Ep 67 A 50,000-word book written without the letter “e”, your chance to write for the Eat, Pray, Love anthology, Fairfax to bring sub-editing back in-house, the new Problogger podcast and we talk to Writer in Residence Andy Griffiths. And a YouTube channel to pronounce words.

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In Episode 67 of So you want to be a writer: Ten works of literature that were seriously strenuous to write, Eat, Pray, Love anthology looking for submissions, The Sydney Morning Herald to reverse “dumb idea” and bring subediting back in-house, Darren Rowse launches new Problogger podcast, Writer in Residence Andy Griffiths, a YouTube channel on pronouncing words, and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

10 Works of Literature That Were Really Hard to Write

Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It

Sydney Morning Herald editor working on plan to bring production back in-house

Problogger Podcast

Writer in Residence

ANTE-9840Andy Griffiths is one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors. Andy is best known for The Treehouse series, the JUST! books and The Day My Bum Went Psycho. Over the last 20 years Andy’s books have been New York Times bestsellers, adapted for the stage and television and won more than 50 Australian children’s choice awards. Andy, a passionate advocate for literacy, is an ambassador for The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and The Pyjama Foundation.

His latest book,The 65-Storey Treehouse, will be released in August.

Andy Griffiths’ website

Andy Griffiths on Twitter

Pan Macmillian Australia on Twitter

Web Pick

Pronunciation Book on YouTube

Working Writer’s Tip

What new freelance writers need to know about tax

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And this is the soon-to-be-removed staging furniture in the room Allison usually stays in when at Valerie’s house. Allison feels ripped off that she usually gets the blow-up mattress!

Valerie's spare room

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Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview transcript

Allison

Andy Griffiths is one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors, best known for the Treehouse series, the JUST! books, and my personal favorite, The Day My Bum Went Psycho.

 

Over the last 20 years Andy’s books have been New York Times Bestsellers, adapted for the stage and television and have won more than 50 Australian Children’s Choice and other awards.

 

Andy is now an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and the Pajama Foundation.

 

And The 65-Storey Treehouse will hit the shelves on the 12th of August, 2015, to the great anticipation of children everywhere.

 

Welcome, Andy, thank you so much for your time today.

 

Andy

Thank you.

 

Allison

In my excellent researching have been through your website, which was highly entertaining. But, according to your bio you started writing at the age of six and then you published your first book, Just Tricking, about 30 years later. I feel like we need to have a little chat about what happened in the intervening years.

 

Andy

The lost years.

 

Allison

The lost years. What did you do in all of that time? I saw that there was, like, a punk rock band singing involved?

 

Andy

Well, I had always been writing and my dad and mom had stuff going right back until about the age of six, which was kind of mischievous and silly and designed to get a raise out of people, even back then.

 

I kept that up all through school, mainly for the benefit of my friends, I loved making the laugh, or groan, or shock them in some way. That dovetailed really nicely with my discovery of Alice Cooper in his shock rock period, and then punk rock. I just found it very inspiring and amusing to create songs and eventually we put together a joke band and did a concert for the school, which was very, very well-received.

 

Allison

What was the name of the band, Andy? I need to know.

 

 

 

Andy

Well, the first one was called Silver Cylinder, after my friend’s brother’s surfboard making company in his garage. And, then it turned into Unborn Babies, during the punk stage.

 

Allison

Oh, right.

 

Andy

And then the art rock phase was Gothic Farmyard.

 

Allison

Gothic Farmyard?

 

Andy

Yeah.

 

Allison

I like that. That’s lovely.

 

Andy

And then I realized, after a number of years, I crafted the lyrics, so I was the vocalist and learned how to perform them and hold the attention of an audience. But, at the same time I was aware that my real interest was writing. I was doing bachelor of arts course, literature degree at university. Eventually that led me into teaching, so I became a high school English teacher. At the same time I was really starting to read how to write books and take courses, and develop what was a pretty raw talent into something I could control a little better. And, at the same time discovered all of these kids in early high school who wanted something funny to read, but couldn’t find it on the library shelves.

 

I started doing exactly what I’ve done for my friends at school, and writing little pieces for them, you know? Involving runaway bums and things that made the laugh and gasp, and go, “Wow, writing is fun, can we do some of that?”

 

Then I began self-publishing collections of their work, and then collections of my work, just with a photocopier and staples and scissors.

