An Interview with Andy Griffiths

So who’s going to WOMADelaide? If you aren’t, you can WIN TICKETS HERE!
If you are, you may be fortunate enough to see and hear author Andy Griffiths speak. Last week I had the honour of interviewing Andy Griffiths, author of the popular ‘Treehouse’ series. Thankfully it was a phone interview as I hadn’t brushed my hair, and my pants were wet as a result of still having my bathers on after Elka’s swimming lesson. I also looked like I’d been in the wars as Elka had jagged my nose with her nail and left a gruesome red mark. But in an interview over the phone I was no longer daggy mum! I was “Interviewer extraordinaire!”

Well, maybe not, but what a great guy Andy Griffiths is! Very interesting. Very engaging. Clearly passionate about building childrens’ imaginations. Huge enthusiasm for storytelling and engaging kids in reading. All in all, a great person to chat to! Here’s some of what we talked about.

Andy Griffiths has two daughters, two sisters and a wonderful wife. The lucky man is surrounded by women! This made me like him immediately. So, firstly I wanted to know how Griffiths encouraged a love of reading in children. Griffiths had a huge range of strategies, games and stories about ways to engage children in reading and writing, but basically it came down to making writing fun. By telling kids about his own embarrassing stories, creating fictional stories or communicating funny things with children, Griffiths said these conversations would engage children in nonsense and fun. He would challenge them to use their imaginations to come up with funnier, more creative stories than him. This lead to a conversation of silly stories. Of course, this means the children have to listen, create, retell, analyse- building stories all the while. Griffiths book ‘Once Upon A Slime’ has some great ideas on how to engage kids in creating stories (verbal or written).

As we all know, children have unbounded curiosity- particularly for crazy, fictional stories. “What happens next? Why did they do that? How will they get home?” Of course, Griffiths many books lure in the reader, making them laugh, ponder, wince and smile. His ‘Bum’ series is way out there, very popular with boys in particular. And Griffiths ‘Just’ series has something for all kids, great for engaging the child who isn’t very keen on reading by providing them with something fun, entertaining and fast-paced. The ‘Treehouse’ series is the most recent in Griffiths long list of publications, with the latest book ‘The 65th Storey Treehouse’ to be released on August 12th. With the Treehouse series so popular with a range of readers, Griffiths put the success down to learning from his audience and refining his writing over the years. By understanding what his audience responds to, and learning what different types of kids enjoy reading, he has managed to create a series that is hugely popular amongst 10-14 year olds.

Griffiths counts the wonderful authors Seuss, Blyton, Carroll and Dahl as his heavy weight influences. However he also made mention of the American Horror Comics that he read as a youngster and how vital these were in shaping his writing skills. Graphic novels are getting more and more popular again, with many school libraries seeing the value in using them to hook children into reading and teach them how good stories have a sequence.

I asked Griffiths about how he would encourage disinterested kids into reading. Griffiths talked about the importance of finding a text they’re interested in. Whether it’s a graphic novel, a magazine or a non-fiction book. Whatever it is, the key is finding their interest and working from there.

“Look for things that the child is excited about. Make sure they know it’s not a chore. Go to a second hand book store or the local library.”

My last question for Griffiths was one about persistence. Griffiths published his first book at age 35 and I wondered what drove him to persist with writing when it can be such an arduous process.

“With writing, all you’ve got is a page and some black marks,” replied Griffiths. “It takes a lot of false starts, but it is always fun- and I am determined.”

I have no doubt he’s determined- and organised too. His editing process, which includes his editor wife, is a constant throughout the writing process. Instead of being something that only occurs at the end, he edits throughout. He refines as he goes, adding detail and depth, or removing unnecessary words or dialogue. And as we can see from his finished products, the results are entertaining books full of mischief, wonderful characters, unique settings and highly imaginative plots.

Andy Griffiths will be in the KidZone area at WOMADelaide on Sunday the 8th and Monday the 9th of March from 3-4pm. Be sure to check him out!

For the full WOMADelaide program head to the link below: