City Lights Press: You’ve done electronic engineering and worked in finance; how did that lead to writing a book?Shaun Griffiths: Hi Lauren, and thank you for the invitation to this interview. I think my previous careers indirectly led to me writing a novel by showing me what I didn’t want to do with my life. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know what you do want, so it helps to decide what you don’t want. Firstly, I need to say that I’m immensely grateful I was given the opportunity to study and gain a qualification. However, I realized quite quickly that working in an electronics environment was never going to make me happy. I always wanted to travel, and felt I would never be able to settle down until I’d been to the places I always dreamed of.
You see, when I was young, I’d cut pictures out of magazines of places that I would love to visit and paste them into a scrap book (like today’s bucket lists). The temple of Borobudur, Neuschwanstein castle, Philae Island all made it into my scrap book. But what pushed me to move was when I saw a Magnum Photo of a young Israeli soldier standing guard in the old city of Jerusalem. Not only was she beautiful and looked so cool in dark glasses, but when you looked closer, you saw an Uzi machine gun slung over her shoulder. I realized, these were scenes I was never going to experience unless I took my life in my own hands. It was something I felt I needed to do when I was young enough (or stupid enough), to try to get to some places that maybe I shouldn’t have – running into a Thai pirate springs to mind.
My other long term career was with Goldman Sachs. It’s the kind of institution that seemed to demand total commitment at the expense of everything else, including my wife and family.
During the banking crisis, my name was added to the list for desk clearing. When I walked out of the door, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was getting my life back. It brought me closer to my family and gave me the opportunity to again do what I loved doing. So we built a house in Poland, and I started to write.
CLP: Before you wrote your first book did you have a moment when you thought “I have to write this right now?”SG: I was always a scribbler, writing down ideas for stories, writing letters to pen-pals around the globe (when we used to post letters), or what I thought of as deeply profound insights for a young man! Unfortunately I didn’t hold onto all that stuff, it got lost over the years.
I had felt an itch to write a novel for a few years but I didn’t know where to start or if I’d be able to finish it. It wasn’t until I read a book called The 9 Day Novel, which basically laid out how to write a book in 9 days, that I tried it myself. It took me a lot longer than 9 days – more like 9 weeks, but I did get a first draft completed which gave me an enormous sense of accomplishment.
CLP: You’ve moved around a lot, where is your favorite place you’ve been?SG: One of my favorite places in the world is Nepal. The natural scenery is breathtaking. Seeing the morning sun on Mount Everest, or being surrounded by the towering peaks in the Annapurna Sanctuary is a humbling experience. But what really stays in my memory is the friendliness of the Nepalese people. It is a dreadfully poor country, but the smiles and helpfulness of the people make the country glow. After my wife and I married, as a way of giving back something to the people, we “Virtually” adopter a young Nepalese girl through Action Aid. Our charity contributions helped to finance her education. It was a way of saying thank you to the people of Nepal.
At the other extreme, I also feel a deep sense of awe in deserts. The nothingness is filled with magic that can affect all your senses. Your hearing becomes tuned to search for the quietest sound until you hear the blood pulsing in your ears.
I have an affirmation that I sometimes repeat. ‘ When all around you is silent, I am the thunder in your ears.’ It may sound weird, but I do believe I was called in the desert. And cold water tastes better than the finest wine after a day’s journey.
CLP: Do you see yourself ever writing in a different genre?SG: I’ve just completed a short Sci Fi story. It is a little more adult in dialogue, a kind of Pirates of the Universe/Jack Sparrow in space type romp. I really enjoyed trying my hand at this. I may expand it to a series of short adventures if I get some positive reaction from it.
CLP: Do you think writing Young Adult is more difficult than other genres?SG: I don’t think it is more difficult, I do feel it’s important to remember who your readers are. Once I get into the plot/characterization each day, it does flow quite easily. For the final part of my fantasy trilogy, I knew there would be some serious battles and casualties, so I was conscious of the need to keep the descriptions of violence relevant to the story. I have a writing friend that is an Educationalist and Literacy Consultant, so I put the big battle scene passed her before I published.
I feel it’s important to treat YA readers with respect, as in the themes and language used shouldn’t talk down to anyone, but it’s also important to keep the plot and scenes at a level that is not going to give younger people nightmares. I know from emails I’ve received that people reading my books are adults that love the YA genre as well as younger readers, so for me, it’s important to keep the story line clean. Obviously you can’t have a battle without someone getting killed or injured, but if it’s necessary to drive the story or to shape the characters emotional reactions, then I think it will work.
Something else to bare in mind is that a lot of gatekeepers for YA readers are the parents. These are the people buying your eBooks because they have the credit cards. It’s really important to give the parents confidence that the contents is not going to badly influence younger people.
CLP: You have had a lot of success with your books, were you expecting this to happen?SG: I never expected to get such positive reviews of my work that I have done. I am always amazed when I read that people have enjoyed and recommend the series.
For me personally, the success of the books is the fact that I have completed the trilogy. When I set out on my writing journey, I told anyone who’d listen that I was going to write a trilogy. It was a way of keeping myself accountable and making sure that I followed through with the project. So for me, the real success is in reaching the finishing line. Now that I know what I can do, I feel so much more confident in taking on the next project.
CLP: Has your wife or children read your books? What do they think about you being an author?SG: My son proof read an early draft and gave me some valuable feedback on the plot and my daughter helped with an early design of the cover. My family is always encouraging and happy to share my successes when things go right. When it goes wrong, I tend to keep it to myself. They have told some of their friends that my books have become best sellers, so I guess they must be a little impressed.
CLP: Do you put any parts of your real life into your fantasy books?SG: My fantasy world is a conglomeration of the world around me and my memories of places I’ve visited. For instance, the forests and grasslands that I describe are outside my front door. The mountains and storms are taken from my memories of the Himalayas. The desert I try to describe you’ll find in the Sinai. The lost city has a lot of Rome in it. The best way for me to describe a scene is for me to re-live it. I have to leave the alien world building to the real experts.
CLP: What’s an average day look like for you?SG: I don’t think I have an average day. My responsibilities to my family come first, and after that, I write when I can, or deal with the other jobs that go hand in hand with writing. Answering emails, Social Media, publishing and marketing, all these have to be dealt with. But my favorite job is writing.
CLP: Can you give us a glimpse at what your writing space looks like?SG: The table where I write is in front of a window that looks out over a pine forest. Part of our garden is in a National Park. When I’m writing, I often catch myself watching the massive pines swaying in the wind – sometimes they bend so far over, I wonder how they ever come back up. The wildlife is unaware that I’m watching them. We’ve had deer eating my wife’s prized blooms, wild boar ripping through the fence, and mink rearranging our roof. I do love to watch the red squirrels – they are beautiful creatures. Some people would call this procrastinating, I think of it as looking for inspiration. As for the desk itself, I know where everything is, but no-one else would find anything.
Thanks for this opportunity, Lauren – it’s been fun thinking about your questions.