The marshmallows flew around the auditorium at Christchurch Boys’ High School when Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton came to visit. Brought to you by WORD Christchurch and Pan Macmillan Australia, this event was loud, full of ridiculousness, and an absolute delight for everyone in the audience – young and old alike.
In case you haven’t yet been introduced to them, Andy and Terry are the Aussie duo behind the ever-popular Treehouse and Just series, and this event was a chance for them to introduce their latest book, The 104-Storey Treehouse. I went along with McKenzie, who is age 9, and at the perfect age for this show. There was a moment of panic when we arrived and saw the massive queue of people snaking out the school gates, but with the sun shining and everyone in a fun mood, this was a perfect opportunity to relive some of our favourite treehouse stories, and to think about what we would have in our dream treehouse (A room full of drumkits? A giant trampoline? The opportunities are endless!) Inside, there was even a place to draw your own addition to Andy and Terry’s treehouse – and who knows? Maybe they’ll use your idea in the next book?!
This show was an hour of non-stop laughs, combining visual comedy, stand up, and interactive storytelling. Most importantly, the duo pitched it just right for the mix of kids and adults in the audience. We saw Terry’s malfunctioning money-maker spewing out banknotes, contributed to a ‘burp bank’ that Andy and Terry can use later when they need some burps, and enjoyed watching a parade of silly hats, modelled by volunteers from the audience. Needless to say, the bum hat was a firm audience favourite.
In a live action retelling of a pick-a-path story, we helped Andy and Terry create the story of a child who goes to the dentist and, in true Andy and Terry style, dies a number of horrible, gruesome deaths. The audience loved this! Miss 9 could barely contain herself, kneeling on her seat to see the actions better, shouting herself hoarse, and laughing uproariously from start to finish. Andy’s storytelling skills were superb, and Terry’s illustrations really brought the storytelling to life.
But you know what? Even that wasn’t the most popular bit! The show’s finale was all about marshmallows, and I think I can safely say that never has the Boys’ High auditorium seen as many pink and white marshmallows as it did in the final minutes of this show. Without going into details, I do not think there was anyone under the age of 15 who was still sitting in their seat at this point. The duo had everyone eating out of their hand, and – if my own experience was anything to go by – the entire audience had sore cheeks from laughing so hard.
This show was an absolute delight, and if the guys come back I highly recommend getting along to see them. Until then, check out some of their books that are available here at Christchurch City Libraries.
The lucky winner was Jorja who came along with Casey, Zac (librarian at Halswell School), and me. Jorja also scored a signed copy of Andy’s newest book The 78-storey treehouse (Kia ora Macmillan!)
Jorja’s question was:
What was your inspiration to start writing books?
Andy talked about his time as an English teacher. His students didn’t like books much, so they started making up stories, then photocopying copies and leaving them in other classrooms and the library. Even earlier, as a schoolkid, he drew cartoons for all his friends.
One of the books that inspired him was at his Nana’s place. Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter featured scary stories like a girl setting her dress on fire by playing with matches. The stories were funny and totally over the top. His Very Bad Book is based on that book and in it kids do really dangerous things, and their parents give permission … Baaaad parents!
At first the stories did seem weird – but people didn’t realise how weird their senses of humour are! Andy writes with the philosophy “I think this is funny – hopefully lots of people agree with me”.
I am interested in unusual ways of looking at things.
Advice for young writers
I’ve never personally eaten a dead fly.
But someone’s dog did just that during a piano lesson, so it slipped into one of Andy’s stories. “Little details are really fun”.
His top tips for aspiring writers:
Read a lot of books.
Get your own notebook and write in each day. 3 to 4 minutes, then build up to hours. It’s the same as training for a sport. Practice!
Write out chapters of books that you love. This will give you insight into how a story is made. Imitate – get better at making it up.
Learn to touch type.
Andy has a collection of first lines and reckons a lot of work goes into the first line. Except in the Treehouse, where it’s always Andy addressing the audience. A bit like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.
Andy’s a fan of Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne – a black page, a white page, a marbled page … and as Jorja found out – a BLAM! and a KABLAM! page.
Thanks to all of you who entered, and all the Mums, Dads, caregivers and teachers who helped. There were so many great entries – here are some questions you had for Andy Griffiths:
Did you have a tree house when you were a kid?
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to an 8 year old boy that loves to write?
Hello, my son Thomas would ask Andy Griffith if he could tell us about any tree house stories there will be in the 91 storey tree house. His idea is to have a bungy jumping level at the top of the tree : )
My seven year old daughter would ask how old he is. I would ask if he liked to write stories at school and what did the teachers think of them?
My son Freddie would ask why is your sense of Humour so weird? Lol I would ask him at what age did he realise he wanted to be an author or at least thought about it and what a fab movie his books would makes.
My question for Andy would be: if you hadn’t become an author, what other career would you have chosen?
“will there be a 91-Storey Treehouse?”
(He pestered the book store daily while waiting for the 78-Storey Treehouse to arrive!) Mac
I have read all your bad and treehouse books! You are very naughty, but I do have a question! Why do you always use the number 13 in your treehouse books?
