Shaun Griffiths was born in South Wales where he studied Electronic Engineering at Llandaff College, graduating top of his class. After 5 years in the workforce he grabbed his travel boots, discovered some interesting places, and met all kinds of people. He returned to London for a while until finally settling in Poland with his wife and family. They live on the edge of a pine forest, which, together with his upbringing in Wales, gives him inspiration for his tales of fantasy and adventure for young adults.
Q: Who is the real Shaun Griffiths?
A: He’s an introvert who puts on a face of bravado every morning. A closet perfectionist and as his wife believes, a fantasist. His best friend lives in a box in a dark corner of his imagination. I like him.
Q: You have lead an interesting life. At times you have had some very scary moments in your life. Would you like to talk about these and how they have influenced your writing?
A: I do feel I’ve had some scary experiences, all of which revolve around water. Luckily for me, as a young boy, I spent a lot of time practising holding my breath, which came in handy. You see, as a child, I always wanted to be a Frogman (Scuba Diver), so I’d spend hours swimming beneath my imaginary ocean. People on a bus would watch me holding my breath and swimming down the street – front crawl was my favourite stroke. One of my first near misses was during a fishing trip to the lake. I overreached and fell in. Luckily by this stage, I was pretty good at breath holding. But having watched a John Wayne movie about Pearl Divers the week before, my main concern was getting the bends.
Thankfully I survived the beating my mother gave me. So I decided to learn to swim in water. That summer holiday, I went to the swimming pool everyday. This was when a sixpence would buy you a ticket for the pool, for as long as you wanted, and a cup of soup at the end of it. It was also before the Health & Safety regulations ruled our lives. At the end of the Life Guard’s shift, he would put on his trunks, and play with the kids in the water. Picking people up above his head and throwing them into the middle of the pool. He saw me passing, grabbed me and threw me in. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t swim, but I was good at holding my breath. Once again I survived the bends and the beating for not being more careful.
After these and many more close shaves in water, I do feel I’m well qualified to write about near-death experiences.
Q: You have travelled extensively. Which country has impressed you the most and why?
A: A place where I’ve probably been happiest, is Nepal. I found the people to be so warm and friendly, some of the nicest in any country I’ve visited. Being British, there is also a natural bond because of the Gurkha regiments. I met many ex-soldiers who were happy to pass a few hours recalling their times in their service to our Queen. The natural beauty of the Himalayas is breathtaking. But the people’s lives can be so difficult. I’d experienced abject poverty in India, but it one thing to be in dire need when the sun shines, and another when there’s snow and ice on the ground, it somehow seems far worse.
After I married, my wife and I chose a “virtual adoption” of a young Nepalese girl through the Action Aid charity. By making a monthly donation, the charity used the money to pay for her education. It was a way of giving back some of the warmth given to us.
Q: How much of where you live in Poland is a source for your writing inspiration?
A: You would recognise a lot of the settings for my fantasy novel in the countryside around me. We live on the edge of a national park, half of our garden is pine forest. The hills around are glacial, some of the lakes in our area are impact craters. A place I really love, is the grasslands surrounding the river. The reeds can reach well over 3 meters in places. This was the grasslands I burnt down in the my first novel. The country around is very beautiful and I’ve tried to capture the essence of it in my writing. The blizzards from my novels are taken from a visit to the Tatra mountains in the south of Poland. We were trekking between Pensiones when we were hit by a storm. I have never been so cold. Luckily the Goulash soups are extra spicy in this area so we recovered quickly. This is another near death experience I’ve tried to capture in my novels.
Q: We hear that you once wrote to President Obama. Was it to congratulate him or were you taking him to task over something?
A: Too Political 🙂
Q: You write beautiful fantasy stories for young adults. Tell us more about the themes that run through your books. Some people have said, after reading your books, that they reminded them of the Chronicles of Narnia. Was this deliberate or subconsciously done?
A: I’m very flattered that people may think it’s reminiscent to Narnia, though to be honest, I’ve never read it. The original idea of the shifting animals came from my love of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The Snow Bear character Naz, was inspired by Baloo. I’ve tried to create a little light-hearted dialogue whenever he walks into the scene.
When I first sat down to write this story, my intention was to create something for my children. I wanted to tell a story that didn’t involve bad language, toilet humour (though I do love poo jokes), or the excessive gore that children grow up with today.
As a family, we’d sit down after supper to watch children’s TV. It was a tradition we carried on for years, until Cartoon Network made it impossible to watch. So I decided to create something that I hoped would be clean but still exciting.
Q: The plot for Changing Times, Shifter’s Alliance is quite complex. How much planning to do you for your books? Do you map out the worlds and draw pictures of what is taking place where, or is it something you are able to do, ad-lib?
A: I did ‘pant’ my first novel. Midway in, as the world expanded, I drew a map of the imaginary lands so that I could easily keep track of it all (I later had someone on Fiverr digitised it and I use it as a free gift for my Newsletter sign-ups). As the character list grew, I had to create profiles for them, as my memory is not good enough to remember their individual characteristics (the colour of their eyes, their family lines etc.)
I also drew out timelines, times and distances between locations, to make sure no one turned up in a spot before they should have. With a visual reminder for me it’s quick and easy to keep track of things.
For Part 2, I discovered Mind Mapping, which is basically a Mind Dump.
All you need is a very large sheet of paper, a bottle of water and a bag of walnuts. In the centre of the paper, your write down the main idea for your work (for me this was Good Vs Evil). You then write down everything that comes into your head, one thought leading on to the next, and following that thread until it’s exhausted. Then go back to the centre of the paper (Good Vs Evil) and start a new thread. When you feel you’ve got everything, you drink your water and eat your walnuts. After a few minutes, you’ll find you have so many more ideas to add to the threads (I think it’s the Omega 3s in the walnuts that does it).
After that, you organise all the thoughts into groupings, by characters, time frames, locations etc. This can be used as a basic story outline around which your story moves forward (I use a 4 Part Story structure). So it’s partially outlined with a lot of pantsing in between. I enjoy the freedom of not being constricted within a box. As long as I hit certain way points (the inciting incident, the mid-point etc), I feel I’m on course.
Q: In Changing Times, Lost Lands the search for the Crystal continues. Would you say that your writings are allegorical?
A: No, I wouldn’t say that because I didn’t know the meaning of the word – I had to Google it. I feel that writing for Teens and Young Adults, I want to keep it simple. As I mentioned, my first idea for a mind map was Good against Evil. I try to write a clean novel, that follow my Christian beliefs. For example, giving people the benefit of the doubt, trying to see the good in people, trying to talk things out before rolling up your sleeves. These things are close to my own heart and I hope, obvious within the storyline. But I do have to remain conscious of not trying to teach or preach, but to let the people’s characters dictate how they react.
Q: Talk about one of your book characters that has stayed with you long after you have finished writing.
A: SPOILER ALERT: This would have to be Holly. She is the best friend of Kerri, the heroine of the trilogy. Holly is 9 years old and innocent to the evils of the world. She has a total belief in the goodness of her friends, her family and her Clan.
As the story progressed, circumstances within my own life tended to get reflected within Holly’s life. During the time I was writing the story, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I tried to write about the loss of everything that she assumed was permanent, the fear of being alone in the dark, and the coming end.
When I wrote that Holly died, I did actually have tears in my eyes. It was such a strange emotional experience for me. I was continually having flashbacks about the imaginary scene I’d created of Holly trying to defend the mountain pass, but then falling and left beneath the snow. At the end of the story, I had go back and try to save her. This was one of the core ideas of Part 2, it really all revolves around her, around good and evil.
Magic Crystals and Books of Knowledge and Power are simply props around which my characters have to navigate. As a father, I had to rescue young Holly. I wouldn’t have peace until she was safe. She is real and important to me.
Q: You are writing the third book of the trilogy. Tell us the title of the book, more about what we can expect and how it ties in with the previous two.
A: I don’t have a title for it yet, I’ve just finished the 1st rough draft. 88,003 words, now I just have to get them all in the right order. Editing starts next week. I’m thinking of using the William Burroughs Cut Up Technique.
I had some feedback from readers of my 2nd novel that said, they never actually felt the quest was going to fail. So I hope I will surprise people a little with this one. Another comment I heard was that it needs more dead bodies, so this one really is a battleground, the final showdown. Lots of hankies may be need. I did at times question whether there was too much killing off. I’ve grown very attached to a lot of them, and see a lot of my own hopes and dreams within them.
Are there any questions that you always hope interviewers would ask about you and your books, but no one ever has? Well now is your chance. Please pose and answer the last two questions.
Q: What’ the best advice you’ve received for your writing?
A: Never delete anything you write. Use strikethrough. If it was important enough to write once, it may be important again one day. It could always be used later.
Q: What do you wish you’d done differently starting on your writing career.
A: I wished I’d started putting together a mailing list, even before I’d finished my first novel. You don’t need a finished book to give away, to get people following you. By sending out a newsletter that includes lots of freebies (which are advertised everywhere) people will be interested in following you. You can use someone else’s Best Seller as a prize Giveaway if you don’t have one of your own.
I know One Stop Fiction is running these List Building promotions too, I would encourage people to get involved.
Once you target people that read and are interested in your specific genre, you have a ready made list of potential readers that you can tell about your own book when you come to publish it. If I’d started a list years ago, I feel my books would have much greater exposure that they do at the moment.