The Mahy Questionnaire: Terry Fitzgibbon

You know it, you love it – it’s the Mahy Questionnaire! This month, we delve into the world of the author-illustrator with Terry Fitzgibbon. Terry illustrates his own stories and those of others, with his most recent picture book Coo-Coo Kereru out now. Without further ado, here’s Terry on changeovers, hauntings and lions in meadows.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Wholehearted enthusiastic romantic.

2. During the height of adolescence, was it good changeover?

Totally! Dunedin student life provided the catalyst and I still struggle to really grow up.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

Memories are the launchpad for most of my wild imaginings. Here’s one of the best ones: descending an almost vertical 600-metre rock escarpment in a remote portion of Fiordland after searching for kākāpō.

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy, (J M Dent & Sons Ltd, 1982)

4. MM: “Imagination is the creative use of reality.” Is this true for you?

Imagination is my favourite ploy when contemplating the challenges we all face in real life.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

A ’58 Kombi van – a classic – always crammed with friends and invariably low on gas.

6. Which witch? Identify a favourite one from literature.

Scarlet Witch from Marvel comics. Comics were my entry to illustration. However, I have always regarded Margaret Mahy as an inspiring “word witch” – even well before the book featuring that name was penned. Here’s my tribute to her – posted on Facebook on August 12, 2012.

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7. Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us. Words for a romantic or just being mindful?

Being mindfully romantic has been my passport to life – including family, friendships and a bunch of creative endeavours.

8. A lion in the broom cupboard or a lion in the meadow?

Meadow. I’ve witnessed several lion prides hunting in Africa’s grasslands while driving safari tours out of Nairobi. However, my grandson Leo has a room crammed with lions in every guise – some of these I’ve created for him.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

In the surf off Otago’s Whareakeake Bay with a shark between me and the beach. Eeeek!

10. What is your most favourite thing to do on a summery Saturday morning?

Gasping at wave sparkles while paddling out at Sandy Bay, my local Northland beach.

A Summery Saturday Morning by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Selina Young (Puffin, 1998)

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

In wordplay and character-scene depiction. I also try to be invisible while watching, memorising or photographing interesting characters n’ critters. Writer/illustrators are inherently tricksters. Unsurprisingly, my surname echoes this too – Fitzgibbon = son of a monkey!

12. Have you ever been rewarded when looking down the back of the chair?

Yes – often the odd coin, missing screw or pencil – my holey pockets are usually crammed with all sorts of worthless junk.

13. A pirate for a mother or a jester for a father?

Both. My mother loved theatre, music, dance, while my dad was a rugby fanatic – what a a piratically fun combination! I have Margaret Mahy’s The Man whose Mother was a Pirate in my library too!

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Yes, if it was Roald Dahl’s – but only when he’s in a playfully, sharing frame of mind.

The Boy With Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (F. Watts, 1971)

15. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is… (entertain us)

I’d smash an avocado n’ lash it with cream,

flanked with a dash of hokey pokey ice-cream.

I’d indulge in a slice of chocolate supreme cake

After tackling a tender barbequed steak.

Finally I’d nibble slices of ciabatta bread

And swish this all down with a glass of fine red.

16. “Horrakapotchkin,” said the cat. “I want to write a poem.” Is that how it works for you?

Poems and word-play frequently decorate the books I’ve written and illustrated. Here’s a snippet from my book Coo-coo Kereru:

Whooshing winged glider

in a glossy blue-green suit.

Will even hang upside down

to gobble forest fruit.

(Both the 4th line – above – and my illustration of the feeding kereru are inverted, of course.)

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Spread from Coo-Coo Kereru, by Terry Fitzgibbon (New Holland)

17. If you find yourself nose to nose with a shark, the only thing to do is to…

“Stick your thumb in its eye” one of my surf-mates advises – he survived that way.

18. MM: ‘If things were fair, all stories would be anonymous…set free from the faults that go with its author’s name.’ Would you set your stories free in the name of anonymity?

Absolutely! Especially if they helped encourage – even in a teensy way – all our moko and whānau to be more aware of the wonders of the natural world and the fragility of the planet.

19. You’re at a party and someone finds out what you do. What is the question they invariably ask?

“I’ve got this story in my head – would you be interested in illustrating it for me?”

20. Who do you go to be entertained by linguistic pyrotechnics? Or entertained by songsense nongs?

I’d reach for Margaret Mahy’s collection of witty, playful poems in The Word Witch, (edited by Tessa Duder; delightfully illustrated by my colleague David Elliott). This book obviously features in my library.

21. Which way does your heart lie: between the stars or anchored to the trapeze?

Stars every time – near Matariki if I had the choice.

22. Would you rather be followed home by hippos or giraffes?

Giraffes – surely one of the most graceful critters on the planet, and I’ve had the privilege of watching them gambol across a Kenyan savanna. My Who’s Wild and Wacky Puffin book features them too, of course!

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Image from Who’s Wild and Wacky? by Terry Fitzgibbon (Puffin, 2001)

23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather – rice bubbles, bubble gum, bubble ‘o’ bill ice cream or Michael Bublé?

None of these – however, I’d willingly take a bubble ride down the Volga or Amazon rivers especially in the morning or evening light. Maybe I’d also salute to the fascinating critters who live in these riparian habitats with a glass of ‘bubblies’ too!


By Terry Fitzgibbon

Published by New Holland

RRP: $24.99

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Terry Fitzgibbon
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Terry Fitzgibbon is an award-winning writer/illustrator best known for his series of engaging cot-books for infants – with well over 100,000 now sold. His illustrations feature in 30 titles for other authors, including: Gentle Giant: Wetapunga, Karearea: Fearless Falcon and On the Brink. Latest to hit the shelves is his popular picture book Coo-coo Kereru. Terry lives on a bushclad farmlet with his teacher partner Carol, with whom he is the proud parent of four lovely daughters