 

Allison

Real self-publishing.

 

Andy

Yeah, and I just thought, “Oh, I love doing this.” And, so eventually I left teaching to study writing and editing full time. At the same time I had saved up about half of my pay for about three years, so I had a little grant that got me through two years of just clinging to the rock face, just trying to find where my place was and what my style was.

 

At the beginning it wasn’t necessarily my aim to be a comedy writer, it was to be a serious writer. I thought, “Oh, this comedy stuff is all very well, but you really have to write literary short stories to get people to take you seriously.”

 

I did that, but my heart wasn’t it. It was always this lunatic tone that coming through and breaking it, and wrecking everything that I tried to do. At that point I went, “Yeah, I get it. I’m a stirrer and a comedian at heart, and somebody that just likes, in its purest form, entertaining my reader.” That was kind of news to me after trying lots of different styles.

 

Allison

It’s really interesting that you were still writing those funny little stories, but it never occurred to you that they were actually your thing.

 

Andy

No.

 

Allison

Because that’s what writing was? Is that what it is?

 

Andy

Exactly.

 

Allison

You weren’t a writer with a capital ‘W’ if you were writing that kind of stuff?

 

Andy

Yeah, it was too obvious. It was so much in front of my face, I couldn’t see it.

 

Allison

Isn’t that interesting?

 

Andy

And I think this is the great battle for an emerging writing, is to somehow be able to be aware of what other people are doing, because you always feel that’s the proper stuff, “It must be, it’s getting published,” and the stuff that you’re doing almost feels so idiosyncratic, so kind of just oddly you that you think, “Well, this can’t be real stuff.” And, yet, I think that’s what we’re all craving as readers, is for someone to be utterly themselves in the fiction. The tendency is to copy other people and to sound like, for me it was Raymond Carver.

 

Allison

Oh right.

 

Andy

I loved Raymond Carver, I discovered him and started realizing that all of my stories were sounding a little Raymond Carver-ish. He’s a good model.

 

Allison

Yeah, really.

 

Andy

At a certain point you have to go, “Yeah, right, I’ve learned how to write short sentences and I’ve learned how to explore a moment in great detail, but now how do I apply that to what’s coming out of me?”

 

 

Allison

Do you still have those literary short stories that you’ve wrote? Are they still in a drawer somewhere?

 

Andy

Yeah, they’re probably locked away in a deep, dark suitcase.

 

Allison

In a vault.

 

Andy

I have kept a lot of stuff, because I am fascinated with the process of how people find their voice. I love looking at the career of someone like David Bowie, who in his early years was casting around trying to find where he fit in, and he did some really quite different stuff to what we know him for now. But, he’d try it out, “No, that’s not working,” try this out, try something else, “No, that’s not working.” Try a little song about being an astronaut in a rocket that can’t get back to Earth, “Ah, yeah, that’s the one that everyone’s waiting for.” But, you can see he didn’t know.

 

I encourage a spirit of being experimental in your approach and trying everything and see what works and then see what feels comfortable and then committing to that.

 

Allison

Do you think then that’s why in 1997 a publisher said ‘yes’ to Just Tricking? Was that because you’d actually just followed your heart and your voice at that point?

 

Andy

Yeah, by that stage… that started in 1987, doing the courses, reading the books and putting the practice in. I discovered a book called Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, who was very keen on writers putting the hours in and putting the practice in. She have a method of time writing practice, which was to write non-stop on any subject without editing, without thinking, without trying to control it, just get words on the page for a five-minute period and then repeat it again and again and again.

 

That allows you to access your subconscious without the editing function getting in the way, going, “Well, that’s a bit silly,” or, “That’s a bit rude,” or, “That’s not appropriate, as if bums could grow arms and legs. Let’s get onto something a bit more realistic.” You need to escape that voice when you’re getting the raw material on the page. You bring it in later to edit what you’ve done and to tidy it up. But, too often it’s fused at the creation stage, so people are very timid and very restricted in what they feel they can write.

 

Natalie Goldberg, I recommend her to everyone. The first book, Writing Down the Bones is an absolute goldmine. It’s like footy training or soccer ball training, you don’t just play the game, you actually spend a number of nights each week practicing your skills, and that’s crucial. I think it was crucial for me to just learn how to develop and be comfortable with putting thoughts into words, and also comfortable with my own internal landscape of ideas psychology of it. You end up not being able to shocked by anything that comes up.

