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Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Niall Griffiths
Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Niall Griffiths, about his writing and his influences.
1. What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?
The short answer is that I really don’t know. Mine wasn’t a bookish household growing up, but it was filled with stories: of the old countries (Ireland and Wales), ghost stories, war stories, so I had, from a young age, a notion of the power of narrative to mesmerise and entrance. The world seemed both more manageable and more untameably vivid when it was filtered through narrative. I discovered Ron Berry’s novel So Long Hector Bebb when I was about 10 years old and that hit me like a detonation: for the first time I appreciated that the people around me - the dockers and builders and factory hands - could be subjects for literature. As for where the ideas come from, they come from the pages of newspapers, the activity of a spider as it spins its web, and everything in between.
2. How would you describe your writing?
As socially committed, politically engaged tracts driven by equal parts disgust and wonder and angry love at the world.
3. Which authors have influenced you the most?
Religious works (from the King James Bible to Buddhist scripture), Elizabethan tragedians, the Beats (often a negative influence, to be honest) and many modern Americans: Selby Jr, Denis Johnson, McCarthy.
4. In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?
Money, or the lack of it, is the root of all the obstacles; the most valuable thing it can buy is time to write. Without that, writing will always be a necessary struggle. Also, in a country as systemically and socio-politically unequal and class-ridden as Britain, working-class writers will forever fight to have their voices heard; an insight delivered in a rough regional accent will not capture the same audience as the same insight expressed in more rarefied tones. This sounds simplistic, but look to current British political debates for ratification. This is a millennia-old arrangement which will not improve.
5. What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?
Hardest? See the first 6 words in the paragraph above. Easiest? I don’t know if that’s the right word; none of it’s easy, but it can be joyous, and deeply fulfilling. When I’m writing I feel wildly and vividly and excitedly alive.
6. Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?
That would have to be Caradoc Evans. Bizarre, grim, hilarious and surreal writing which reveals something new to me every time I wrestle with it.
Broken Ghost was selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2019 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.