How come you involve Jill Griffiths but not your daughters? (:
with great respect, osher
My question is Have you ever actually made a treehouse, and if you have what was in it?
I would ask Andy if he would add a slide to his treehouse that could take you to different countries.
I would ask Andy if he would extend his treehouse to have a level to attract aliens so we could study them and have marshmallow eating competitions.
To Mr Andy Griffiths:
You write great stories but are you any good at drawing?
aNdy, is all your stuff in your books real? tHomas aged 10
tHis is the best I could get out of Thomas, he is reading so his nose is in his pile of books. mUm and Dad have the tv muted, peace and quiet. his friend Alex has your latest book.
Elsie (8 years old-budding author)…..wants to know” What is it like to be an author?”
“Who has ever blocked the plug in the shower and let it fill up as much as you could just to see what would happen?” asked Andy. How did he know?! I glared at my son in the seat next to me who does this all the time! (And even brings tin foil into the shower to keep it sealed in). Andy asked his audience to imagine a shower was filling up with water with the doors sealed shut with silicon… “How would you get out?!” He was milking the audience for their ideas. It felt like a riddle to solve – one that he doesn’t actually know the answer to but is making up as he goes along.
In the Treehouse series the two main characters Andy and Terry (named after the author and illustrator Terry Denton) get up to some ridiculous stuff that would horrify a health and safety inspector. Andy says “It would be no fun if I had my characters think ahead about the consequences to their actions. A sensible forward-thinking character is a useless character who doesn’t belong in a story.” What he needs are “idiots who never think ahead.” Andy adds: “My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy also loves to do what he calls “wasting the reader’s time” – as witnessed by endless pages in his books with the same word written over and over and over and over and over and over…
Dressed in his finest fake tuxedo t-shirt, Andy spoke to hundreds of fans in New Zealand to coincide with his newly premiered book The 78-Storey Treehouse: Movie Opening Night (2016) about the making of a movie about Andy and Terry ‘s adventures (but Andy’s kicked off the set). Oh, and it features spy cows that go around stealing ideas from them. Their justification? “For years the humans have milked us. Now we’re milking them, for their ideas.”
“So how do you get your ideas?” – an audience member asked Andy. “I steal them!” he confessed. “Haven’t you ever heard of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree?” he joked. Seriously though, he loved the feeling of expansion and freedom when he read The Faraway Tree books years ago and he tries to copy that feeling. Playing in trees is inherently dangerous – and he keeps his that way by not putting fences around the crazy levels they build such as a chain-saw juggling area and crocodiles under a skateboard ramp. His storytelling advice is to ask: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and to “think the opposite of what would happen and do that.” He says he does the opposite of what the reader expects because shock and surprise equals reader laughter. “I never underestimate my readers’ stupidity.” He means that in a nice way.
Now back to that shower rapidly filling up to the ceiling with water, and you trapped naked inside: “What would you do? All you have is a rubber duck” he said, waving a rubber duck toy in the air. He suggested using the duck’s squeaker as a distress signal to call emergency services (it didn’t work by the way, he tried it live). You could plug the shower head with the duck but it would fill and expand and being killed by an exploding rubber duck, he says, would be an embarrassing way to die. “What’s the worst that could happen?!?” You could break your way through the ceiling by hammering it with the rubber duck but then get trapped in the ceiling and float through the roof space until you came crashing down naked into your sister’s sleepover party. Humiliation overdrive. In case he hasn’t made his point with his young readers (and potentially budding writers themselves): “It’s all about brainstorming.”
Another great way of generating ideas? Making lists – such as the lists of what kind of levels they could have in their treehouse – a bowling alley, a game of snakes and ladders with real snakes and, in The 78-Storey Treehouse, what about an all-ball level for sports fans? Including fire balls and wrecking balls. There’s also Andyland, Terrytown and Jillville (to home the Andy, Terry and Jill clones left over from the previous book), a combining machine (eg. electric eel + unicorn = Electricorn) and a Scribbletorium.
Speaking of scribbles, Andy shared with everyone Terry’s early drawings of their treehouse complete with marshmallow machine and vegetable vaporiser and certainly their most dangerous hazard of all, their publisher Mr. Big Nose whose nose explodes when he gets angry, usually caused by Andy and Terry not making another deadline on the book they are meant to be writing. Andy’s character tends to get a bit cross in his books too which just makes Terry funnier.
Hands up – who likes Terry better than Andy? About half the room. Andy says he has to be mean to Terry since he steals his chips and that’s why he had to create a high-security potato chip storage facility in his latest book, complete with 1000 mousetraps, 100 lasers, a 10-tonne weight and an angry duck – to deter those friends and family who like to steal our chips from us (you know who you are). In real life, Andy and Terry endlessly amuse each other – into their third book in the Just series (Just Crazy, Just Stupid etc…) they felt they just didn’t have enough bad ideas and were having trouble getting a book together …so how about a book about a book that never gets started?
