Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh Geez, etc

All Christchurch whanau are relatively unscathed... wait, I feel like I've written this before. Oh, I have. This time there were a lot more close shaves and much more damage to homes and businesses.  M. and I were just down there this weekend... Man, does the whole thing just suck or what (and reduce me to the eloquence of a teenager).


Lynn Freeman paid a nice tribute to Chch at the start of this evening's 7 Poets in the City event at the City Gallery.  She read one poem from a year 12 student about the September quake, another from Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. It was a free event that turned into a semi-fundraiser -- it was nice to see all us freeloaders donating generously to help out Christchurch.

Lynn is also looking for writers with responses to the quakes for Radio NZ this weekend, by-the-by.


If you're in Wellington this coming Monday (28 Feb) and are keen to take your internet stalking to the next level, you can come and listen to me talk at the NZ Society of Authors' meeting at the Thistle Inn at 7.30pm.

Here's the poster:

Craig Cliff: Causing birds to fly out of people's hair since 2007.


The count down is on to the announcement of the regional winners for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Wednesday evening Sydney time, apparently.


What's my talk to Wellington NZSA peeps and walk-ins with a spare $3 going to be about?  Well, if my book was a DVD, my talk would be a combo of the deleted scenes and the director's commentary. I'm going to try and tell the story of my story, 'Copies', from an idea in a journal entry to a first draft of a story, to a finished story and then beyond (ie someone's aborted attempt to turn it into a short film)...

I have it all worked out in my head, though I better write something out this weekend or else instead of words it might be birds coming outta my head.


Right song at the right moment for an unknown reason that I can't find on youtube so you'll just have to nod and move on: Trembling Bells - 'Adieu England'


I don't know if it's secret squirrel or not, but they've already done one press release^... I've been invited to appear at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival in May. So, barring volcanic eruption or tsunami or pandemic (Aklders: "shut up Craig!"), that will be my first festival appearance.

^The press release came out the day before I was asked if I wanted to appear - so I'd totally written off any chance of appearing on stage in Auckland.  And that explains why I'm not mentioned in the press release, eh?


Update: Friday 25th - Today I was recorded reading '10 places I could be when the big one hits' and it's going to play on Radio National between 4pm and 5pm tomorrow (Saturday), or so I'm told.

I kinda wanted a chance to preface the poem with some remarks, because it's not directly a Christchurch earthquake poem, but oh well... I'll just preface here: during the September earthquake, M's father thought, 'Geez, if this is what it's like here in Chch, I'd hate to see what's left of Wellington', and we received a text straight after asking if we were okay.  The idea that Wellington was still due a big one, and that events like earthquakes tend to focus the mind on what and who is important to you -- that's really the impetus behind '10 places...'

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Launch: From Under the Overcoat

Sue Orr's book launch yesterday at Caffe Laffare was a good one.  Sadly, my photography skills were not up to scratch. I'm totally out of practice.

Here's the book cover again.

From Under the Overcoat

And here's Mary McCullum talking with Katherine Ryan on National Radio on Thursday.

I'm now down in Christchurch (again) and have attended my first coronial inquest. Not in a hurry to attend another. Sue's stories are calling - a welcome diversion!

More comments on the book in my end of the month reading summary!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Worksheet #63: where infrequent posting is not OK

Went to New Plymouth over the weekend and had a fab time. Definitely a liveable place. The only disconcerting thing was the billboards everywhere saying: "Taranaki, where family violence is not OK." These campaigns are as good as admissions that somethings wrong. It might as well say, "Taranaki: where family violence is a major problem." Or, perhaps it's actually saying, "If you want to abuse your family, move to Wanganui."



By November 2010 I'd resigned myself to the gentle slide back to anonymity. I'd received my pile of media clippings from Random House and I was relatively happy with how things had gone. Some good reviews, some slightly better than good, no stinkers. I didn't expect things to take off again in 2011, but since 31 December I've been named a "hot writer", had a glowing review in the NZ Herald and now A Man Melting has been short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize South East Asia and Pacific First Book Award. Long title, eh? It basicially means I'm one of six first-time authors from Commonwealth nations in SE Asia (eg Malaysia) and the Pacific (eg NZ and Australia) with a chance of winning the best first book in our region. Winners of the four Commonwealth regions (the others are Europe and South Asia, Candada and Caribbean, and Africa) duke it out for title of best first book in the Commonwealth. So it's pretty much the Commonwealth Games of literature (ie Americans have no idea it exists; NZers win a lot of silvers…). There's also an award for non-first books, but no one cares about them has-beens, right?

