Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to know even more, and see how we do what we do, check out this interview with me and Terry on ABC’s Throwback.
When and where were you born? 3rd Sept, 1961 in Melbourne, Australia.
Are you married and do you have children? Yes, married with two daughters.
Do you have brothers and sisters? Yes, two younger sisters: Susan and Julie.
Where did you go to school? Pascoe Vale PS (1968—1969) Eastmont PS (1970—1973) Yarra Valley Grammar (1974—1979) Monash University (BA hons Eng Lit 1980—1984)
What football team do you barrack for? I don’t follow football—I spend my spare time reading, watching movies and comedy, listening to music, running, swimming and cycling.
Do you have any pets? Not at the moment, but I used to have a dog called Sooty and a cat called Silky. (Sooty features in the Just Series and Silky in the Treehouse Series.)
What is your favourite colour? Blue, purple, yellow, green, orange and black. And red.
What is your favourite video/computer game? Space Invaders and Lemmings.
What is your favourite food? Smoothies!
What jobs did you have before you started writing books? Taxi driver, English teacher and lead singer/songwriter for a variety of crazy punk bands.
ABOUT BEING A WRITER
Do you like writing books? Yes, I love it!
Did you always want to be a writer? No, I actually wanted to be the lead singer of a band, like my heroes Alice Cooper and David Bowie.
How old were you when you started writing? I’ve always loved writing ever since I was old enough to hold a pen. I was constantly filling up exercise books with stories, jokes, cartoons, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, bubblegum cards … anything that came my way. I wrote funny stories to entertain my friends at school. These eventually turned into funny song lyrics which is how I ended up being in bands. It was all really good writing practice!
What inspired you to become an author? When I eventually became an English teacher I met a lot of students who thought books were boring and I started writing little stories to make them laugh and appreciate that reading can be a lot of fun.
How did you become a published author? I started making photocopied collections of my stories and selling them at shops and markets around Melbourne. At the same time I was sending these self-published books to publishers. I received many rejections over a number of years but I kept trying, studying and practising and eventually someone said yes!
What was the first book you published? Just Tricking! in 1997.
How old were you when your first book was published? I was 35 years old.
How did you meet Terry Denton? I was introduced to him by a publisher who thought that his drawings would suit my stories. (They were right.)
What is it like working with Terry? It’s really good fun … we spend a lot of time laughing!
Would you ever change jobs? No, I like this one too much.
Did you want to draw the pictures in your book? No, I much prefer writing.
Have any of your books been made into a movie or TV show? The Just Series was turned into a cartoon series called What’s With Andy? (You can check out clips on YouTube.)
How does it feel when a publisher accepts a book you have written? Fantastic!
Any advice for aspiring young writers out there? Practise as much as you can. It’s been calculated that to become really skilled at an activity—whether sporting or artistic—you have to practise for around 10,000 hours, so the sooner you get started the better. And read as much as you can too!
How can I get my stories published? Publication can be a very long process. If you really want to be a writer I would suggest that you don’t worry so much about ‘being published’ and just enjoy writing for its own sake. You can keep a journal, write a blog, write letters, make cards for your family and friends, write articles for your school newsletter or magazine, make your own small books etc. etc. It will all contribute to those 10,000 hours and eventually—when you get good enough—publishers will come looking for you!
Where do you get your ideas? The best story ideas come from a long slow process of thinking, reading, researching, pondering, experimenting, drafting, editing and lots and lots of re-working and re-writing.
How do you come up with your titles? A good title both grabs a potential reader’s attention and lets them know exactly what sort of story it is. I sometimes make a list of 20-30 of the most imaginative titles possible and then choose the one that most amuses me. I also test out potential titles on my readers to make sure it grabs their attention as well.
Are your stories true? Most of them begin with a true experience but then I exaggerate what really happened to make it a more entertaining story. But I always tell it as if it’s absolutely true, no matter how far-fetched.
How did you get to be such a good author? 10,000 hours of practice! Plus I re-write my stories many many times until they’re as good as I can possibly make them.
How do you make the stories so funny? I like to tell stories about characters who are so obsessed with a particular need or goal that they will do anything to achieve it—even if what they’re doing is completely stupid. I’m also constantly asking, ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen next?’ and then making it happen. I also try to work out what the reader might be expecting to happen and then surprise them by doing the opposite. (Note: The process of working out a good comic plot can take many days/weeks/months!)