 

 

 

 

Allison

Are you still writing like that? Do you still write like that almost stream of consciousness to start with and just see what happens? Or are you a little bit more planned with it these days?

 

Andy

I use it, I will use that to begin with. I will go into a very free writing phase where I don’t know where it’s going, and then I can switch between the modes pretty quickly now and know exactly which mode I’m in.

 

Yeah, I still use the free writing, it can be in the form of a list, making a list of, say, 50 new levels for the treehouse, and I’ll need to get it done in half an hour. Then you will just be pulling anything out of the air, 80 percent of it will be garbage, but within that craziness there will be ten percent potentially useable and one percent that’s definitely useable, but you don’t get the one percent unless you put in the whole 100 percent. It’s a very wasteful, slow process, but it does requires hours and hours, but then you get those random things that you wonder how you ever got them.

 

Allison

I’ve read many of your books over the last few years, I’ve got two boys, eleven and eight, so we have quite the collection. There was a randomness from that perspective, obviously the stories are cohesive and ‘Andy does this…’ and all of that sort of thing. But, I just sit there and I go, “Where did that come from?” Where would you have even had the thought to write that story.

 

Do you know it’s funny when you write it immediately? Do you know that kids will like it when you’re writing it? Or is it something that you don’t necessarily know until you put it out?

 

Andy

These days I can make a pretty reasonable prediction. In the early days I didn’t necessarily know it was funny. I get the funny sects by actually just starting with a premise, that is a little absurd, like a bum that can detach itself and run away from the owner. Now, that’s a funny premise, but then I follow it absolutely logically. I go, “Right, that’s what has happened, what would you do?” If your dog ran away you’d ring the dog catcher, so if your bum ran away you’d ring the bum catcher.

 

Allison

Of course you would.

 

Andy

And then I use a structured planning process where I go, “What’s the worse thing that could happen next?” Your bum has gassed the bum-catcher. How would you solve that? The bum catcher with dying gasp gives you the bum catching equipment and says, “You’ve got to catch it.” And then you go, “No, no, I can’t… I don’t know how to do this.” And then he dies and then you have to do it.

 

I’m utterly ruthlessly logical and I’m not trying to be funny, I’m just trying to solve a series of increasing absurd problems and then I just trust that’s going to be engaging and amusing for the reader.

 

Allison

Well, it’s kind of funny just thinking about it.

 

I mean I just had this vision of you going to your publisher saying, “Look, I’ve written this book, it’s called The Day My Bum Went Psycho, what do you reckon?” Were parents and teachers initially resistant to that kind of stuff? Like, did your publisher go, “Are you mental?” Like, what sort of response do you get when you send that stuff in?

 

Andy

To begin with I’ve always gone with Tim Winton’s analysis of writing for children, how it’s a little more complex because you can’t just write to the child. In normal writing it’s you who writes a story that you like to the audience that you think would like it, and that’s a straight transmission. But, to get to a child you have to go through gate-keepers, librarians, teachers, parents. What a parent finds amusing is not necessarily what the kid finds amusing, and vice versa.

 

You need to somehow get to the craziness and sometimes the rudeness across in a way that doesn’t offend the older readers, and is acceptable. There’s quite a little balancing act that a lot of people aren’t aware of. You can’t just fill a book with poo and bum and stuff, because as adults we just go, “Oh, this is disgusting, I don’t want to read this.” So, there’s that.

 

I was very careful for the first four books, Just Tricking, Just Annoying, Just Stupid, and Just Crazy, to utterly take that into account. But, I was increasingly meeting librarians who said, “I had to take your book off the shelf because a parent complained the boy was disrespectful, so I had to take it out of circulation.” I was outraged. I just thought, “How can one parent control what happens in your entire library?”

 

So, I became increasingly rebellious and also at the same time the kids would say, “What book are you going to write next?” Just for jokes I would say, “I’m going to write a serious book,” and they’d all go, “Oh…” I’d go, “Life’s not all fun. This one is called The Day My Bum Went Psycho,” and then they would laugh because they realized I had taken them in.

 

That was just a joke for a number of years, and then I thought, “Well, I should really write this.” And the publisher said, “Are you ever going to actually write that?” And I said, “Well, yeah, it would be kind of fun,” and then I could wave it at all of the librarians and get everyone saying the word ‘bum’ over and over and over.

