Terry Denton – Interview with CKT

Terry Denton

Tell us five words that best describe you? 

I am a doer, not a talker. So my favourite doings:
Lying in the desert looking up at the clear desert night sky.
Paddling in the sea at Wilson’s Prom waiting for the next wave.
Walking across Mt Feathertop.
Skiing anywhere.
Puddling with my watercolours

What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?

I had always drawn, and built stories in my head. I wrote for theatre revues. Comedy attracted me. Somehow I ended up being an illustrator, I don’t know how. It was only natural that I would start writing stories to illustrate. My first was about a man who built flying machines. It didn’t sell so well, but it sure was original! My next book won the CBC Picture Book of the Year. That got me noticed.

Which do you prefer in the creative process? Writing or illustrating?

I like both. Illustration is what I do most of… with always a few ongoing deadlines and lots of interruptions. Writing requires a lot of mental space to put together an idea. Then you have to run it through the brainbox a couple of million times to make sure it meets all the challenges. Lately I have been so so busy with illustration work that I haven’t been able to find that mental space. So the writing doesn’t get done.

My aim at the moment is to say NO to a lot of illustrating jobs, so I can make the time to write some picture books.

Are you a plotter or a panster?

Both writing and illustrating start with a purely intuitive leap, then I try to pull the story into shape. I generally begin a story visually… storyboarding… then sew the drawings together with words. It’s always hard to get the right balance of words and pictures. But basically, I throw out an idea and then shift my brain into play mode… improvising ideas with no great idea where it is all heading.

What is a typical writing/illustrating day for you?

I am at the desk by 9 and work through until 6 or 7.

If I am working on something like a Treehouse deadline I might work after dinner as well until maybe 12. Weekends too. Illustration requires a lot of time at the desk. I am also good at relaxing when there are no deadlines.

When you are both illustrator and author, which comes first the illustrations or the words?

Generally my stories are driven either by a storyboard, or a particular character with a particular voice. Then I spend 9 long months making it all work as well as possible. That is always hard and frustrating, but somehow it all works out well in the end.

How did you celebrate your first book being published?

I thought about drinking champagne while diving from a hot air balloon, but I was working on the next book deadline, so there was no time for a celebration. With my first book advance I bought myself a really good sound system- an illustrator’s best friend.

What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction from where you were headed?

I let the character lead the way, but I have to be aware that he may be leading me off a cliff. So it’s like we are all the time wrestling to keep the story making sense and trying to see where it will all end. The character won’t win in the end because I can arrange a piano to fall on him any time I like.

Can you draw a little something for us?

No!… well, maybe…. okay then.

The Worm Who Knew Karate

This is a bird from a new Penguin book called The Worm Who Knew Karate!  written by Jill Lever. Illustrated by meeeeeeeeeeeeee!

What’s next from Terry Denton?

I am working on the final illustrations for The 65 Storey Treehouse  and after that, eventually, a few colour picture books. In my spare time I paint… so an exhibition or two next year.

Terry’s website: www.terrydenton.com.au

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