Ted Prior is the creator – both author and illustrator – of Grug, the beloved Aussie bush character that has entertained generations of children. Ted is pictured reading the latest Grug book, Grug and the Bushfire, with his grandson. Recently we enjoyed chatting with Ted about the world-wide phenomenon that he created and Grug’s newest adventure, the first all-new Grug book since 2016.
Your home is located in regional NSW. How were you affected by last summer’s fires? What inspired you to write this new 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.
Back in the late 1970’s what was your inspiration for Grug? What was your aspiration for him as a character, and for that first book in 1979?
At the time we 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.
In the 80’s and 90’s Grug books were everywhere. They rivalled the Mr Men books, and had the advantage of being uniquely Australian. There was Grug animation on TV and a stage play (or two?). What current projects is Grug involved in?
Grug is still involved with Windmill Theatre in Adelaide and was brought back this month as their first production since the lockdown.
Earlier this year we were celebrating Grug’s 40th birthday on our Facebook page and we were surprised by the number of enthusiastic responses from the Better Reading community. So many people remember Grug and want him to be part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Why do you think Grug is such an enduring and loved character?
Because he has a childlike nature and is interested in the same things that young children are.
Grug has many child-like qualities. Who or what was the inspiration for Grug’s personality and demeanour?
There is a lot of me in Grug!
Grug leads a simple life and lives lightly on the planet. If he was a real person he’d probably be a conservationist and defender of native forests.
In that respect Grug definitely takes after me.
You’ve made a highly successful career as an author/illustrator. It’s not usually a standard kind of career path. What was your journey? How did you get started? What made you think ”Gee, maybe I can make a living out of this….”?
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.
What is the process for illustrating? Do you start with pencil sketches? Do you have any personal favourite mediums or materials?
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.
We’ve heard that you have returned to your earlier interest in sculpture as a form of expression. It’s a little different to painting and drawing!
I enjoy working with timber, especially doing figurative sculpture with native timbers.
If you could offer a pearl of wisdom to aspiring writers and/or illustrators what would that advice be?
If you love doing it, never give up even in the face of rejection.
As an ex-bookseller I have had the crazy misfortune to be the person inside the Grug costume for Book Week. It’s huge and pretty hot and crowded in the hairy bit, but fortunately the legs and feet are pretty manageable. Toddlers were terrified.
I have seen very young children reduced to tears by the overwhelming size of the Grug costume. Although most of them enjoy having their photo taken with it. Recently I read ‘Grug Gets Lost’ to my four year old grandson. He said it was a ‘spooky story’.
What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from the Grug books?
My greatest wish for the world is that everyone, in some way, will revere the natural world.