Andy Griffiths (1961-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1961, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; marriage ended); (with Groves) Sarah.
Agent—Fiona Inglis, Curtis Brown, P.O. Box 19, Paddington, New South Wales 2021, Australia.
Writer. Has worked as a musician, English teacher, and book editor and publisher.
Young Australian Best Book Award (YABBA) and Kids Own Australian Literature Award (KOALA) Children's Choice awards, both 1999, both for Just Annoying!, both 2000, both for Just Stupid!, and both 2001, both for Just Crazy!; ACB Packaging and Displays Best Designed Children's Series, 1999, for "Just" series; Children's Yearly Best Ever Reads (CYBER) Children's Choice award, 2000, for Just Crazy!; Books I Love Best Yearly (BILBY) Children's Choice award, 2000, for Just Annoying!; Kids Reading Oz Choice (KROC) Children's Choice award, 2001, and KOALA and BILBY Children's Choice awards, both 2002, all for Just Tricking!; Young Australian Readers Award (YARA) Children's Choice award, and Book Data/ABA Book of the Year Award shortlist, both 2001, and YABBA Children's Choice award, and A.P.A. Design Awards for best designed children's fiction book, both 2002, all for The Day My Bum Went Psycho; YABBA, KOALA, and CROC (Northern Territory) Children's Choice awards, all 2003, all for Just Disgusting!
Swinging on the Clothesline, Longman (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1993.
Rubbish Bins in Space, Longman (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1995.
The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), published as The Day My Butt Went Psycho, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Zombie Bums from Uranus, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003, published as Zombie Butts from Uranus, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Terry Denton) The Bad Book, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2004.
Just Tricking!, illustrated by Terry Denton, Reed Books (Mammoth, Australia), 1997, published as Just Kidding!, Macmillan Children's Books (London, England), 2001, published as Just Joking!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Annoying!, illustrated by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Stupid!, illustrated by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Crazy!, illustrated by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000, published as Just Wacky!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Disgusting!, illustrated by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of "Stinky Stories" series illustrated by Jeff Raglus: Banana Boy, Hamburger Man, Jelly Bean Girl, and Rose Petal Fairy; editor of "Blasters" series of short-story anthologies, including Fears and Fantasies, Animal Tails, and Risks and Challenges, all 1997.
Just Tricking!, Just Stupid!, Just Crazy!, Just Disgusting!, Just Annoying!, and Zombie Bums from Uranus were adapted for audio cassette and CD, Bolinda Audio (Tullamarine, Australia and Newport Beach, CA). The Day My Butt Went Psycho was abridged and adapted for audio CD by Random House Audio. The "Just" series was adapted as the twenty-six segment, half-hour animated television series What's with Andy?, by Cinegroupe for Canada's TELETOON network; Just Disgusting! was adapted as a stage play by RMIT University Theatre.
Work in Progress
Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict, the third book in the "Bum" trilogy, after which Andy has given his solemn promise that he will never write about bums or butts again.
With a 1920s Underwood typewriter he bought at a school "fête," Australian children's writer Andy Griffiths wrote his first published story when he was in year eight at school. Called "Lost in Time," the story appeared in Pursuit magazine. Despite this early success, Griffiths was more interested in rock music and spent most of his creative talents in school writing rock songs. After high school, when several of the punk rock bands he had formed disbanded, he decided to return to school and earned a degree in education. He then became an English high school teacher and has also worked as an editor and publisher of educational books focusing on English and writing.
The urge to write stories never left Griffiths, and he returned to writing short stories when he became a stay-at-home dad in the early 1990s. When he tried to get a book of short stories published, eight publishers rejected it until one finally suggested turning it into a textbook with writing exercises. The result was Swinging on the Clothesline, which Griffiths followed with Rubbish Bins in Space. Both collections feature stories and writing exercises focusing on different genres, styles, and subject matter, all designed to inspire and stimulate students to write.
The books, which became widely used in schools throughout Australia, also incorporate large doses of humor, fun, and play, such as suggestions for annoying parents, instructions on riding spiders without getting bitten, and the real story behind the demise of dinosaurs. In these books Griffiths focuses on eliminating routine, which he sees as the "greatest enemy" in the classroom. He writes in the introduction to Rubbish Bins in Space: "The teacher must be very vigilant for ways to shock that routine, to rediscover the freshness of the moment, to uncover the raw wonder lurking underneath the surface of the 'ordinary,' and to unleash the potential energy in the most predictable of response." Griffiths told Christopher Bantick of the Sunday Tasmanian, "Before I began to write, I was an English teacher, and I noticed there was a total lack of funny books for kids…. My aim was to update book humor and I didn't see why it had to be any less entertaining than a video game or a movie."