Andy showed a few slides of amazing, and amusing, trees and treehouses. A child in the audience reprimanded him for his picture of a tree that looked like a bum: “That’s inappropriate!” He joked back: “You have to do some serious introspection when a six year-old tells you that you are inappropriate.”
Andy says he has been writing since he was about 5 or 6 years old. He says one of his earliest ‘books’ he made was a get-well card for his dad that read “Get well soon …or you are doomed” with a drawing of a tombstone. Andy reminisced about how when he was a child he read cautionary tales – German tales from the 1800s such as Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter– and similar to Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary verses – unlovely bedtime stories – about what frightfully horrible things can happen to you when you play with matches or suck your thumb. And did that teach him to be a good boy? No! That taught him that “Reading is cool.” “I don’t know what will happen when I read!” he enthused. The same can be said about his stupendous stories.
Joking about all the dangers in his books he says that’s why he came to New Zealand, because there were no scary things, like poisonous spiders… um, uh, Andy! Watch out! The audience were quick to educate him about the redbacked spider and the katipo. Andy said that he doesn’t believe in cruelty to animals in his books but an audience member called him out: “But what about when the shark is fed Terry’s underwear?” Well, Andy points out he had Jill (their animal-whisperer sidekick) perform open-shark surgery to save it. Andy says the moral is: “Don’t wash your undies in a shark tank – or just don’t wash your underpants” full stop. Andy Griffiths doesn’t miss a beat.
“Is Jill really your sister?” someone was desperate to know. “Let’s hope not! I’m married to her in real life” said Andy, who met his wife Jill Griffiths in 1997 when she was the editor of his first book Just Tricking and was quick to add that Jill is funny in her own right (she composed the Ballad of the Ninja Snails in The 52-Storey Treehouse). He says Jill stops him from taking his jokes too far (although I’m not sure how much further they could go).
“Will there be an actual Treehouse Movie?” an eager fan inquired. “Not so far” answered Andy, sounding unsure how his books would translate on screen. But is he working on another book? He did some quick mathematical calculations (adding 13 to 78) before confirming that, yes, a 91-Storey Treehouse is under construction – due to be built by August 2017. Great news! Because the worst that could happen for fans is that Andy and Terry stop reaching to new heights.
Christchurch kids, you can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths and share a VIP afternoon tea in town with him – as well as two tickets to see his show – thanks to WORD Christchurch and Macmillan!
Have you read all of Andy Griffiths’ books? Do you know all the floors in the 78-storey Treehouse? Have you read The Bad Book over and over? If you answered yes to all these questions we have the most amazing chance for you!
Andy Griffiths, the author of the Treehouse series, the ‘Just’ series and The Bad Book, is coming to Christchurch on Friday 16 September for a special presentation by WORD Christchurch. Andy is going to be talking at a SOLD OUT session on the Friday night, as well as a morning session at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.
But wait, there’s more! You can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths while having a VIP afternoon tea with him. All you have to do is email email@example.com and tell us the one question that you would ask Andy if you had the chance to interview him. Make sure to include your name, phone number and address so that we can contact you if you win.
This prize includes afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths for you and a caregiver at 3:30pm on Friday 16 September, and tickets for two to his show at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.
Competition closed Wednesday 7 September. The winner was Jorja.
Kids at Queenspark School were super lucky to get visit from a rock star this week. Stig Wemyss, one of the most popular narrators of audio books for kids, visited the school as part of his ‘Stig at the Library’ NZ tour.
Stig Wemyss is an actor, writer and the voice behind heaps of children’s audio books. If you have borrowed kid’s audiobooks from the library before you’re almost certain to have heard him read you a story that had you laughing out loud. He has narrated stories by the funniest authors around, including Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths.
According to Stig, narrators are the ‘rock stars of kids books,’ and he certainly showed us why. He treated the kids of Queenspark School to an hour of silliness and laughter. He showed us what it takes to be a narrator and got heaps of the kids up the front with him to try his audition techniques.
He read one of Andy Griffith’s short stories from his book Just Stupid and had everyone engrossed in the story. It is no wonder that Stig is so popular because he is a natural performer who brings Andy Griffiths’ and Paul Jennings’ crazy, silly, hilarious stories to life.
Stig has been touring NZ to promote Borrow Box, a great new eResource that libraries around the country, including Christchurch City Libraries, now have available for customers.
If you think books called “The day my bum went psycho”, “Bumageddon : the final pongflict”, and “What bumosaur is that” are not for you then definitely DON’T come to our Andy Griffiths author event on Wednesday.
Andy Griffiths is the most popular Australian children’s author going at the moment and we are very pleased (and a little grossed out) to have him speaking as part of our 150th celebrations.
The second best part of our event is that is is FREE! Call the Library on 941-7923 to get some tickets sent out to you and come along to the Town Hall on Wednesday 12 August from 6:30 – 7:30, bringing along any children who like all things annoying, stupid, gross or disgusting, and any adults who would like to hear a hilarious speaker and possibly a story of a baby-to-dinosaur-head-transplant.