Book People: Ted Prior
It is hard to imagine a time when ‘Grug’ did not exist. I feel like I grew up reading about the funny little character who began his life as the top of a Burrawang tree books and the first was written in 1979 so they are absolutely my vintage! It is testament to the writing and illustrating of Ted Prior that the Grug books remain so popular, have been animated and have been adapted for acclaimed theatre productions animations.
And now we have a new Grug! ‘Grug and the Bushfire’ is out in special edition hardback this month and is the 35th title in the series. ‘Grug and the Bushfire’ is a timely reminder of the importance of looking out for community, renewing the Australian wilderness and the caution we all need to take during the bushfire season.
It was a privilege to have a chat with Ted Prior and I so agree with his wish for the world!
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Ted Prior Chats …
1. Can you tell us the story behind your latest book, ‘Grug and the Bushfire’?
I live on a 200 acre rural property, mostly forest, in Killabakh, NSW. In December a large bushfire spread through Killabakh.The RFS managed to save my house, studio and workshop but most of the forest was burnt. When I was cleaning up afterwards I thought Grug would have survived the fire because he lives underground. Thus the idea for the new Grug story.
‘Grug and the Bushfire’
By Ted Prior
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2. You wrote the first Grug title in 1979 and there are now 35 titles – what do you think is the secret to their longevity and huge appeal?
At the time my family and I were living in the bush in northern NSW and I was starting to read to my two young children. I thought it would be fun to create our own bush character and write a story about it. The first Grug was born. I think the longevity and appeal is because he has a childlike nature and is interested in the same things that young children are.
3. What did you do before the Grug books and how did you get started as a writer?
After leaving school at 15, at age 21 I went to the National Art School in Sydney full time. This was in the 1960’s and I was then mainly interested in painting and sculpture. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I thought of doing children’s books.
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
When working on a book, after I have roughed out the words of the story I do a black and white storyboard (like a comic strip) in ink line. When I start on the finished illustrations I start with a pencil outline, then fill in the colour with a mix of watercolour and gouache. Finally I finish off with a black ink line. But I also work in sculpture as I enjoy working with timber, especially doing figurative sculpture with native timbers.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
If you love doing it, never give up even in the face of rejection.
6. How much of yourself or people you know is in the Grug books?
There is a lot of me in Grug! The way he leads a simple life in nature, so in that respect Grug definitely takes after me.
It had not rained for a long time. The grass around Grug’s house was very dry and brown. Many leaves were falling from the trees. One very, very hot day Grug noticed a cloud of smoke in the distance. It seemed to be getting closer and closer to his home.‘Grug and the Bushfire’
7. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
My greatest wish for the world is that everyone, in some way, will revere the natural world.