Anyway, it's pretty cool to be short-listed. Not many Kiwis ever win their region, so moving to the next stage is a big ask. Then there's the fact the press release from the Commonwealth Writers Prize features a comment by the chair of this region's judges, Dr Paul Sharrad, had this to say about the first book short-list:
"The first entries are notable for their fresh ideas. They include a comic treatment of the Rapture in the US, a story of Aborigines, a detective thriller involving an historical right-wing militia culminating in the opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge, an obsessive cartographer and her twin sister living down trauma from the collapse of Yugoslavia, and the laconic lives of casual grape pickers in rural Australia."
Yup, that's right: no mention of anything from A Man Melting. Oh well.


Brisbane has to be the all-time leader in government-funded campaigns for social change. When I lived there the buses were plastered with ads preaching the virtues of proper hand-washing, decrying school bullying, asking people to keep a vigilant eye for terrorists (the classic being the TV ad with the line: "It's not my bag, Dad," … Bagdad, gettit?). The city was so saturated with good advice I doubt any campaign made a dent in the problem it set out to rectify, it just reminded people that things were messed up (and made advertising agencies rich).

Sadly, New Zealand is not much better.

From Under the Overcoat*

I'm going to the launch of Sue Orr's second collection of short stories, From Under the Overcoat, tomorrow here in Wellington. Sue's already had a fair amount of coverage, but I'm pleased to say I kicked it off way back in August when I interviewed Sue on this blog.


I should really interview more writers…


This Fluid Thrill: where promises are made...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunday 6 February: a review

6:16am: Wake up with Black Eyed Peas looping in my head. Feel queasy. Worry about the car, left in Pipitea Street since midday Saturday. Sigh: Sevens.

11:21am Have late breakfast / early lunch of 2 minute noodles. Discover many bruises which have yet to colour on upper arm, backs of knees, top of foot. Sevens.

11:58am: Take bus to town. Car still there (phew) and no parking tickers under the wipers (double phew). Go in to work for two hours. Write a fantastic paper on "lessons learned" which has nothing to do with drinking. Decide work would be improved with simple addition of jandals.

3:12pm: Have a second lunch of spaghetti and cheese toasties while watching Angels and Demons. Could it possibly, be worse than The Da Vinci Code?

3:13pm: Yes it could.

5:18pm: Check my emails. Check facebook. Check twitter. Gosh, people sure do tweet a lot. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Notice a tweet from @modernletters:
"An electrifying new voice on the NZ writing scene" - Craig Cliff reviewed in today's NZ Herald #betterlatethannever
5.19pm: Return to lounge. Tell fiancee, brother and temporary flatmate I need to go buy a paper. Brother says he's going out shortly and can get one for me.
Me: Where are you going? (meaning: How long do I have to wait for the paper?).
Him: To [insert name of recently broken-up with ex-girlfriend]'s.
Me: Oh.
[Insert awkward male conversation which skirts around things and where I refer to custody battles for non-existent kids in jest].

5:49pm: Look at watch. Regret not going to get a paper myself. Look up @modernletters tweet again. An electrifying new voice...

7:32pm: Eat dinner (tofu stirfy) and watch the second half of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Decide it's the worst one yet. (Note: I've never read the books and only started watching the movies a fortnight ago because I had a sudden interest in magic…).

8:18pm: Brother arrives home. Don't make flippant comments about custody battles. Flick through the sections of the paper looking for the magazine lifouts. Find Canvas and Weekend. One is shiny the other is not. Think: I hope it's in the shiny one. Flick through Canvas, starting 3/4 of the way through. Find review of A Man Melting next to review of a John Irving novel. Read caption beneath photo of author: "John Irving loses the plot with too many layers this time." Feel better in the knowledge that John Irving has been panned and somewhere in my review there will be the phrase "electrifying new voice".

8.19pm: Consider my review. First thought: the photo of the book cover could be larger. Next: check who wrote the review. Paula Green. Think this is nice, seeing as how I'm currently reading 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry.

Start reading. First sentence contains the line about "an electrifying new voice." Wonder if it will be all downhill from here. Consider the possible ways being an electrifying voice could be a bad thing. Consider electric shocks, shock treatment, lobotomies. Consider reference to scene in one of my stories where a boy is forced to chew tinfoil; "reading Craig Cliff's stories is much like being forced to chew tinfoil, his shrill, electrifying voice eradicates any semblance of meaning."