 

Allison

Because ‘bum’ is a funny word.

 

Andy

And that’s what I knew from my research of being a visiting writer in schools, it had a power because there’s embarrassment and tension associated with it because it’s an unpredictable part of your body and kids often get into trouble for what their bum does. I just thought, “What’s the worst thing your bum could do? Jump off your body and try to take over the world.”

 

 

Allison

This is possibly the best conversation I’ve ever had on this podcast.

 

Andy

It’s all utterly logical to me.

 

Allison

Absolutely, yep.

 

Andy
But, it’s based on emotional truth, that’s why it is so funny, because kids have this embarrassment around it. Often when we’re embarrassed we release that tension by laughter. I thought, “Let’s put bums at the centre of a plot, an action thriller, and the bad guys are the bums and then we just tell it straight.” And that’s what I did.

 

Allison

Were you laughing while you were writing it? Or were you actually just intensely seriously, “OK, if my bum did this I would do that…”?

 

Andy

Totally, I’m laughing and I’m just writing, “Could I get away with this? Why not?” “How gross can I make this? Oh, that’s pretty gross, what if I did that?” “There on top of the Stenchgantor of the great unwiped bum, I may have to get to the brown sea or something. Oh and he needs to have warts, he’ll have a pimple on top, and then he’d sit on the pimple and it would burst and go flying over the forest and into the ocean.” It’s utterly gross, but it’s so ridiculous that your only option, really, is to laugh. Luckily everyone did, not everyone.

 

I just wanted to move us on from trying to be so precious with children’s books, meanwhile movies, television, video games, computer games, they can do anything they want, and books were just looking like these tired precious little polite things that everyone wanted to be nice and not doing anything offensive.

 

That was utterly unlike my experience of reading as a child, which books were a wild playground where you confronted the unacceptable and the taboo and the slightly scary. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is about a cat that comes in when the mother goes out and attempts to wreck the house. It’s not pretty or polite, and I just felt like we’ve got to this weird place where books were not keeping pace with where children were at.

 

Allison

Do you think adults just sometimes take reading too seriously? Is that part of the problem?

 

Andy

Yeah, the main problem that adults have had with my books, and with books in general, is thinking that if a child reads about a character who transgresses the bounds of politeness or common sense that the child reader is not sufficiently well-developed enough to tell the difference between that and real life, and they’ll think that you’re giving them tacit permission to use these words or to emulate the behavior of the out of control kid that I love writing about.

 

My experience was, “Of course they know the difference,” and that’s why this is amusing and a fun imaginative exercise. What happens when you don’t look both ways when you cross the road? This was fundamental to my understanding of reading, that’s why I loved it.

 

Over the years people realized, “Oh, the kids know this is a game, this is fun.” The worst effect that it was having was making them want to read. But, adults were, you know, delightfully slow in realizing this, and The Bad Book got me into a lot of trouble. Everyone said, “You’re teaching children to be bad.” I go, “No, the kids know the rules, they don’t need anyone telling them what’s appropriate, but they love to see kids disobeying those rules.” That was the main argument that I used to have.

 

But the Treehouse series actually takes all of those experiments and puts it in a very accessible package for both children and adults.

 

Allison

Which is why it’s been so successful, you think?

 

Andy

I think so. Because we did all of the experiments, I did all of the gross-out humor in the bums, there’s four books’ worth of that, until I finally got to the end of it and I went, “Yeah, right. Yes, I’ve explored the gross out humor to its maximum.”

 

Allison

Do you think the Bumosaur book was the zenith of that?

 

Andy

Yeah. Well, the Bumosaur book, in which, for those uninitiated, about 80 bumosaurs, including the Tyrannosore-arse rex and Tricerabutts are all scientifically illustrated and explained.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andy

But, you’ll see that’s looking like the Treehouse book, it’s heavily illustrated, the text is much shorter and more playful. We were just working towards it. The Bad Book explored all of the taboo humor, it hammered out the form of how we could work it, to do a longer narrative. So, there’s nothing that I have done in the past that was wasted in the discovery that the Treehouse could tell a long complex narrative using pictures as the replacement for long, boring descriptions and make it accessible to an emerging reader, to a very good reader and go back in find a lot of stuff in there.

 

Allison

I should probably explain at this point that the ‘we’ is you and Terry Denton. When did you guys actually start working together?