Griffiths is also the author of the "Just!" series of books, all illustrated by Terry Denton. These books contain short stories about the young Andy, billed as the world's greatest, craziest, most annoying, and most stupid practical joker. In Just Tricking!, Andy's adventures—which usually involve his best friend Danny—include playing dead so he can get out of school, convincing a friend that he is invisible, and getting stuck in a gorilla suit and nearly winding up in a zoo. In Just Annoying! Andy continues to annoy friends and family to the point that his parents dump him from their car and drive away. Writing in Magpie, Margaret Phillips noted: "I suspect Terry Denton and Andy Griffiths had a great time dreaming them [the stories] up and I suspect numerous readers are going to have a great time poring over them." In Just Stupid! Andy does "just stupid" things, like cramming twenty marshmallows into his mouth. Commenting on Griffiths' "effective" use of the first person, present tense to tell the stories, Russ Merrin noted in Magpies that the style "lends immediacy to the author's conversational anecdotes. As the reader, you rather get the feeling that Andy's prank has only just happened a few minutes ago, and you have just stumbled into its aftermath." In a Magpies review of Just Crazy!, Neville Barnard commented on the basis of the success of the "Just!" series of books: "The content of the stories is only a minor detail. It is the extravagant humour and imagery that Griffiths creates that ensnares the reader." As Griffiths noted of the Just Disgusting! books in an interview with West Australian, "kids always seem to love the disgusting stories … so I thought it would be a good thing to do a book with nothing but disgusting stories in it."
Griffiths got the idea for the "Just!" series while watching the television show Seinfeld. "I loved the conceit that he was in his own sitcom," Griffiths explained to Kathy Evans of Sunday Age. "And I thought, if he can be his own character in the TV show, I can be my own character in the book." Getting the "Just!" books published was not that easy; after Just Tricking! was rejected more than twelve times, Griffiths decided to publish it himself and get feedback from his readers. Eventually, a publisher discovered the book and published it, uniting Griffiths' text with Terry Denton's illustrations. Tess Marsh-Neubecker, Zara Pranskunas, and Cherie de Clerck reported in Books Alive! Education Age that the stories included in the "Just" series "are exaggerated versions of his [Griffiths's] childhood stories. A lot of the stories are just the experiences that Andy would have loved to have had, but never had the courage to do. He also never had the stupidity to perform them."
Griffiths created a new character for the first novel of his "Bum" trilogy, The Day My Bum Went Psycho. The storyline centers on Zack Freeman, whose crazy "runaway bum" tries to unite all bums to conquer the world. Writing in the Sunday Age, Michelle Griffin described the book as a "carefully plotted comedy thriller, one part Lara Croft adventure and two parts Monty Python daftness." The Day My Bum Went Psycho also includes a glossary of "bum" terms, including "bum-plug," which is "used to cork bums for the purpose of harnessing their gas power," and "runaway bum," which is "a bum that has sprouted arms and legs, detached itself from its owner's body and run away." And, in case his readers are worried about the intentions of their own bums, Griffiths includes a test to determine whether their bums are "psycho," with questions like "Has your bum ever embarrassed you in public?" Evans, in an interview with Griffiths for the Sunday Age, noted that the author claims The Day My Bum Went Psycho is based on a true story: "He got the idea after suffering an itchy bottom, which, he says, drove him psycho." Griffiths told her, "It's a very common question from the kids: 'Is this true? Did it really happen?' As a teacher, the kids would ask me a question and I'd say something completely ridiculous with a straight face, and they'd say, 'Really?' and I'd say, 'Yeah, it's true.' When you don't know if something is true or not, it seems fantastic and it drives you batty trying to work it out, and I think that's really good, because it's how your imagination grows."
Although The Day My Bum Went Psycho has delighted young readers—it was chosen as a children's choice book in several Australian states—it also gained attention from a more adult contingent and, as a result, made headline news throughout Australia and the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) World Service. The book's cover photo featuring buttocks was used on a poster promoting Australia's National Literacy Week. Thinking it might be offensive to some people, the Department of Education, Training, and Youth Affairs decided to remove the poster from the campaign. As a result, Griffiths and his publisher decided to withdraw the book entirely from the campaign. The education minister eventually denied authorizing the ban and had the poster reinstated. "I always dreamed of being banned,"
Griffiths told Griffin. "I just didn't think it would be this easy." Griffiths went on to say: "It always annoyed me that children's literature has been so polite. The world of literature should be really wild and free like rock 'n' roll. That's where I take a lot of my inspiration. That's where I came from."
