This article was originally published in July 2019 on our ‘Writers on Writers Vic’ page, for our 30th year of operating.
Andy Griffiths is one of the most popular children’s authors in Australia. He has written more than 30 books, including nonsense verse, short stories, comic novels, picture books and plays. His books have been New York Times bestsellers, won more than fifty children’s choice awards, been adapted as theatre shows and sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. He is best known as the author of the JUST! series and the bestselling Treehouse series (a collaboration with Terry Denton), which has been translated into over thirty languages.
Andy attended a two-day introductory creative workshop at Writers Victoria in 1989 and to this day continues to be a member.
Tell us about your involvement with Writers Victoria.
My first contact with the writers’ center was in 1989 when I attended a two-day introductory creative writing workshop run by well-known writer and writing teacher Carmel Bird, who then was the director of the center. I was working as a high-school English teacher out in country Victoria and had been working on a collection of short pieces that formed the basis for my first book. I’d been reading a lot of ‘how to’ writing books and doing a lot of practice, but I had a strong feeling that I needed guidance from a professional in order to take my writing to the next level.
What difference did this experience make to your writing?
Carmel was the first published writer that I ever met and she was tremendously helpful and encouraging both during and after the workshop. She helped me to think about my manuscript from the point of view of a publisher, and this resulted in me subsequently completely re-organising and rewriting the book. She encouraged me –and the other students in the class– to embrace our idiosyncrasies as writers, while, at the same time, attending closely to the text and the many ways in which a beginning writer can inadvertently lead the reader astray. She gave me confidence that what I was writing –while rough– definitely had value and was worth persisting with. Carmel also put me onto some great writers that I hadn’t read. After the course, she stayed in touch and invited me to be a part of a series of public reading nights that she was organising. Needless to say this was hugely encouraging and helped me to connect with a community of other like-minded writers. A year later, I did a graduate diploma of creative writing with Carmel as my tutor which was enormously helpful.
What kind or support or resources are most helpful to you as a writer.
I am constantly reading interviews, attending festivals and talks by as many visiting writers as I can. The process of developing your writing is one that never ends. You can get something useful from any article or talk, no matter how small. I also try to read as many books –fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc– as I can both for pleasure and inspiration.
Based on your own experience, what advice do you have for aspiring and emerging writers about engaging with their local writers’ centre?
It depends on what your aspirations for your writing are, of course, but there’s absolutely no substitute for getting a comprehensive grounding in all aspects of the publishing industry –whether it’s classes in fiction, non-fiction, genre, editing, marketing– it all helps, even if only to help you figure out what you are definitely not interested in. Getting published is only part of the challenge. Knowing what to do when you have been published is just as challenging and the more you know the better equipped you’ll be to be able to make the choices that are right for you.
I’m reminded of the Dr Seuss rhyme:
The more you read
The more you know
And the more you know
The more places you’ll go.
What books do you recommend to emerging writers?
Treat yourself to a copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (Shambhala Press) –it was one of the first and most powerfully inspirational books about writing and the writing process I ever read. Even if you never publish a single word of what you write, faithfully following the writing practice guidelines she gives you will deepen your understanding of both the craft –and more importantly– yourself. I’ve also written extensively about my own process in Once Upon a Slime – 45 Fun ways to get Writing Fast (Pan Macmillan).