 

Andy

We started working in 1993, he was assigned to the very first book I had, which was a creative writing textbook, and the publisher put us together. We hadn’t met, but I had saw what he had done and just realized there was a kindred spirit here, a lover of anarchy and wild freedom was coming out of his drawing.

 

We eventually met on the school kind of circuit, entertaining kids in schools. He offered to illustrate anything further that I did, which was enormously helpful, because publishers were still very nervous of me at that point, they didn’t really understand the chaotic nature of the humor.

 

But, having Terry, who was an established illustrator at that point made me a safer bet for the eventual brave publisher who published Just Tricking, at the end of a ten year, kind of, apprenticeship for me. So, it came out fully formed after ten years of constant experimentation, just trying to find the exact right voice and style that would allow me to be completely natural in fiction. And when you’re completely yourself I think the reader just believes you.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andy

And that’s what it’s about, you’re trying to get the reader to completely believe in this fictional world that you’re setting up. With the Treehouse, I think, more than any other book or series the children believe that world exists even after they’ve stopped reading the book. They imagine that me and Terry and Jill are all madly trying to get another book together, which is not that far from the truth.

 

Allison

Do you work together right from the inception of a story? Like, you and Terry? Or do you write words and then convene? How does that process work?

 

Andy

No, I have a rough outline, an idea, which I don’t develop very far at all, and then I have number of sessions with Terry where I sort of tell him the idea and he starts doing little cartoon strips to illustrate scenes and passages of action. And, as he does that I start to develop my idea, so my idea is developing from his input, and then my further developments influence his further illustrations.

 

So, that was our aim back in 2003, when we started The Bad Book, that was the first book that we started playing with this idea of actually writing and drawing together rather than separate.

 

So there will probably be about two weeks of storyboarding, and then I bring all of that back to my wife, Jill, who’s an editor. We then probably put two or three months of very hard work, structuring it all into sequential narrative, using the pictures in a cut and paste sort of method. Then we’re telling each other the story, really, using those pictures and my ever increasing words. And, we keep finding new possibilities.

 

Terry may drop in for a day and we’ll say, “Look, we’ve got this idea for a section, can you draw us some pictures?” Or, ‘Can you draw a character? We don’t know what this character is going to look like.” Then he might do twenty versions of a character and I’ll find one and I’ll go, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” and then that helps me to know what to write and how to refine it.

 

It’s back and forth for an entire year.

 

Allison

So, it’s very complex and very collaborative to come out with something that the children read so easily, isn’t it?

 

Andy

Yeah.

 

Allison

They always say that easy reading is damn hard writing, it sounds like that would be the case.

 

Andy

Yeah, and it’s not unpleasurable. I mean it’s like working out of working out a crossword puzzle or something. It’s very… like problem solving, non-stop.

 

But, yeah, Jill is crucial, she’s the editor. She tells us when we’re getting too far down the rabbit hole of conceptual humor. She brings us back to characters and voices and conversations, because left to our own devices we can do two dozen pages of a dog barking. Seems conceptually very funny. She might go, “Really? Twelve pages?” She says, “Oh, I think two would be better.” We go, “No, no, no, six — six.” “We’ll agree on four.”

 

So, she’s crucial in making sure that we’re keeping connected to a wider audience, then also, of course, the female audience, because I’m quite passionate about the books not being for boys, or excluding girls in any way. Our readership has always been 50 percent female.

 

Allison

That’s brilliant.

 

Andy

There is stuff that appeals to boys, but it doesn’t exclude the girls, and Jill is a character in the book who is mixing it up and as brave and as action-based as the boys.

 

Allison

Excellent. In your FAQ section, which I read with great interest, you said that you get a rush of ideas for a new book as soon as you finish one. Has there ever been a time when that wasn’t the case? Have you ever experienced writer’s block in any sort of way?

 

Andy

Not really because of the Natalie Goldberg timed writing practice.

 

Allison

Of course.

 

 

 

Andy

If you just set the timer and start writing something is going to happen within five minutes, within ten, half an hour or an hour. Literally you cannot fail to find something after just an hour.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Andy
I do remember we had done The Bad Book, which is a collection of rhymes and poems and songs and cartoons that are all relentlessly exploring the idea of kids being bad, the opposite to good happens in all of those.

