Craig Cliff was born in Palmerston North in 1983. Since then he has accumulated three university degrees, experienced office life in Australia and Scotland, swum in piranha-infested waters, slept at 4,200 metres above sea level, tried to write a million words in one year and learnt there's not much to do in Liechtenstein. His short stories have been published in New Zealand and Australia; one of them made it into The Best New Zealand Short Stories edited by Owen Marshall.

Short Story Collections

A Man Melting
(Random House New Zealand, 2010)

reviewed by Angela Readman

Interview with Craig Cliff

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Craig Cliff: The oldest story in the collection was started in 2005 and the newest one finished in 2009, but most of the serious work took place in 2008 when I set myself the goal of writing a million words (and I fell 199,263 short).

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

CC: Not for a long time. There was a part of me that knew I was accumulating quite a pile of stories, but it wasn’t until midway through 2008 that I started pulling stories together to see if they could work as a book. When Random House New Zealand accepted my manuscript they suggested adding another story or two so I wrote Unnatural Selection, which closes the collection. That story picks up a number of threads from earlier in the collection, such as travel, emigration, evolution, office work, memory and childhood, but this was the only story written with any thought about how it might sit with its neighbours.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

CC: When I started thinking seriously about putting a collection together I had about thirty-five stories to choose from. My first criterion was quality and I was able to dismiss a dozen stories (even a couple that had been previously published) quite quickly. Then it was a matter of fit. At the time I had a menial desk job in Edinburgh and spent hours playing around with the order of the stories in an excel spreadsheet, looking at the settings, subject matter, narrative voice. I noticed that certain elements kept popping up in different stories and started to organise the collection around these repetitions, so the story about a boy who tries to find out if it is possible to stutter in one language but not in another is followed by another story about foreign languages. I also had to be careful not to put stories that were too similar close together, so the two stories that feature the bumbling Noah "Rusty" Kissick are far enough apart that you’re pleased to see him again, but not so far that you’ve completely forgotten him.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

CC: A story is the easiest way to communicate a complex idea (one which the author is poorly qualified to discuss). A good story finds a wormhole into the reader’s own experience by a series of white lies, misdirection and dumb luck.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

CC:  Not really. I’ll normally have a sense of the type of story I’m about to write (depressing navel-gazer; light-hearted piss-take; life story in five pages) but try not to think too much about a particular type of reader. Ideally, the same reader will appreciate my navel-gazing and my piss-taking – though for different reasons.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

CC: Did you enjoy it? (If they answer in the affirmative, I’d then remind them how books make great gifts.)

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

CC: People are buying my book? *faints*

TSR: What are you working on now?

CC:  I have been working on a novel for the last two years and have written two whole chapters. I’ve chucked it in a dozen times and returned to write short stories and poetry, but I always seem to limp back to the novel. I’ve also started writing a column for the local newspaper here in Wellington and am trying very hard to write about things that actually happen rather than resorting to fictional improvements.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

CC: A mixture of new and old, all great in their own way: Legend of a suicide by David Vann, Self-help by Lorrie Moore and You are now entering the human heart by Janet Frame.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>