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Matt Griffin was born in Dublin in 1979 and grew up in Kells, Co. Meath. After a brief attempt at third level education he spent eight years in London working in the media, before moving home to Ireland in 2008 to pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime illustrator. Since then he has garnered a reputation as one of the most eclectic graphic artists in contemporary illustration, collecting awards and accolades for his work in publishing, advertising and, in particular, the field of poster art. His passion for visual design was always married to one for writing.
This is his first novel. Matthew lives in Ennis, Co. Clare, with his wife Orla and daughters Holly & Chloe.
A Q+A with Matt Griffin
Q: Matt, you work as an illustrator by day – when did you first start writing?
Well, I was a huge fan of creative writing as a young kid up until my late teens (and I had a great teacher), but as I got older it fell by the wayside. In my 20s I worked as a music journalist for a while, and so kept my toe in the writing water. For my entire life, however, I have had stories buzzing in my mind, and when The O’Brien Press encouraged me to develop one, I fell in love with creative writing again. Now I’m sure not I’ll be able to stop…
Q: Did you give it to any friends or family to read before sending it out? Whose opinion do you value most?
No I didn’t give it to anyone! I am not someone who enjoys showing work-in-progress - I prefer to show the finished product, when I’m happy with it. So the only people who read it in it’s infant stages were the guys at O’Brien Press, and in particular my editor Susan, who helped me to hone my skills and produce something more than just an idea. I was extremely lucky in that I wasn’t writing it with the intention of sending it out in hope to publishers. The entire thing was created under their stewardship.
My wife, Orla, is reading it now, and soon my family and friends will too. I value their opinions of course, but I’m sure they’ll be biased!
Q: Where did the idea come from for A Cage of Roots?
A walk in the woods! Well, there was a little more to it… Emma Byrne, the art director at O’Brien with whom I was working as a colorist on a graphic novel, asked me if I had any stories of my own - and could see that I might like to do something dark, and something that might involve Irish myth in some way. She had great foresight, because that was exactly the type of story I’d love! So I went for a walk (something I always do when I need to think) and in the woods at Lee’s Road in Ennis, came up with the idea that would become A Cage of Roots.
Q: Were you a fan of reading fantasy and horror books as a child?
Yes - I absolutely loved them. I was a voracious reader from a very young age, and pretty much all of it was dark fantasy. I have always had a penchant for the macabre. If I tried to create something light and fluffy, I would probably still scare people.
Q: What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?
The book I re-read the most was Lord of the Rings. If I had to pick just one book to read for the rest of my life, it would be that. But in my teens I also loved Clive Barker - Weaveworld and The Great & Secret Show, but especially Imajica. I thought that book was utter genius and read it over and over. I also loved Iain M Banks (Excession was a favourite) and of course his novels as Ian Banks (like The Wasp Factory - that really shocked me). I basically loved anything that pushed my imagination to it’s limits. And as you can see, it was all pretty dark!
Q: Did you think that one day you'd write a novel that would actually be published?
It was always on my bucket list, but it was pushed down the pecking order because it just seemed so unattainable. Instead, I concentrated on becoming a professional illustrator and let writing disappear from my life. I was incredibly lucky that O’Brien Press pushed me back in that direction. How they had the foresight to see me as a writer I’ll never know, but it must have involved some form of witchcraft. Q: What advice can you give would-be children's authors in getting published?
My advice may be slightly contradictory, but it’s something that I would also apply to illustration-hopefuls and any walk of life really:
Make a gargantuan effort to hone your skills, learn your craft, improve. Getting there easily is the exception not the rule - it takes a vast amount of dedication and work.
But, and herein may lie the contradiction, don’t be afraid to put your work out there as you do it. People might not see you as the finished product, but if you are working hard and showing improvement, then you are showing potential, And somebody, somewhere, will see that potential in you, recognize your dedication, and take a punt on you.
So, in a nutshell - write. Draw. Make. No more thinking about it - just go for it! And realise that it takes time…
Q: Where and when do you write?
I wrote A Cage of Roots in my office at home. I had worked from home for a good few years, and so was very disciplined. But, I also have two young children! So hours tended to be snatched here and there. The main thing was, I wrote even when I didn’t fee like it. Write a sentence even - it will most likely turn into a paragraph and then a page and so on.
Now I have an office, so I’ll be writing the next book there. Even when I don’t feel like it.
Q: Favourite place in the world and why?
The west coast of Clare, without a doubt. I have deep-rooted ties there, from my grandparents on my mother’s side, and I practically grew up in Lahinch and consider it a home from home. I have 36 years of happy memories there, and still find the Burren so inspiring. When I’m gone, my ghost will haunt those limestone fields…
Q: If you could have any superpower for a day what would it be and why?
