Niall Griffiths burst onto the literary scene with his first novel, Grits, in 2000. Set in the Aberystwyth area, it explores life on the disadvantaged and desperate peripheries of society. Its themes of drugs, sex and crime and its heavy use of vernacular speech quickly drew comparisons with the Scottish writer Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).
Griffiths is an important, powerful and fascinating voice in his own right, however, as can be seen in the 22 boxes of his papers that have recently been catalogued at the Library. They comprise notes, drafts, research materials, journals, correspondence, administrative papers and ephemera covering every aspect of his literary life, including all of his novels up to Broken Ghost (2019) as well as his poetry, short stories and other prose writing, radio and film plays, articles for periodicals, reviews of work by other writers, interviews, workshops, festivals, academic papers, publications relating to his work, and much more.
Although born and raised in Liverpool with a fierce loyalty to the city, and having lived in Australia for three years from the age of 12, Niall Griffiths is a distinctively Welsh author. Wales provides the setting for much of his work, and he has lived most of his life near Aberystwyth. This is perhaps not surprising, since it was from his Welsh family and from the Rhondda writer Ron Berry that he first learned the importance of language, story and authenticity. His two guidebooks, Real Aberystwyth and Real Liverpool, were both published in Wales, and his novel Stump (2003) was adjudged Book of the Year by both the Welsh Books Council and the Arts Council of Wales. Griffiths traces his affinity with the Welsh hills to the time he spent in Snowdonia on a young offenders course during his teens, and he has attributed the fiery, unruly and often spiritual nature of his work to his Celtic roots.
Griffiths has lived the life he describes in Grits: partying, doing unskilled work and just about surviving on the breadline. His characters are often searching for fulfilment, and many of them are victims of poverty – troubled individuals who are trying to make the best of a hostile world which magnifies their flaws – while his rural and urban landscapes resonate with the jarring juxtaposition of beauty and brutality. Griffiths portrays all of this graphically and with profound empathy and conviction, and the same perspective informs much of his other writing.
In portraying members of society whose voices are rarely heard, Griffiths is very conscious of the relationship between language and politics. Many of his books are written in dialect, with phonetic transcriptions of accents (and liberal profanity), and he draws on a deep knowledge of literature to give his characters an epic quality. His intense and poetic writing style has attracted great admiration and commercial success, but some readers and critics have found it alienating.
Not that Niall Griffiths is concerned about literary and academic critics. He began writing when he was very young, driven by an unidentified urge, and although he left school at 15 he came to understand the importance of education – and also its limitations. Returning to his studies, he got as far as starting a PhD in poetry at Aberystwyth, but then became disillusioned; he later said that he felt he needed to unlearn a lot of his academic education. His work has since earned him an honorary professorial chair at Wolverhampton University.
The combination of curiosity, passion, erudition, financial insecurity and dissolute living is evident throughout the archive, both in its content and in its arrangement. As well as the extensive research that Griffiths has done on a wide range of subjects, his papers reveal his candid views on many personal, creative, professional, social, political and philosophical matters. He is deeply interested in concepts of identity, and also literary history and the experience, craft and meaning of life as a writer, as well as travel and many other topics, not least football and in particular Liverpool FC.
Take a look at the newly catalogued Niall Griffiths Papers to see why he has been – and still is – in demand as a contributor to literary publications and events in many countries around the world.
Dr David Moore (Archivist)
This blog is also available in Welsh.