You and Terry Denton have worked on lots of books together – how did you come to be an author/illustrator team and can you describe what the collaboration process is like?
Terry was assigned to my first book—a collection of creative writing starters for the classroom—by a publisher who thought his sense of humour would be a good match for mine. It turned out they were right. He always manages to draw just what I want but often in a surprising or slightly unexpected way. This often leads me to revise the text to incorporate this new unplanned element, which then encourages redrawing on his part and in the process he introduces new elements that then inspire me to rewrite. Over the years we’ve come to spend more and more time together in this collaborative process. It is always a joyful experience in which there is much laughter and a lot of silliness. Fortunately my wife Jill—who is also an editor and has worked on all of my books—manages to keep us on track and steps in and lets us know when we’ve crossed the line from entertaining a potential reader to merely entertaining ourselves. Jill is a crucial part of the writing team which is why we cast her as the girl who lives on the other side of the forest who often ends up helping Andy and Terry with their dilemmas.
Do you have, or have you ever had, a treehouse?
I was never lucky enough to have a treehouse but my cousin David had one in an oak tree in his backyard. It was just a basic platform but I loved the feeling of how the real world seemed to fade away as we lost ourselves in the imaginative (adult-free!) space of the treehouse. It was this feeling of complete involvement in an imaginative world that I recaptured many years later as an adult when I began collaborating with Terry on a regular basis.
You and Terry are the central characters in The 13-Storey Treehouse – how did it feel to construct stories like that? Did it encourage you to be even more anarchic than usual?
Totally anarchic and completely liberating. I love trying to come up with ideas and story lines that are seemingly impossible to illustrate. But somehow Terry manages to rise to the challenge every time in such a way that suggests new, even sillier ideas. In a funny way the Treehouse books are a playful attempt at capturing the process of creating a book: the free-wheeling fun of coming up with the raw material, the pleasure of unexpected sidetracks and accidents, and the terror of an approaching deadline and not wanting to disappoint your publisher or readers. It does, however, leave out the many months of tough and relentless editing and rewriting that goes into making sure every page of the story is as fast, funny and free of unnecessary words and description as we can make it.
Is it true that Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree stories were inspiration for this series?
I loved many Enid Blyton books: The Secret Seven, The famous five, The Wishing chair and the Faraway Tree stories were some of my favourites. I could always trust Enid Blyton to get the story started fast. She was great at getting rid of the adults and plunging her child heroes into surprising and dangerous worlds by the end of the first chapter. I guess I loved the sense that the faraway tree was sort of endlessly expansive, exciting and slightly dangerous and I tried to imbue our treehouse with those qualities.
The 13-Storey Treehouse has been a huge hit in Australia – what do you think gives it such special appeal?
Terry and I have experimented with many different styles of humour and narrative devices over the last twenty years and The 13-Storey Treehouse blends the best of these into a fully illustrated novel that combines poetry, short story, parody, comic strips and conventional story telling in a way that makes it accessible to readers of all ages and abilities. The setting also seems to immediately capture people’s imaginations—Terry and I receive many drawings of readers’ own treehouse designs or requests and suggestions for levels they’d like added to ours. We’ve long enjoyed an enthusiastic readership in Australia but the enthusiasm for this one has gone above and beyond any previous series and we are both thrilled and delighted that so many children (and adults) are enjoying our nonsense!
The 13-Storey Treehouse contains a bowling alley, shark tank, an underground laboratory and a marshmallow dispenser amongst other things – which of its mod cons is your favourite?
I don’t think you can go past a tank full of man-eating sharks in a tree for both sheer absurdity and also for getting rid of guests who’ve overstayed their welcome.
When will the sequel be published in the UK? Do you have plans for more Storeys?
The 26-Storey Treehouse will be published on May 7th 2015 and The 39-Storey Treehouse will be published in July 2015. The 52-Storey Treehouse and The 65-Storey Treehouse will follow in 2016. Meanwhile Terry and I are busy building the 78-Storey Treehouse … the treehouse is expanding faster than we can write and illustrate it.
Are you a prevaricator? (Feel free to answer that question later)
No, like my character Andy in the Treehouse books I’m pretty good at getting started on things that need to be done and staying on task. Terry, on the other hand is an expert at staying off task. Fortunately we balance each other out, which means we get our work done but have a lot of fun along the way.
To read the extract from The 13-Storey Treehouse click here.