The Day My Bum Went Psycho was published in the United States as The Day My Butt Went Psycho and was met with similar popularity. With readers clambering for more adventures of Zack Freeman and his bum, Griffiths produced Zombie Bums from Uranus, the second volume of the projected "Bum" trilogy. (The third volume, Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict, will conclude the series.) In Zombie Bums from Uranus Zach and his bum team back up with the bumfighters in order to save the planet from an invasion of zombie bums. Much worse than a bum rebellion, an invasion from Uranus means facing off against the smelliest bums in the universe. A reviewer for the Age was convinced that kids will find the book both funny and fun, due to "plenty of loopy action" in the story. Evans, in her interview for Sunday Age, reported "Griffiths was delighted to discover that nine rings of methane gas cover the seventh planet from the sun, which was terrific fuel for his creativity."
While he started out writing for children, Griffiths has found that his readership has expanded to include adult lovers of the absurd. As he explained to SATA, "My aim with each new book now is to continue making stories which aren't necessarily exclusive of any readership. I want to make them univeral enough—and well-crafted enough—to bring enjoyment to both adults and children. The Bad Book, with one foot planted in the nineteenth-century cautionary verse traditon and the other foot planted firmly in nonsense, is designed to be read and enjoyed by a whole family."
For many years Griffiths supported his writing by spending up to nine months a year fulfilling speaking engagements at schools throughout Australia. To make his presentation funnier, he attended a stand-up comedy school. "I am driven," he told Griffin in the Sunday Age. "I can never quite relax." As a contributor to Cairns Post noted, "Griffiths might not be mobbed on the street, but put him in a half full room of school children and it's obvious he's a superstar." He now writes full time, but credits the many years of stage presentations as a crucial element in the development of his fiction as material that has to be able to quickly captivate and hold the attention of a live audience.
On his personal Web page, Griffiths ruminated about writing: "Why did I write …? Because it came easily, I guess, because it was a way of expressing myself, to entertain my friends, to shock, because it was a way of having fun." He added that he continues to write for the same reasons plus a few more. "It's a way of making a living out of something I would do even if nobody was paying me and because I've discovered it's a way of staying awake—of keeping a small part of my mind detached and observing experience—it's a way of finding value in the most mundane and boring places and experiences—a way to recapture that childlike sense of wonder that can so easily get sidelined in the day-today grind of being a practical goal-oriented grownup." As for his subject matter, Griffiths added: "I sometimes wonder if that's the writer's job—to have the courage to come out and say the things that other people only think."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), August 11, 2001, Sophie Douez, "Bummer, Says the Author. I Wasn't behind It, Says the Minister"; January 2, 2002, Sophie Best, "In-Your-Face with a Bum"; September 13, 2003, review of Zombie Bums from Uranus.
Australian Book Review, November, 1998, Ruth Starke, "Infectious Laughter," p. 44.
Books Alive! Education Age, August 19, 2002, Tess Marsh-Neubecker, Zara Pranskunas, and Cherie de Clerck, "Creatively Stupid."
Cairns Post (Cairns, Queensland, Australia), June 12, 2003, "Ex-Teacher Has the Good Word."
Herald Sun (Victoria, Australia), November 14, 2002, Shaunagh O'Connor, "Bottoms Are Tops!"
Magpies, September, 1997, review of Just Tricking!, p. 33; September, 1998, Margaret Phillips, review of Just Annoying!, pp. 34-35; July, 1999, Russ Merrin, review of Just Stupid!, p. 24; November, 2000, Neville Barnard, review of Just Crazy!, pp. 33-34.
Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2003, review of The Day My Butt Went Psycho, p. 67.
Sunday Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), September 9, 2001, Michelle Griffin, "The Bottom of the Matter"; March 23, 2003, Kathy Evans, "The Day My Books Sold Out."
Sunday Tasmanian (Hobart, Australia), October 13, 2002, Christopher Bantick, "Quirky Humour Enthrals Kids," p. T18.
West Australian, October 5, 2002, "Disgustingly Funny."
Andy Griffiths Home Page, http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/ (March 29, 2004).