Q. Congratulations on your latest book, Just Doomed. Where do your story ideas come from?
A combination of brainstorming, combing books, newspapers and my childhood memories for interesting ideas, random events and information that comes my way, talking with children and, also, being aware of the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Many of my stories start with a very ordinary, very relatable situation such as having to wait for a long time in a post-office queue, or looking forward to the first lick of an ice-cream. I like to take these situations and subject them to a process of what-if and whats-the-worst-thing-that-could-happen-next type questions. Many times this process leads to dead-ends, but sometimes they lead to an entertaining sequence of events, and sometimes I’m even lucky enough to be able to think of a really fitting end to them. When this happens I know I have a useable story. But a lot of stuff goes nowhere – writing is as much a matter of sheer dogged persistence as it is of talent.
Q. What’s the best thing about being a children’s author?
Where do I start? I have a licence to be as courageously outlandish and silly as my imagination will allow me. I’m always trying to push limits and boundaries—to find new ways of putting my characters into the most ridiculous and excruciatingly embarrassing situations that I can. But I guess the real reward is seeing the delight and joy that the stories bring my readers—both young and old. I generally publish two books a year and go on two nationwide publicity tours to promote them which gives me a chance to meet and talk with my readers—to find out what they’re enjoying and what sort of stories they would like me to write next.
Q. Do you have much input in Terry’s illustrations or do you just let him run with it?
It depends on the book. Sometimes I have a definite idea of what I’m looking for, but most of the time I just let him run wild and free. I’m often surprised and delighted with what he comes up with and this often inspires me to lift my game and write even more outlandish stories to match. I’ll never forget asking him to draw me a really cool multi-level treehouse with a bowling alley and a tank full of man-eating sharks. His drawing was so detailed, so vivid and amazing that I realised that we had a whole new book ahead of us (this became The 13-Storey Treehouse.)
Q. What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction from where you were headed?
As long as it’s a funny and surprising direction I let them go! It’s important to start out with a rough idea of where you’re trying to go with a particular character or story, but equally important to be open to random influences and new and better ideas along the way. Stories grow in unexpected ways … a new idea at midpoint can lead to a revision of the start which can immediately suggest a whole new ending. I’ve learnt not get too attached to particular ideas and remain open to what’s happening as you write. I always try to let the best idea win, whether it’s mine, my illustrator’s or my editor’s.
Q. Do you work on several manuscripts at a time or just the one until it’s finished?
I always have one at the forefront which I’m actively working to finish, but I have a number of projects on the backburners. I’ll occasionally review them in a casual, non-pressured way and make notes and add ideas to them, but then I’ll go back to my main project. In this way books can develop over many months and years and they’re always the richer for it. One program that I’ve found really helpful is ‘Day One’ which allows me to make random notes on a variety of projects and stores them in an orderly and easy to find fashion. It gives me the peace of mind that I can make a note knowing that I won’t just lose it.
Q. How did you celebrate your first book being published?
I had a launch in the staffroom of the secondary school where I was working as an English teacher at the time. One of my colleagues made a speech in which he described the book as a load of arrant nonsense. I was so proud as this was exactly what I’d set out to achieve! For many years afterwards my wife and I loved the ritual of placing the final manuscript in the letterbox and then going and having a drink at the nearest bar. But when email came in and my publisher requested electronic delivery we lost this particular ritual. Now I tend to celebrate a new book’s arrival by going on tour and signing as many copies as possible so that nobody can send them back.
Q. How many rewrites do you do before you feel your manuscript is ready for submission?
The process is quite literally endless. If I was forced to put a figure on it I would say a typical short story of around 3000 words would probably be worked over twenty or thirty times, with each pass becoming concerned with finer and finer detail. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the main part of the writer’s craft is the rewriting. To make a story as clear and logical and economically told as possible is my ultimate aim. But no matter how many times I go over it I can always find something else to change, a joke to sharpen, a line to shorten. The only thing that stops me from continuing this process is the deadline for submission of the manuscript. But I still get another crack at it when it returns as typeset pages and then the whole process starts again! Once the book is published, however, I walk away and refuse to let myself edit it anymore, (as much as I would like to!)
Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?
Having used myself as the main character in The Just Series and The Treehouse books I guess I’m in the extraordinarily fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your point of view) position of being a character in my own book every day of my life. But I guess if I had a choice I’d probably choose Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, one of the most complex and mysteriously entertaining fictional characters of all time!
Q. And finally what’s next in store from Andy Griffiths?
In September I have the follow-up book to The 13-storey Treehouse coming out. It’s called The 26-Storey Treehouse in which I explain the truly amazing circumstances under which Terry and I met. And in 2013 I’m looking forward to exploring The 39-storey Treehouse (you can probably see where this is going … 13 more improbable storeys/stories at a time!)
In April 2013 I’m also excited about publishing a book all about stories and where ideas come from called ‘Once Upon a Slime: 50 fun ways to write stories … fast!’