Australian author Andy Griffiths is officially now bigger than J.K. Rowling – and with tales of exploding eyeballs and cows, epic quests to find a loo and permanent birthday parties you can see why. When
Andy was in New Zealand to promote his new book The 65-Storey Treehouse recently, Upstart sent three of Andy's biggest fans to ask him the tough questions.
Interview by ADELLE BALLANTYNE, 9, from Woodville, LEVI NEWDICK, 11, from Wellington
and MEG WINCHESTER, 9, from Kapiti
Co-Ordinated by (the totally terrific) TESSA JOHNSTONE
Adelle: What inspires you to write your books?
Andy: I've always enjoyed making my friends laugh, since school. I was always drawing little cartoons and writing little stories that were just silly. When I became an English teacher I started writing that sort of thing to amuse my students and then realised they were enjoying that so started collecting them into little books. When I get together with illustrator Terry Denton we make each other laugh too. I say, can you draw a duck with its eye coming out and an arrow through its head? We get excited and that's the motivation to keep going – what would that duck do, who put the arrow through its head? Just by asking those questions the story starts coming together.
Meg: Do real-life events inspire you?
Andy: In the Just series, they start with a true event. So in Just Stupid there's a story called Busting, which is about not being able to find a toilet in a multi-level shopping centre. That actually happened to me. I thought what if you were really busting and you couldn't find the toilet in the shopping centre, what would you do? Then, because I'm quite evil, I give that to the character Andy… I torture him. I have him running around the whole shopping centre going past waterfalls, getting his shoelace caught in an escalator just as he can see the toilet ahead. In Treehouse, it's just that we get together on a regular basis, work on the second level of the house and it looks like we're in a treehouse.
Meg: How do you know what kids like?
Andy: Because I used to be a kid. I remember loving Enid Blyton books like Magic Faraway Tree, Folk of the Faraway Tree, a series called the Adventures of the Wishing-Chair – you'd sit in the chair and it would grow wings and take you to a place that was strange and dangerous. I loved that, loved Mad magazine, and horror comics about scientists inventing crazy things, monsters, shrinking people. You'll see all of those elements in my books, particularly in the Treehouse series – that's why Terry has an underground laboratory and why we have mermaids that turn into sea monsters.
I'm writing the type of book I imagine I would have liked when I was your age – if I can please myself, my imagined 10-year-old self, hopefully you'll find it engaging too.
Levi: Where's your favourite place to write?
Andy: I have a little office space above a garage at home. It's filled with all sorts of toys and crazy sculptures and music I like to listen to and favourite books. I shut the door and I have all my comics I grew up with, my first typewriter I got when I was 10; it's a place that makes me feel creative and away from the rest of the house. I don't mind a hotel room either – that can be nice because there's nothing else to do.
Meg: Who is your favourite character and why?
Andy: Am I allowed to say myself? What I like about the Andy character – and he's not my favourite – is Andy thinks he is so great. And he thinks that Terry is such an idiot. But if you look at the stories Andy is just as much of an idiot as Terry, he just doesn't know it. It's often Terry's stupid ideas that help solve the problems.
My favourite character in the book really is Jill, who lives in the house full of animals, no adults around her… does what she wants. The animals are having a party all day long in her house and she just thinks it's funny.
In 65 she goes and lives with the ants for a year. She's now an explorer and in the next book I want her to have an intergalactic animal rescue service. She's going to help animals on other planets. She's my favourite because she's got this really interesting life. And she's also my wife in real life – I have to say it, but it's also true.
Levi: Do you prefer the Treehouse or Just series?
Andy: The Just series were the first stories I wrote and I really love them and that they go into very funny territory. But I think Treehouse is overall a more satisfying series because we've got Terry's pictures telling the stories as well.
In the Just books, remember he was just around the edges, originally I would keep him in the margins – keep out of the way of my stories, be silly there, but eventually I realised I could get him to do a lot of the work of the stories instead.
Levi: Which book in the Treehouse series do you like best?
Andy: Each book is always my favourite when I've finished it, and then I try to do an even sillier book. Fingers crossed we'll keep doing that.
Meg: Which of the floors in the treehouse is your favourite?
Andy: It used to be the Maze of Doom, because it was so scary and complicated, and then it was the Scariest Rollercoaster in the World, so scary that even dead people were too scared to go on it. But my current favourite is the Exploding Eyeball Room, which was a suggestion by readers once.
Levi: If you could change one of the titles of your books which one would it be?
Andy: I like all of the titles – The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Zombie Bums from Uranus, The Bad Book, The Very Bad Book. Often a lot of work goes into just the title. And when I get a really good title I'm inspired to write a book that will live up to the title. I actually don't think I would change any of them, there's been no really boring ones.
Adelle: How many more Treehouse stories do you think you'll do?
Andy: I think we have at least another two books so far. You either do three in a series, or seven, or in our case because everything is in 13 so it could be a 13-part series. It makes sense but it could take us through the middle of 2025. It would be 10 years working on the same book, and I think we may need a break before then. I might stop before it gets to 100 levels – I think I know how to do it, without killing them all.
Adelle: Any plans for a Very, Very Bad Book?
Andy: Yes. I think Terry is very, very keen to do a Very, Very Bad Book. I'm going to force him to finish the Treehouse series first. I think that could be a very, very, very silly book.
Levi: Why do you put so many penguins in your books?
Andy: That's Terri's domain. He just draws a lot of penguins. And cows, have you noticed there're a lot of cows? Did you notice at the end of 52, there's a cow swimming around in the see-through swimming pool. I didn't notice it until the book was published. It's like it's spying on them. So in the next book, the 78, I'm going to have them steal their ideas for a movie. And in the next book they're going to make a movie. The cows are going to become a major part of the book because Terry likes drawing cows. That's why we did the book The Big Fat Cow goes Kapow – I said, what do you like drawing? He said cows… and toasters. So I said we'll go with the cows.
Adelle: Do you have advice for anyone who wants to become an author?
Andy: Read as much as you can. That's where you build up an enormous store of ideas and learn how to write books. And also write as much as you can. In little notebooks like the ones you've got – write each day. I started with five minutes each day and built up to half an hour. Writing down anything that's happening, it doesn't have to be a story – it can just be practice putting thoughts into words, the more you do that the better you get.