How long does it take you to write a book? It varies, but roughly 12 months: 3 months of planning, 3 months of writing and then 6 months of re-writing, editing and polishing.
I want to write a story but I’m not sure how to start—any tips? I find it very helpful to put my pen on the paper and write as fast as I can without stopping for at least five minutes. Things you can write about are memories, people, places and even just what you did yesterday. I find that if I just start writing ideas start to form.
I have trouble writing long stories because I don’t know how to drag out the story. Don’t try to write ‘long’ stories when you’re starting out. Concentrate on writing short, clear descriptions of places, people, pets, memories or what’s happening around you. Or perhaps write a set of instructions for an activity that you know well. Or create a short eight-frame cartoon with stick-figure illustrations. Longer stories often grow out of these short pieces.
How do you come up with a good ending? Make sure you’ve clearly defined what your character’s problem is at the beginning of the story. A satisfying ending generally shows whether they solve the problem or not. The more suprising the solution the better!
Are any of the characters in your books based on real people? Some of them are named after real people, for instance Andy, Danny and Lisa in the Just Series, but they are greatly exaggerated versions of the real-life Andy, Danny and Lisa. Generally my characters are a mixture of traits from different people and different parts of myself.
Did you really have a sister called Jen? No, in real life I have two younger sisters, but I wanted Andy to have an older sister so that he could embarrass her in front of her boyfriend.
Why did you choose Andy for the main character of the Just Series? Because it feels natural to me to tell stories as if they were actually happening to me, even if they’re made-up. You will need to experiment to find what works best for you.
Who are your favourite authors? As a child I loved many books for many different reasons, but some of my special favourites were Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Dr Seuss (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish), Enid Blyton (The Wishing Chair), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), E.W. Cole (Cole’s Funny Picture Book), and Heinrich Hoffman (Struwwelpeter). I also loved gruesome horror comics and MAD magazine.
Can you give me some writing tips? Get an exercise book and write in it every day… five minutes a day to start with, and gradually increase to at least thirty minutes a day. You get better at writing like you get better at everything else—through constant practice. A good idea is to write the sort of stories that you love to read because, without realising it, you know a lot about this particular type of story and how it is supposed to work. My latest book, Once Upon A Slime, is full of writing tips!
Can you read my story and give me some feedback? Sorry but no—as much as I’d love to be able to I simply don’t have the time.
ABOUT THE BOOKS
How many books have you written? As of June 2014 I’ve written 27 books.
Are you going to write any more books? Yes, I’m always working on new books! As soon as I finish one book I get a rush of ideas for new ones.
What is your favourite book that you have written? It’s usually the one that I’m working on, but they’re all different and I like them all for different reasons. But I think The Treehouse series is my favourite as it combines elements of all of the other types of books that Terry and I have written.
How did you come up with The Day My Bum Went Psycho? It grew out of observing that bums sometimes seem to have minds of their own. I wondered what if they really did have minds—and arms and legs—of their own and could jump off your body and run away. I never expected that people would like reading about runaway bums so much!
Are you going to make any more books in the Just Series? No, I’m not planning to write any more books in the Just! series. I think – after eight books – Andy and his friends and his family have suffered enough!
Are you going to write any more books in The Bad Book series? Terry and I were messing around with ideas for The Super Bad Book, but we are enjoying working on the Treehouse series so much that I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to it.
Are you going to make any more Schooling Around books? No I have no plans.
Are you going to write any more books in the Bum series? No, I think three books about runaway bums spanning time and space—plus a guide book—is more than enough!
Are you going to write any more Flat Cat/Big Fat Cow books? No, but each Treehouse book will feature a chapter told in rhyme.
Are you going to make any more What Bumosaur/Body Part is That? books? I really like the idea of a third book called What Stupid Idiot is That? but it will probably take a few years to write—there are so many stupid idiots to choose from!
What books are you working on now? The next book in the Treehouse series!
ABOUT CONTACTING/MEETING ME
Can you visit my school? Unfortunately, I’m unable to visit as many schools as I’d like to be able to because the process of writing the books takes an enormous amount of time and never seems to get any faster. There are, however, videos available of my talks on YouTube.
Can I meet you in person? I do many free events and book-signings around Australia each year. Keep your eye on the events page on my website.
Note: If these questions don’t answer everything that you want to know, check out a free sample of my e-book, Andypedia. It’s a complete guide to every book, every story and every character in my books … including me!