Niall Griffiths

Niall Griffiths © Getty Images

Last updated: 02 November 2010

Niall Griffiths was born in Liverpool and later moved to Aberystwyth. Both towns have a strong hold on his imagination. (Photo © Getty Images)

There has always been a strong Welsh influence in Griffiths' life. He was born to a Toxteth family with Welsh roots, in 1966.

"Me mum's family is the Mostyn family, who invented the package holiday, really. They built Llandudno and turned it into a resort, and somewhere along the line one of me mum's ancestors kinda dropped out - I think she must have done something terribly unforgivable like get pregnant to a stableboy - and reappeared in Merseyside a coupla generations later."

Despite growing up in a house with no books, Niall read avidly. Aged nine, he picked up a book by neglected Rhondda writer Ron Berry for 10 pence in a local jumble sale. He cites Berry as a major influence, along with Scottish beat writer Alex Trocchi and Hubert Selby Jr.

"I remember reading Berry and thinking, 'My God, you can write worthwhile novels set in your own community!' I see Grits and Sheepshagger as forming part of a long tradition of experimental, innovative, marginal writing that has occurred in Wales."

His teenage years provided Griffiths with an unexpected opportunity to strengthen his links with his mother's homeland.

"As a teenager I was a bit of a naughty boy, and the judge sent me on an Outward Bound course in Snowdonia. I couldn't believe my luck: 'This is your punishment, you'll go and climb mountains!' And it worked in a way. It showed me outlets for my energy that were much more creative."

He spent years moving from one short-term job to another, from sorting mail to stacking machine-guns, the worst being a stint "cleaning closed-tank muckspreaders. You had to climb into the tank, dizzy with methane, and shovel it out". He eventually moved to Aberystwyth to study for a PhD, but dropped out.

The years that followed provided him with plenty of material for novels which would become known for their portrayal of disaffected, marginalised characters living for drink and drugs.

"If you go on these binges sometimes you reach these bright and shining places, where great witticisms roll off people's tongues, but in a sense your life is wasted, because you forget. So I'd go on these binges, and spend a day recovering, then write what I could remember, and gradually the writing became more important than the 'research'. That's where Grits came from.

"I know my parents are proud of my achievements, but I wouldn't actually want them to read my work. When my books are first published, I make sure I send a copy to my mum and dad, but I tell them not to read the contents."

Griffiths was commissioned by Welsh publisher Seren to write a novel as part of its series New Stories from the Mabinogion, in which contemporary writers reinvent the medieval tales of the Mabinogion.

In The Dreams of Max and Ronnie, published in October 2010, he retells the story of The Dream of Rhonabwy and complements it with the story of The Dream of Macsen Wledig. Other writers involved in the series include Owen Sheers, Gwyneth Lewis and Russell Celyn Jones in 2009.

Selected bibliography

  • Grits (2000)
  • Sheepshagger (2001)
  • Kelly & Victor (2002)
  • Stump (2003)
  • Wreckage (2005)
  • Runt (2007)
  • Real Aberystwyth (with Peter Finch, 2008)
  • Real Liverpool (with Peter Finch, 2008)
  • Ten Pound Pom (2009)
  • The Dreams of Max and Ronnie (2010)

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