An interview with Andy Griffiths
At the 2011 Melbourne Writer's Festival, I had the privilege to interview Andy Griffiths, children's author and creator of the best-selling Just series (Just Kidding!, Just Tricking!, Just Annoying!, &c).
For Andy, inspiration for the Just series sprang from "a love of practical jokes as a kid," where he loved the idea of being able to trick somebody. In fact, Andy doesn't always consider himself to be a writer - he thinks of himself more as a practical joker. He loves the idea of "get[ing] the reader to believe something [is] real".
When asked what he thinks of young Andy, the hero and protagonist of the Just series, Andy laughs out loud for a long time. He considers Andy to be "condemned to eternal life pursuing Lisa" while still wreaking the same havoc that the real Andy did as a child.
Inspiration and writing techniques
After finishing high school Andy studied literature at Monash University and then went on to study and work in teaching. This allowed him to amalgamate his two loves: literature and children.
Andy shares some tips for writing authentically, one of which relates to the style and tone used when telling stories. He suggests that by developing and using your own voice, you establith trust with your readership. If you copy someone else's style, he says, you promote distrust in your readers.
Andy also revealed why blank pages and empty spaces feature so widely in his novels, noting that he was deeply influenced by The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, who also employs similar features in that book.
In terms of writing advice, Andy suggests writing down the bones of a narrative, which "frees you up to get your own voice on the page" He admits that writing at times is a "battle" that requires him to struggle and "defeat" the voices in his head.
Having established trust with his readership after the Just series, Andy felt it appropriate to release the Bum series (The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Zombie Bums from Uranus, Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict), having discovered "how much I can push [his audience]."
The role of children's literature
Growing up, Andy immersed himself in classic children's literature. He described the Coles Funny Picture Books as "most influential", admiring their capacity to make the audience laugh, a quality he believes is integral in making the reading experience pleasurable.
Andy also loved reading the works of Enid Blyton, believing that her stories have everything they need to be just right.
While popular Australian children's literature is scarce, Andy believes that we are privileged in the sense that we get the best from England and America.
Furthermore, Andy believes that reading should be a "pleasurable experience" and that the role of books are "not to teach - that comes later". The role of children's literature should be centered on "imagination and trust" in order to "engage the reader powerfully".
He also believes that there is a more "serious purpose underneath books" and that taking an active reading role assists in developing and strengthening knowledge and literacy, which inevitably helps shape an improved livelihood.
A controversial author?
When I describe to Andy the controversy that surrounded buying The Bad Book at my school library, to all of the sceptical librarians that lurk behind the counters, Andy laughingly suggests that librarians should "respect [their] clientele and trust them."
"If something is engaging [audiences], it's a good thing," he says. Andy further comments that the controversy was unnecessary, explaining that the antics shown in The Bad Book demonstrate that "bad behaviour is not encouraged - it is punished."
Andy trusts his readership, saying that "kids know it's okay in a book and not in real life." However, after saying this, laughingly he concedes that there was "an element of deliberately pushing the buttons of conservative librarians" in the creation of the Bad series.
For die-hard Andy Griffiths fans, make sure you get your hands on a copy of his latest adventure, The 13-Storey Treehouse. For those who want to carry a piece of Andy in your phones, you can download The Andy Griffiths Game, available for free on iTunes. With these books and apps at our disposal, we can all, just as Andy encourages, enter into a "lifetime of reading".
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Articles Written by Laura L
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