 

And then we did The Very Bad Book, and the kids loved that one. Then we thought, “Oh, it might be time to do The Very, Very Bad Book. Terry came along, we went away for a week and we went to a beach house down on the outside of Wilsons Promontory National Park in Victoria. We know if we set aside a Monday to Friday, we’ve got five days, something has got to happen in those five days, because you’d feel really bad coming back with nothing.

 

We just sit down, we don’t have a real idea, I said, “OK, what haven’t we done in the previous Bad books that we can do?” He showed me a collage picture of a tiny little cartoon bird that he had done holding a photograph and an enormous gun. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen, the cutest little bird and the most-dangerous looking gun. I was like, “Well, you’ve gazumpt there, we can’t go beyond that for badness.”

 

So, we were sort of stuck. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, but we wanted to keep going. I said, “Maybe if we bring Andy and Terry in, ourselves, as the hosts of The Bad Book we can be bad hosts and bad things could be happening to us while we’re telling the bad stories.”

 

This seemed promising enough. I said, “We’d probably live in somewhere like a treehouse, really cool, with a bowling alley and a tank full of man-eating sharks.” I said, “Can you draw something like that? And meanwhile I will start working on how we will approach the reader.”

 

Over two or three hours that afternoon he drew what became the cover of The 13-storey Treehouse, because he added all of this other stuff and made it totally convincing. I said, “I didn’t k now you could draw like that.” He said, “Oh yeah, I used to do architecture at university before I dropped out.” I said, “That world that you’ve created in the treehouse is what we need to write about, that’s more interesting to me than doing another Bad book.” I said, “We’ll be in it and we’ll be trying to write our book and we won’t be able to write the book because we’re getting distracted by all of the stuff in the treehouse.” So, that was how that happened.

 

From the writer’s block, not being able to do the Very, Very Bad Book something far greater came. Perhaps we couldn’t do the Very, Very Bad Book because we had worked it out, in a sense. We had explored the whole idea. I think that’s very important, that a creative project should be something that you don’t quite understand, you don’t quite know how it’s going to come out, and it’s in the process of trying to wrestle with it and bring it under control that the creativity actually happens.

 

Allison

You’re up to 65 stories, how many stories do you think this treehouse has got in it?

 

Andy

As I say, each time I finish a book another area becomes apparent that we haven’t explored. The 65 was exploring what a number of adults have said at the talks, they said, “Do you have a permit for this treehouse?” And, they’re trying to be funny, but I’m like, “Actually, that’s a really good question.”

 

Most likely I would have given Terry some money to go get a permit and he would have traded it for something stupid, and then we wouldn’t have a permit and that obviously necessitates a visit from a safety inspector, a permit guy. Inspector Bubble Wrap comes and looks at it and goes, “We’ve got to demolish this treehouse, it’s totally unsafe.” Then they have to figure out how they’re going to get the permit, which is done by Terry creating a time machine out of a rubbish bin.

 

Allison

Of course.

 

Andy

And they go back in time to get the permit that he was supposed to get 6.5 years ago. But, instead they go 650 million years back into the past and go bouncing all over history because the time machine doesn’t work properly.

 

That’s that one.

 

Then a lot of kids are asking about a movie. Part of the whole appeal of this book is that it’s happening in your head, and the treehouse doesn’t have to be worked out logically, because it changes shape every book. So, it’s nothing that we’re wanting to happen anytime soon. But, that book will be about the movie, the disastrous attempts of a Hollywood producer to make a movie.

 

Allison

Did you read a lot of Enid Blyton when you were a kid?

 

Andy

Totally.

 

Allison

Yeah, I’m getting Far Away Tree vibes.

 

Andy

I read nothing but Enid Blyton from the age of about 8-11. She was the only one I could trust to get the story started fast, no moralizing, a world of adventure, pleasure and danger all mixed in.

 

 

Allison

And kids on their own, always.

 

Andy

Kids on their own, having adventures. Yeah, The Far Away Tree was a huge influence on me and in particular the treehouse. But, not copying anything, I was just trying to be true to the feeling of infinite novelty that I would get from reading that book.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah, that’s so true.

 

Andy

That’s why the tree just keeps extending endlessly.

 

To answer your question, no, I don’t know when the Treehouse series will end. As long as there is life and something new to explore it will keep going.

 

Allison

Judging by the interest, they’re lining out in front of bookshops for it when it comes out.

 

Andy

Yeah.

 

Allison

So… you know?

 

Andy

I’m not sure they’ll let us stop for at least a few more books.

 

Allison

No, definitely.

 

Just to change the subject then, a subject that comes up a lot with authors these days is this business of creating an author platform and a brand. Obviously, you’ve been writing and very consistently in a similar vein, voice, for many years. But, I also know that you’re on Twitter and you have a Facebook page and stuff. You obviously do give a nod to that.

 

Do you put a conscious effort into this business of an author platform? What are your thoughts on it?

 

Andy

Well, you said it just then, I give a nod to it. It is important and can be… see I was writing pre-internet, as that came in I saw websites as a tremendous opportunity to promote books and for kids to find out about new books. So I was an early adopter of that, I had my website up and the school project information on the website, because you used to get a lot of letters wanting date of birth, place, all of that. But, I always thought, “This is great, we can now find out about books and authors faster than ever.”

 

The social media aspect I’m less excited about, because a book for me is really a tweet that takes a year to write. So, books have always been connecting with a larger audience, but I’d much prefer putting a lot of work into things, whereas Twitter is flying off the top of your head, ideally.

 

I think it’s important, but it’s important not to get the cart before the horse in this respect. I think the work really has to go into the books and reading. Where I see the danger of Twitter and Facebook is that it’s another distraction that can take you away from rereading one of your favorite books, which will inspire you to write a much better book, but if you’re too busy tweeting back and forth with this and that, you’re not going deep.

 

I use it at arm’s distance for very specific book promotion purposes.

 

Allison

What do you think then is the best way, like, for a children’s author these days to build their profile? Is it school visits? Is that the way forward?

 

Andy

I do think that there’s no substitute for having a life audience in front of you, and that can be as few as half a dozen kids. To read them a story and then to observe them very closely and see if they’re responding to what you are writing.

 

A lot of writers are scared of that because it’s kind of you’re putting yourself out there and what if it fails. But, I would rather it fail in front of six kids then work on an entire book and then put it out and find that no one is very interested. So, I’ve always totally believed in getting an audience at the right time and testing it out and adjusting it and going, “They seemed a bit bored at that introduction, what if I get rid of the introduction and start with something that just grabs them straightaway?”

 

You only learn that in front of an audience, unless you’re a literary writer who’s not terribly concerned about that, that’s a different type of writing, but for me it’s always been a conversation, and a conversation involves two people, not just you.

 

Allison

Talking at them.

 

Andy

Talking at them, which is a very common mistake of many children’s books that are actually published.

 

Allison

That seems like an opportune moment for me to throw in the top three tips for aspiring authors questions — what would your top three tips for aspiring authors be?

 

Andy

Only three?

 

Allison

Yeah, I know, it’s hard isn’t it? Just the three.

 

Andy

I am a big believer in the timed writing practice and putting the hours in. Writing for at least half an hour to an hour a day. That practice can start with just five minutes a day, that’s how I started trying to fill up two pages of an exercise book, that was my basic daily commitment. That very quickly I strengthened and found much more to write about until it was 10 minutes, 15 minutes, so you build up.

 

But, with that constant practice that’s not involved in creating a story, but just exploring yourself. I think that is really useful.

 

Reading, rereading your favorite books, the things that really inspire you, even if they’re not acceptable literary classics, such as Enid Blyton, or my collection of horror comics that I’ve still got from when I was ten. I get so much delight and inspiration from those. That delight and inspiration goes directly into what I’m writing, so you’ve got to read and you’ve got to keep discovering new stuff and that’s like the compost that enriches anything that you do.

 

I guess, from what we’ve talked about, finding an audience. Testing your stuff on an actual group of people. If it’s kids that you’re writing for, then kids is a good one. But, I did a lot of spoken word readings for adults in the early days, and that taught me a lot to about where you can take an audience and what you could do to them. It taught me that I was not particularly good at being serious, but I loved making them laugh. That’s really valuable information for helping you to decide who you are as a writer and what you would like to achieve.

 

Allison

Those were excellent tips. Thank you so much, Andy. Thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it. I’m sure that our listeners will have learned a lot and I’m sure that our conversation about bums will have no doubt entertained them because, really, I just don’t think there’s enough bums in the world.

 

Yeah, thank you very much and good luck with The 65-storey Treehouse.

 

Andy

Thank you very much.

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