BookMark is a regular column focusing on Tasmanian publications, writers and literary events.
On April 27 I was one of 600 people who thronged to the Hobart City Hall to sit at the feet of Australia’s biggest-selling children’s author.
He is a gaunt handsome 50-year-old former teacher whose 25 titles have sold more than five million copies.
The main character of his Just series of books is called Andy, which happens to be his name too. There’s Just Disgusting, Just Shocking, Just Tricking and even Just MacBeth.
There is also a trilogy about rampaging bums, The Bad Book series of poems and other short pieces, What Body Part is That?, What Bumosaur is That? and the Schooling Around series – most of them produced in collaboration with illustrator Terry Denton. I have been required to purchase and later read almost all of them.
Andy Griffiths writes perfect books – if you are a primary school-aged reader. Anyone over, say 13, will find his hero’s constant knack of making horrendously bad decisions at every turn hilarious … for about eight pages.
As disaster builds upon disaster and Andy gets into yet another really – “and when I say really, I mean really, really, really, really, really, really” – catastrophic situation, being forced to keep on reading is like being unable to wake from a nightmare in which you are a banana being chased across quicksand by a bunch of starving gorillas wearing snow shoes and your peel is starting to come off and it’s wrapping round your legs, only bananas don’t have legs, and it’s tripping you up at exactly the same time as you realise that you are starting to sink into the quicksand.
Back to last Friday night at the City Hall and that same feeling started to come over me as Griffiths launched into his routine about what happened when two small brown things suddenly bobbed up in his bath when he was four years old.
I had laughed my head off for the first 10 minutes of his one-hour literary lecture cum stand-up routine with Q&A and who’s mum has the worst handbag competition thrown in. By the time we got to the poo in the bathtub, even the Andy Griffiths acolyte I was there with admitted he had heard it before.
That did not deter him, or most of the other hundreds of primary-school age boys and girls in attendance from insisting on queuing for up to an hour and a half afterwards to have their copies of his new book, Just Doomed, signed by Andy and enjoy a 40-second exchange with their hero.
Was it a worthwhile way to spend a Friday evening? Of course. Andy Griffiths writes books that children love, and children loving books is a very good thing. Also his humour knows no bounds. He is a liberating writer. I’m much indebted to him for the character of Bad Mummy, the ultimate in negligent parents, from The Bad Book.
And hearing him describing scenarios from Just Doomed, telling these stories to life on stage with no other prop than a purple handbag with a glittery buckle, was to be moved by the power of the story-teller down the ages.
If you like the sound of the above event or else you’re just a really, really, really indulgent parent, Dymock’s Hobart is hosting another superstar of kids’ literature, Jeff Kinney, this month. Kinney, the American author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, will speak and sign books at the Hobart City Hall from 11.30am on Saturday, May 19. Cost $5. Bookings through Dymocks, phone 6231 6656.
Other book events
Friday, May 4, 5.30pm: Olympic equestrian and coach Wayne Roycroft will launch Warwick Morgan’s Too Tough to Lose: The Story of Laurie Morgan, about Australia’s first equestrian Olympic gold medallist, at the Hobart Bookshop. Free event. All welcome.
Tuesday, May 8, 6.30pm: Fantasy Festival, Creating New Worlds –
Isobelle Carmody in conversation with Rosie Borella, Baha’i Centre, 1 Tasman Highway, Hobart, $5 at the door, free for children under 16. Carmody’s new book is Metro Winds, a collection of short stories.
Thursday, May 10, 5.30pm: Mike Litzow sailed from Alaska to Australia with his wife and 10-month-old son – then he did it again! Come along to hear him talk about South From Alaska: Sailing to Australia with a baby for crew.
Thursday, May 10, 5.30pm: Launch of Sally Wise’s new cookbook, Sweet!, by Chris Wisbey at the Hobart Bookshop. Free event, all welcome.
Sunday, May 6, 3pm-5pm: Readings at the Republic, North Hobart. Poet Gina Mercer and fiction writer Peter Kay are the featured readers with an open section where all are welcome to read their prose or poetry for up to five minutes. Free event. All welcome.