Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How I Got Started as a Writer by Andy Griffiths

I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was five years old.

It was in the form of a get well card for my dad. It was a piece of paper folded into three and was called ‘A Little Boooke I Madee’.

It said, ‘I hear your sick. So turn over the pages and see what you are if you don’t get better.’ Then, when my poor, sick father turned the pages, he was greeted with this disturbing picture of himself as some sort of beast lying on the ground next to a tombstone which says ‘Doomed’. (I’m not sure why I chose to draw him like this—maybe we had recently buried a dead pet in the backyard and I was worried we would have to do the same to him if he didn’t get better!)

So, basically, what I was telling him was ‘Get better soon … or you are DOOMED!’ It may have been quite an unconventional approach for a get well card, but it was effective because he got better really fast. I wasn’t about to let it rest at that, however.

As the years went on, I dedicated myself to making the most terrifying get well cards ever invented, as this effort from five years later, when I was ten, clearly shows:

Anyway, I think you get the general idea. All I can say is that it was pretty fortunate that I grew up to be writer and not a doctor.

When I wasn’t making gruesome cards another thing I liked to do was fill my ‘NOTHING TO DO BOOK’ with lots of stuff that I was interested in … newspaper photos, horror movie advertisements, bubblegum cards etc.

Without knowing it, I was creating a writing journal … but I didn’t think of it as that … I just thought of it as a way of having fun. One of the things I liked doing in my book was cutting out photographs from the newspaper and messing around with them.

‘I’ve got a splitting headache’ was an early triumph. Okay, okay, I admit it’s not that funny ... but I was having a lot of fun and it was all good practice.

One day at our school fete, I was hanging around the second-hand stall and I was lucky enough to pick up a rusty old typewriter for 40 cents. I carried it home, my dad got it working and then I borrowed a typing book and taught myself to touch type.

I spent many hours practising my typing by typing out passages from my favourite books. (I didn’t know it at the time but this is actually a great way for a beginning writer to find out how stories work!) It wasn’t long before I was using my rapidly developing typing skills to produce a magazine full of jokes and funny news articles for the other students in my year 7 class.

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I was thirteen years old when I had my first short story published in Pursuit magazine. It was called ‘Lost in Time’ and was about going to a cricket match and being accidentally transported many centuries into the future.

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I didn’t return to ‘serious’ story writing until many years later when I became an English teacher and began writing stories to amuse and motivate my students to read and write their own stories. I published a number of these as 12-page pocket books, which I sold at markets.

Many of the short pieces I wrote during this period were published in 1993 as a creative writing textbook called Swinging on the Clothesline. This book was notable for both being my first published book and for introducing me to Terry Denton who was hired by the publisher to illustrate it.

I loved Terry’s illustrating style and we worked together on another collection of creative writing ideas called Rubbish Bins in Space in 1995. (These books are now out of print and no longer available, but Once Upon a Slime: 45 Fun Ways to Get Writing … Fast, published 2013, is basically a rewritten and revised version of them, using examples from all the books I have written since 1997.)

In 1997, the first Just book, Just Tricking!, was published. This book was notable for being both my first published book of pure short stories and for introducing me to the editor, Jill, who I am now married to and who has edited every book since then and was the inspiration for the character Jill in the Treehouse series (The 13-Storey Treehouse, The 26-Storey Treehouse and The 39-Storey Treehouse).

So, as you can see, I have enjoyed having fun with words and pictures in some way or another from an early age, and still do. If you’d like to know more, read Once Upon a Slime or visit my website.

About the Author

Some of Andy's writing journals
Andy Griffiths is one of Australia’s most popular and well-loved children’s authors. 

He has written more than 25 books, including short stories, comic novels, nonsense verse, picture books, plays and a creative writing guide for students and teachers. 

Two of Andy's favourite books as a child—The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and The Magic Faraway Tree—have greatly influenced his latest series of books, The 13-Storey Treehouse, The 26-Storey Treehouse and The 39-Storey Treehouse. 

Visit for more information.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Andy! Not only for contributing this very funny yet informative piece about how you became a writer but also for your very helpful advice on dealing with sick people.

    Since I read it, I've adopted the "get better soon or you're doomed" approach to claims of illness (usually on days assignments are due or there's a school event the ill person is seeking to avoid) in our household. My pronouncements of impending doom for lingering (or even non-lingering) ailments seems to be working. I haven't yet had to draw rather scary pictures but I'm keeping that card up my sleeve...