HWRK ventures inside the imagination of the acclaimed author, illustrator and artist

Interview: Louise Twist

You’d need an entire bookcase to hold the complete works that have benefitted from the comedic mind of Terry Denton. As one of the planet’s leading children’s authors and illustrators it was only a matter of time until we featured him in HWRK.

Being one of five boys growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Denton has a better insight than most as to what makes boys tick in terms of reading. But it’s his brilliant sense of humour which ensures the books he touches become classroom staples worldwide.

As well as his many acclaimed partnerships, he’s also wrote and illustrating more than 30 of his own book. His book Felix and Alexander even won the CBC Picture Book of the Year in 1986.

Q. How did you become a children’s author and illustrator? 

A. I studied maths and science at school and loved to draw at home… so, I decided to study Architecture. But eventually realised it wasn’t for me. I did a bit of theatre, animation and painting and eventually took some of my drawings to Penguin books and they gave me illustration work

Q. When did you first realise you had a talent for drawing?

A. Early. I realised I loved illustrations in some of our books at home and I loved cartoons and comics. I never wanted to be an illustrator… I really wanted to make animated films. It turned out illustration suited my drawing style and gave more scope for invention. I always had a very busy imagination.

Q. What did you read as a child and how heavily has this influenced your own work? 

A. Our family of boys were all very funny and I just naturally absorbed all that humour. I read books that made me laugh, but also had rich characters and plot. Kids still love that mix. Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings are both masters of that style. Treasure Island was also one of my favourites.

Q. What does your average day look like? 

A. When I am illustrating a Treehouse book, I’m out in the studio by nine and work through till 6:30pm for six-seven months of the year. In the other half of the year it’s a bit less intense and occasionally I get to do some painting.

Q. What did you do to inspire your own children to read?

A. I think they were naturally drawn to books and stories. The main thing we did was read to them every night. And read each of them the kind of books they liked. They each had their own favourites.

Q. Which rules would you encourage parents and teachers to break when selecting texts for their children to read?

A. Let children pick the books they want and don’t make a big production out of it. Don’t do the voices… just calmly read and allow their imagination construct the characters and the realm.

Q. Can you give us any idea of what we can expect from the 10th Treehouse book? 

A. It all a bit science fictiony. Set in space. And quite bizarre… and the drawings, of course, are great!

Q. How do you keep coming up with new ideas for the books?

A. Once you have a loose plot or drawing framework you just keep building and adding to it. My approach is intuitive. It’s just how I think. Mind you, I have just completed a 270-page book on science… an overview for kids.

So, really, it’s a matter of combining the logical and structural with the playful and intuitive. I am easily able to access the 10-year-old inside me.

Q. You are best known for your Treehouse books, but can you tell us a bit more about the other books you have written or illustrated?

A. There is the Book of Everything (science overview) due later this year. And I have done recent history work: Chinese, Australian, Indigenous, and many picture books and my own Wombat and Fox and Gasp! series.

Q. If you could work with one author that you haven’t yet had the opportunity to, who would it be?

A. Roald Dahl, but that would be a bit difficult seeing he’s dead. Actually, I want to get back to doing my own picture books again. It’s been 20 years since I did one of my own.

Q. Lockdown has been tough for lots of families, but your Treehouse books have kept my 7-year-old entertained. What have you been doing during lockdown?

A. Lockdown has given me the time without distractions to do both the Science book and the 130 Treehouse book. I have always worked from home, so it’s just business as usual for me. Zoom and FaceTime have been great, allowing me to keep in touch with family, friends and my publishers.

Q. What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?

A. Humankind, some Wodehouse, a second reading of The Bush by Don Watson and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek… just one more time

RAPID FIRE Qs

Book you wish you had written? Anna Karinina (laughs).

Best thing about being a author/illustrator? I get to draw and paint most days. I love it.

Best advice you have ever received? It’s not all about you.

Best children’s joke? I can never remember jokes. And, if I do, I get the bits in the wrong order.

This or that? This!

Morning or night? Both.

Hawaii or Alaska? Both.

Theatre or cinema? Cinema.

Beach or city? Beach by a short half head. I do live almost on the beach, but love Melbourne’s inner city

Pizza or Ice Cream? I’m part-Italian, so Pizza.

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