A tough one, and maybe a strange answer. But I’d love the ability to transport myself to other worlds. To click my fingers and be on Titan or Mars or another galaxy, and able to explore without a suit. I guess with the imagination, that power is not quite as unattainable as you might think. I am quite capable of disappearing off to other places in my head!
Q: Apart from writing and illustrating what are your passions?
In a hobby-sense, music and movies. I have always been very passionate about music, and I love a good movie just as much as I love a good book. In terms of life-passions - my wife and two daughters, my family and friends. I’m very lucky with all of them…
10 things you didn't know about Matt Griffin
• I spent the first 4 years of my life in America, and had an American accent until I was about 10. They called me Yankee Doodle in primary school as a result. Ayla shares the same beginnings (albeit as an orphan).
• My first love is music, and I was an avid guitar player and song-writer. But I suffer from huge stage fright when it comes to performing! So I’ve let that fall away too, much to my own disappointment.
• I wanted to follow my brother Luke into acting at one point. I won a couple of prizes in school. But I didn’t have the immense bottle it takes to be an actor. That profession is for the truly brave.
• I spent a year in Australia in 2001, and at one point hitched from Melbourne to Sydney. It took two days and was an absolutely insane adventure. Someday I may have to write about it.
• I used to work for Channel 4 Music, and interviewed a lot of famous musicians. My first was Shaun Ryder (lead singer from The Happy Mondays & Black Grape). It didn’t go well.
• I lived in London for 8 years, 3 of which were on a boat, in a scrapyard. During one particularly harsh winter, I had no running water. So for three months I showered with a 2 litre Coke bottle of ice-cold water from the tap outside (as long as it wasn’t frozen). I loved boat-life.
• I am a huge armchair sports fan. I support Meath in gaelic football, Clare in the hurling, Leinster in rugby and Chelsea in the Premier League (and always look out for Brentford too. It’s where the boat was). But I’m falling out of love with the soccer I must admit. Too much diving and cheating.
• I love swimming in the sea, with my Dad, no matter what the weather. We have gone out in some pretty blustery conditions, with a lot of bemused onlookers. Nothing else clears the cobwebs like it.
• I am never, ever, satisfied with my own work for longer than a minute or two. This drives me, and helps me to improve. But it drives those around me to distraction.
The magical adventure that began so explosively with A Cage of Roots continues in this equally gripping new episode. Four friends, Ayla, Finny Sean and Benvy are caught in a battle against powerful supernatural enemies led by the terrifying, ruthless Queen Maeve. All four have to face terrible dangers, far from family or anything familiar. They are in a strange world, centuries before their own time, with just each other for support. Like the best fantasy adventures, the trials they face will test their loyalty and friendship, and they’ll all emerge stronger as a result. Setting and adversaries are thrillingly described, a seam of real myth and legend giving the story extra depth. Matt Griffin’s atmospheric black and white illustrations add to the mood. ~ Andrea Reece
March 2015 Debut of the Month An astonishingly different and chillingly striking tale that envelops the pages in a cloak of darkness and mystery. The author hurls the reader straight into the middle of the story, waiting before making introductions and explaining friendships, which effectively ensures you feel Ayla’s shock at the unknown world she finds herself in. The friendship and bravery of the children on their quest holds a torch of light to the fear, the author leaves you on the brink of doubt as you literally will the light to stay true and strong. The scarily real illustrations reach out as pages are turned, knowing that they come directly from the authors mind, as he is the illustrator, connects them even more strongly to the story. This has the feeling of a modern fairy tale about it, full of the scarily weird and vibrantly wonderful, as you turn the last page you are left standing on the edge of wanting more! ~ Liz Robinson A Piece of Passion from the editor Susan Houlden Every once in a while a first chapter lands on your desk that is simply compelling. Matt Griffin’s A Cage of Roots opens with orphan Ayla discovering herself trapped deep beneath the ground, in total darkness, with no idea of how she came to be there. We are instantly drawn into this epic fantasy adventure, and soon we meet Ayla’s mysterious giant uncles and her closest friends, Sean, Finny and Benvy, who set out together to rescue Ayla.What follows is a magical blend of this world and an ancient past. Old Irish figures rise up as the magic that lies beneath our feet and in our landscape stirs into life. Ayla and her friends face pure evil in a life-and-death quest. Matt creates some truly demonic and terrifying creatures, and he plays on our fears and hopes as he spins his tale of deep, dark secrets, awakening powers, betrayal, tests of true character and friendship, and ultimate destinies.As a graphic illustrator, Matt has added rich atmospheric images to each chapter. His storytelling style is fast-paced, hugely imaginative and, at times, humourous. A book to read well beyond midnight.
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