: It’s mad. And then that evolved into Bottom, which is a much more accomplished version. But I think Bottom has a huge… I owe to Bottom a huge debt of gratitude for the Treehouse, because it is just two people, friends who are nominally friends but just as happy to attack each other. So, yeah, that was hugely important. But absurdity it’s what I gravitate to.
Nic: Just finally, you’ve written many jokes in your books over the years. Do you have a favourite joke? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a kids joke, but do you have a favourite joke you’d like to share with us?
Andy: Well, I don’t even have to think about it.
Andy: It was the joke I learned in grade 3. We thought it was incredibly funny because it was a non-joke.
‘Why did the boy fall off his bike?’
Nic: I don’t know, Andy. Why did the boy fall off his bike?
Andy: Because his mother threw a fridge at him.
Andy: And we used to think that was hilarious. And I put that in The Bad Book, because I thought that is a perfect venue for a bad joke. And then I wrote another one so we had a bit more on the page.
‘Why did the boy fail his math test?’
And the answer is because his mother threw a fridge at him.
And then there was a third one.
‘Why did the boy suffer multiple injuries, brain damage and massive bruising, internal bleeding, crushed vertebrae, ruptured organs?’
And when I ask this to a group of kids they’ll all go, ‘because his mother threw a fridge at him’.
And I’ll go, ‘no, because he was hit by a truck’.
Andy: But it was driven by his mother.
Nic: I’m beginning to see why the publisher said ‘look, we can’t do 200 of these in the same book’.
Andy: Well, Pan Macmillan published The Bad Book, much to the delight of the kids, much to the horror of a certain section of booksellers and gatekeepers. I got on A Current Affair as this bad author, and they showed this bookseller keeping my book in the back room, and he had to get up on a ladder if you wanted it, you had to ask for it. And this mad guy, showing himself censoring my book. And it actually decreased the sales of that book, because people were so scared of it.
Andy: And Terry and I were going, ‘what did we do wrong here? This was our best stuff, this breaks audiences up live’. And two years… a couple of years went on, and we suddenly realised sales of this book were almost doubling every year, because people forgot to be scared about it and just started becoming normal. And we went,’ we were right all along’. But there is such a thing as too much bad publicity, we discovered.
But when this went to America, because they were publishing The Day My Butt Went Psycho (that worked really well there), they just looked at that in horror. My publisher, who is really on board, just looked at it and said, ‘I can’t publish that. I would have to cross out 80 per cent, because we can’t abide by kids dying in the books, even in absurd situations’.
And that’s why I say you can’t second-guess a market, because it has done really well here. It was a huge, important stepping stone for us to get through that.
And Treehouse owes its life to that, that book. But Treehouse modifies that humour enormously, because we’ve learned to use it and what it is. At first you don’t know. So if we’d try to be good back then, we would never have gotten to here.
Nic: Gotten where you are.
Andy: So that’s why I say commit to what you genuinely feel is engaging to yourself and, with a bit of research, an audience. But if the audience doesn’t come along, you know, that’s no problem. Look at Gerald Murnane.
Yeah, that’s the second time he has come up recently. Absolutely. He is the Australian example, isn’t he, of the unheralded genius?
Andy: He loves it if the audience pays attention, but it’s not important in the slightest. He’s writing for himself.
Andy: And I think you need a bit of that arrogance.
Nic: Yeah, I must interview him.
Andy, Jill, thank you so much for the time you’ve given us on The Garret. We’ve had, I’ve had an absolutely ball, and I know what you’ve told us will be of enormous interest for our listeners, so thank you very much.
Andy: Thank you.