Read second paragraph. Things have not taken a turn for the worse, yet. There's reference to food and wine. Consider possible directions food and wine references could lead. Blandness. Mis-matched ingredients. Unappetizing menu. Consider references to food and wine in A Man Melting. A smiling grapefruit, reheated pasta, a scene between a homeless man and a tourist in Ecuador involving exotic fruit. Notice mention of "delectable aftertaste."

8:20pm Read the rest of the review. Re-read the review to make sure you didn't just glaze over the negative bits they include in to reviews to add balance. Decide this review is wonderfully imbalanced. Proclaim: This is probably the best review yet to fiancee, brother and temporary flatmate. Temporary flatmate has disappeared. Brother grunts. Fiancee says, I want to read it, but remains in the kitchen.

8:21pm Re-read the review. Relish the phrases, "Perfectly formed, stand-alone gems", "satsifying harmonies",  "inspired overlaps", "the fundamental core that weds humanity to strangeness and insight".

8:22pm Place Canvas carefully down on the coffee table, open to the page where John Irving is panned and Paula Green compares A Man Melting to a good wine cellar, "to be drunk now for zest and freshness and to be saved for later for enduring complexity and character." Go to office and check if the review is on the Herald's webpage. Run through promotional checklist: tweet, facebook update (personal page and A Man Melting's page), blog post, add review quote on homepage of and a link to the review under "Reviews".

8:23pm Find the review is not online yet. Read blogs about the Sacramento Kings.

8:43pm Return to lounge. Discover interesting docu-drama on Waitangi Day on TV1.

8:50pm Ad-break. Ask if anyone's read the review yet. No, not yet.  Pick up Canvas and have another skim. Note individual stories mentioned: 'A Man Melting', 'The Sceptic's Kid', 'Copies', 'Manawatu'. Feel sorry for those stories never mentioned in reviews. Consider writing a better story featuring Bembe Hernandez, Rachael Dawn and Laura the hitchhiker killer that reviewers can't help but praising.

9:01pm Watch as brother picks up Canvas and reads review. Slowly. Man, is that how slow people always read?

9:08pm Fiancee reads review. Makes fake surprised sounds. It is a good review, isn't it?

9:12pm Brush teeth.

9:14pm Climb in bed. Think about lessons learned paper. Forgot to mention we've already committed to Cabinet that we'd implement changes to the next tranche of projects. Remember two tenders close tomorrow and proposals need to be assessed by 2pm Thursday. Consider calling in sick and watching Superbowl with friends who work nightshift. Remember Official Information Act Request that needs responding to. Remember Qualitative Benefits discussion paper that needs review. Realise I'm clenching my teeth. Remember I am an electrifying new voice on the New Zealand Writing Scene. Savour the delectable aftertaste.

NZ Herald review of A Man Melting, Canvas Magazine, 6 February 2011.
Answers to the quiz questions included for Jeopardy-lovers.


Footnote: The review has now been posted on the Herald's website... Social network spamming: engage!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let the good vibes in

The world is a better place when you can say: I'm going to Vietman next month (we fly out 26 March).

The world is a better place when the Sacramento Kings are winning. Even better when those wins come against the evil Los Angeles Lakers in their own building and, the next night, the red hot New Orleans Hornets. The world is a better place with the invention of the .gif and Sactown Royalty.

The world is a better place when there's an exciting new HARDBACK literary journal to submit to.

The world is a better place when you've got your annual head-under-and-everything swim at Lyall Bay out of the way and finally returned to room temperature.

The world is a better place when you spent the weekend playing Singstar with people who can't sing (even worse than you), watching terrible disaster movies (if the year 2012 is anything like the movie, I'm gonna start panicking before the President of the United States gives me permission), and eating cheesecake.

The world is a better place when you have a Moleskine diary. I know I might sound like a bookish-equivalent of what we used to call a "label basher" back in Intermediate. I'm don't have a fixie bike or thick-rimmed glasses and have been quite open about the fact I've all but stopped listening to new music. But the fact remains I love my Moleskine and you're free to call me a hipster or a poser or a character from a Douglas Coupland novel. I haven't had a Moleskine since 2008 (a rather productive year). This year's model was a birthday present from my brother. I had specific requests: it had to be the sort with 7 days on the left page and a lined blank page on the right for random notes, and pocket-sized. I didn't specify colour or hard or soft cover, so I wound up with a red hard cover, which may not have been my choice but I've quickly warmed to it.

The world is a better place when you're sticking to your resolutions, even if you're only netting two hundred words between 5am and 6.45am.

The world is a better place when there's talk of higher duties and back-dating at work, even if you are yet to see anything on paper.

The world is a better place when your wedding is still ages away and you believe everything will just fall into place.