The longer and much more boring version
With a 1920s Underwood typewriter he bought at a school fete, 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 Just Disgusting! in an interview with The 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 The 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 authorising 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 clamouring 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, concludes the series.) In Zombie Bums from Uranus Zack 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 The 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.’
Griffiths’ aim with each subsequent book now is to continue expanding his readership by making stories which aren’t necessarily exclusive of any particular age group. ‘I want to make them universal enough — and well crafted enough — to bring enjoyment to both adults and children.’ The Bad Book, with one foot planted in the 19th Century cautionary verse tradition and the other foot planted firmly in nonsense, is a book designed to be read aloud 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 presentations funnier, he attended a stand-up comedy school. 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.
‘Why did I write...?’ Griffiths ruminates. ‘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 adds 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-to-day grind of being a practical goal-oriented grownup.’ As for his subject matter, Griffiths adds: ‘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.’
The exploding version
Once upon a time there was
and still more nothing...
until all of a sudden,
there was a big explosion
and out came the universe...
and the galaxy
and the sun
and the planets
and the moon
and the Earth
and every living creature on Earth
including a little boy called Andy Griffiths who wrote funny little stories and grew up to become one of Australia’s funniest writers for children. His books sold over 4 million copies worldwide, featured on the New York Times bestseller lists, and won over 40 Australian children’s choice awards.
One day the
funny children’s author was
sitting in a sunny meadow
a funny story
A beautiful little bluebird sang
sweetly in the willow tree.
Fluffy white lambs frolicked
in the soft green grass.
all of a sudden,
one of the pretty pink butterflies
in the writer’s story exploded.
Then another pretty pink
Then all the pretty pink
The blue bird exploded.
The willow tree exploded.
The fluffy white lambs stopped frolicking
The meadow exploded.
A man walking past the
The man’s wife exploded.
The Australian children’s author
put down his pen,
said, “This is not a funny story!”
Every living creature on Earth
Then the Earth exploded.
the sun exploded.
The galaxy exploded.
The universe exploded.
Then the explosion
Then the explosion
of the explosion
Then the explosion
of the explosion
of the explosion
all that was left
Andy from A-Y: 25 facts guaranteed to amuse, disgust and get you an A+ on your author assignment
A is for ALICE IN WONDERLAND, my favorite children’s book — no my favorite BOOK — of all time. How many surprising characters, surreal situations and outright silliness can you pack into one book? Go read it and find out. Don’t forget to check out Through the Looking Glass as well.
C is for COMICS. When I was growing up in the early 70’s you used to be able to get these really brilliant horror/sci-fi comics. Great writing, drawing and extremely imaginative and terrifying stories. One of my favourites was ‘Monsters of the Mind’, which I wrote about in the story ‘Chocopops’ in Just Shocking!
D is for DANNY PICKETT, my best friend from primary school. A character bearing his name appears in the JUST! series, but I must point out that the real life Danny is not quite as stupid as the character Danny. Which is lucky. I must also point out that the character of Andy, who bears my name, is not quite as clever and smart as he likes to think he is.
E is for EXERCISE BOOKS. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved filling exercise books with drawings, poems, newspaper clippings, photographs, song lyrics, advertisements, jokes, riddles, observations, dreams and memories. I suppose this is what you’d call a writer’s journal, but I don’t think of it like that — I just think of it as fun.
F is for FREAKING OUT, the name of my first self-published book in 1990. It was a collection of observations, dreams and memories culled from the pages of my exercise books. The name was inspired (okay, copied!) from Frank Zappa’s first album of the same name. Zappa defined FREAKING OUT as: ‘A process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restrictive standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express themselves creatively.’ This is what I tried to do in Freaking Out and pretty much all of my books ever since.
G is for GRIFF, which is what my friends used to call me at school. Some still do.
H is for HUMOUR — the sillier it is, the more I like it: The Three Stooges, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Young Ones, Bottom, Steve Martin, Pee Wee Herman and Peter Cook are just a few of my all time favorites.
I is for IMAGINATION. I’m not sure what it is or how it works exactly, but I know that you have to feed it if you want to keep it strong and healthy. I follow the advice of Ray Bradbury who wrote: ‘If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like old faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.’
J is for the JUST! series. The first book, Just Tricking! (1997), grew out of one of my small self-published 12-page pocket books that gave simple instructions on how to play a variety of practical — and not so practical — jokes. I used to sell this and other ‘pocket books’ at markets around Melbourne. Just Tricking! was my best-selling title, so I decided to expand it into a manuscript describing how to play two hundred practical jokes. This evolved into the idea of inventing a narrator who thinks he is the world’s greatest practical joker, but who in reality is a complete idiot who almost always ends up with the joke backfiring on him. I tried many different ways of writing this character, but it wasn’t until I pretended that the narrator was actually a younger and much sillier version of myself that I found the right voice for the stories. Andy the character does all the things that I’ve always wanted to do but was never brave enough to try.
