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.
with Craig Cliff
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).
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
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.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
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.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
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.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
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.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
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?
are buying my book? *faints*
What are you working on now?
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
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
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.