K is for KITTENS, PUPPIES AND PONIES. I made a rule for myself that no animals were to be harmed in any of my stories. I did, however, have to make an exception for the kittens, puppies and ponies in the story of the same name from Just Crazy! because they were just too cute — they DESERVED to be thrown in the automatic pulverising and mashing machine. And it wasn’t cruel to put Sooty in that swing, either, in ‘The Dog Ate it’ (Just Crazy); he was yelping, sure, but it wasn’t because he was upset — he was yelping for joy. (I know this for a fact, because I asked him.)
L is for LOST IN TIME: the name of the first story I ever had published. I was 13 years old and it was published in Pursuit magazine. The story was about a boy who is transported many thousands of years into the future while buying two packets of chips and a can of coke at the footy.
M is for MUSIC: I’ve always loved music and draw a lot of inspiration from it. I love music with lots of energy — music that’s not afraid to be different and/or annoying and/or loud.
N is for NOO-NOO: what I used to call myself when I was really little and wasn’t able to say ’Andrew’.
O is for ONE HUNDRED PERCENT TRUE, which is what all of my stories are, except for the made-up bits. The made-up bits, however, are absolutely one hundred percent completely made-up, except, of course, for the true bits, which, as I have mentioned, are absolutely one hundred per cent completely true (except for the made-up bits).
P is for POPCORN, the name of the magazine I wrote, typed and printed when I was in Year 7. It featured jokes, riddles, puzzles, comic strips and fake news articles (eg. Q: What did the maths book say to the other maths book? A: You’ve got problems!) I sold copies to the other Year 7 students for three cents a copy (what a bargain!). It lasted for five issues.
Q is for QUESTIONS — especially stupid ones that put the person you’re questioning into an impossible dilemma, like ’If you had to be squashed, would you rather be squashed by: bricks or feathers?’ or ‘If you had to be eaten, would you rather be eaten by: ants or lions?’
R is for RUBBER VOMIT, the first practical joke I ever tried. I bought a slab of rubber vomit from the milk bar on the way home from school one day and laid it on the front door mat. But Mum wasn’t fooled for a second (the mat was made of wire!). She made me put the vomit in the incinerator and burn it. Many years later, when I was much older, I used to buy jars of corn relish from the supermarket and re-label them as ‘GRIFF’S OWN VOMIT’ and secretly put them into people’s refrigerators. Which I suppose just goes to show that even though you might grow older, you don’t necessarily grow up.
S is for SOOTY — a small dog with a mighty spirit. He spent his entire life chasing cars up and down the hill we lived on. He never caught one, but he never gave up trying. He was the inspiration for the crazy dog in the JUST! series.
T is for TERRY DENTON. He is a complete idiot. Avoid him. And especially avoid his website (see the links page) because it contains a really nasty typing game that’s not in the least bit funny. I think that’s all you need — or would want — to know about Terry Denton. Oh, I almost forgot: he also did all the pictures for the JUST! series, The Bad Book, The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow!. And they’re pretty good, too. But I still think he’s an idiot.
U is for UNDERWOOD which was the brand of typewriter I bought for forty cents at a white elephant stall at our primary school. It was all rusted up but my dad fixed it and I got a typing book and taught myself to touch-type. I used the Underwood for many years — right up until my second year at university when it was replaced with a small portable. The portable lasted for about ten years until I reluctantly abandoned typewriters for word processors. You can’t beat word processors for editing, but they don’t have the romance of my Underwood, which is still on my desk — as big and clunky and beautiful as ever.
V is for VERY BIG SLUGS which are very bad things. If you don’t know why, then just read ‘The story of the very stupid boy and the very big slug’ in Just Disgusting! and you’ll soon find out.
W is WHOOPEE CUSHIONS: something that no self-respecting practical joker — or home — should be without. Endless, mindless fun for children of all ages.
X is for X-RAY VISION, which is something that I’ve always wished I had. As long as I had a way of turning it off, of course, because I wouldn’t want to have to see through people’s clothes. Well, not all the time, anyway. I mean imagine if you were meeting the Queen and she said, ‘how do you do?’ and you were just standing there completely shocked and unable to speak because your un-turnoffable x-ray vision allowed you to see right through her robes and she just thought you were some kind of stupid moron or something. I’m not saying that I’m NOT a stupid moron, but I’d probably wish that I didn’t have x-ray vision at that point — not the sort that you can’t turn off, anyway.
Y is for YOU DIE! The thing I love most about writing stories is that you are free to do and create absolutely anything that you can possibly imagine. In real life it would be dangerous to do many of the things that my characters do, but in a story there’s no problems: you can literally do ANYTHING you want! Just to prove it I killed one character 18 times in the one story (‘Cake of Doom’ in Just Disgusting!) Unfortunately the character was YOU (it was a choose-your-own-adventure). Fortunately you’re still alive — which just goes to prove my point.
Z is for ZERO because this list is called ‘Andy from A-Y’, you idiot!