Sunday, May 19, 2013

Craiggate / Mulling the cloud seeder / zipped lips

Craiggate, or It's no longer paranoia when your fears are realised

The few months before a book launch can be nervy. Chances are publication day is swiftly followed by reviews that miss the point, interviews that misquote you and photo shoots in bright sun (squinty eyes!) or weird locales (hey, how about you pose by this construction site!).

The last few months I've had a very specific anxiety: that people will mix me up with Colin Craig,  leader of the NZ Conservative Party. He's been in the news a bit lately, whether it's promising a day of reckoning after Parliament sanctioned gay marriage, or threatening a satirical news website with legal action for defamation.

At the risk of getting my own letter from Chapman Tripp, Mr Craig is a bit of a plonker.

Unfortunately, his name bears a number of similarities to mine.


(To confuse things further, I have a great uncle called Colin Cliff.)

It's one thing to be little known in a small country. It's quite another to be little known and confused with a plonker.

I told myself it was just me being over sensitive. People weren't that stupid. No one would ever read 'Craig Cliff' and think, "That homophobic, litigious git who shelled out $1.3 million of his own cash for the last election but never got near a seat in parliament?"

I told myself I was being paranoid.

But then it happened. Perhaps the first of many befuddlements.

My latest light-entertainment column in the Dominion Post appeared on Fairfax's news website stuff this morning with the byline "Colin Craig".

Luckily it was still filed under "Craig Cliff" and the sidebar showed other columns by me. Two astute commenters picked up the anomaly and the Stuff editors fixed it.

In all, the faux pas was online for six hours and I only knew about it for two of those. It was small biscuits. A bit of a laugh really.

But I can't shake the thought that this is not the last time something like this happens this year...

Mulling the cloud seeder

Current word count of my latest short story: three.

Number of short stories other than the cloud seeder I've worked on: one. Oops. And it wasn't even one of the ten options I put on my poll.

Bad blogger!

My lips are zipped

Back in October 2011, my to do list included the item: "Say no to something."

I can now cross this item off. I initially said yes, but then I said yes to something else, something bigger, which meant I had to say no to this other, smaller but still exciting and worthwhile thing. Does that count?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Archival Activity

One for the archives

I'm in the process of updating, which means sloughing away a lot of the A Man Melting-centric material and adding more current stuff about The Mannequin Makers and my general awesomeness (it won't take long).

In the interests of nothing much, except my own curiosity in twenty years time (what did my website actually say in 2010-13?) I'm plugging the soon-to-be-excised text here.

About Craig

Standard author's bio you'll find all over the place

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 Essential New Zealand Short Stories edited by Owen Marshall. These days he lives on Wellington's south coast and works for the government.

Bonus Q&A — exclusive to

You attended the International Institute of Modern Letters MA programme back in 2006. Did you write the stories in A Man Melting during your MA year?

No. I actually tried to write a novel that year — a great experience but I think it was a mistake to try and write a novel from go to whoa in eight months. Too many decisions were made for the sake of expedience that then became so integral to the fabric of the novel that it was beyond fixing. The manuscript now sits in my bottom drawer along with the novel I tried to write when I was twenty-one.

So when did you turn your attention to short fiction?
I've always written short fiction. It's a natural progression to start with the shorter form and work your way up to the longer, if that's your goal. I mostly read novels when I was younger (Douglas Coupland, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk), so that's what I grew up wanting to write. Tastes change, of course, and eventually I found an appreciation for subtlety (though I still love me some Vonnegut). After finishing my MA, I really wanted to keep writing, but didn't have the reserves of energy needed to start another novel. So I returned to short fiction. The two stories I wrote were 'Copies' (already anthologised twice before appearing in A Man Melting) and 'Another Language' (won the novice section of the 2007 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards). After that, things began to fall into place. In 2008, while living in Edinburgh, I tried to write one million words in 366 days (it was a leap year). I only wrote 800,737 words, but it was a very successful failure. Almost every story in A Man Melting was written or revised during that year.

But to write 800,000 words, you must have written more than short stories?

Oh, sure. There were long rambling blog posts about the Tragically Hip, audiobooks, life in Edinburgh and the places I was travelling that year. There were also a couple of aborted novels and screeds of poetry.

Travel is a common thread in a lot of the stories in A Man Melting. Are these travel stories based on your own experience?

Some more than others. I've never been to Equador or Cambodia, two places characters find themselves in A Man Melting. I used my experience in similar countries like Peru and Thailand, and read a lot of travel blogs and guidebooks to try and get the key details while keeping a tourist-eye view. Fiction, and short fiction in particular, works best when things are called into question. An easy way to do that is to take a character and pop them in an unfamiliar country. I guess I'm less interested in where people travel than what they might find out about themselves when they get there.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a novel set in the past. I hesitate to call it a historical novel as that phrase isn’t quite right: ‘history’ shouldn’t come before ‘novel’. It’s fiction with a research element. Fantasy tethered by the occasional fact. No corsets are removed. No street urchins or rich benefactors. There is a lighthouse, though. If everything goes to plan it should come out in this part of the world in 2013.

A Man Melting
The blurb

A son worries he is becoming too perfect a copy of his father. The co-owner of a weight-loss camp for teens finds himself running the black market in chocolate bars. A man starts melting and nothing can stop it, not even poetry.

This terrific collection of stories by an exciting new talent moves from the serious and realistic to the humorous and outlandish, each story copying an element from the previous piece in a kind of evolutionary chain. Amid pigeons with a taste for cigarette ash, a rash of moa sightings, and the identity crisis of an imaginary friend, the characters in these eighteen entertaining stories look for ways to reconnect with people and the world around them, even if that means befriending a robber wielding an iguana.

Why you really oughta buy the book 

Variety. Is it the spice of life, or is that cardamom? Either way, you've gotta love a book that covers house hunting and celestial mechanics, cheerleader porn and travel blogs, tug of war and car crashes, pregnancy tests, dwarves, hermits, cooking shows, dodgy teachers, the poetry of Sappho and the artistic potential of photocopiers.

Like animals? You'll find a veritable menagerie: cockroaches, fleas, lions, trout (rainbow), kittens (dead), apes (Planet of the), meerkats, whales, kereru, dodo, Yangtzee sturgeon, the indefatigable Galapagos mouse and many more.

Music aficionado? Well, there's references to Blur, The Beatles, Debussy and Dire Straits, but there's also Nelly Furtado, Neil Sedaka, Van Morrison, U2, Styx, and... urr... Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

Want a dose of kiwiana? What about Cameo Cremes, Raro, Ford Escorts, PVA glue, New World Supermarkets, Rashuns, Ka Mate, Minties, cricket at the Basin, MAF consultants, Nick Harrison and those breast cancer t-shirts you get from Glassons?

Other reasons to buy A Man Melting

1) You're related to Craig by blood or marriage
2) You are Craig's mechanic, accountant, dentist, supervisor-one-removed, former teacher, or best friend from kindergarten
3) You collect books by authors with two first names
4) You have read the other 56 works longlisted for the 2010 Frank O'Connor Prize
5) You have read the other 99 books in The Listener's Top 100 Books of 2010
6) You love lists.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grumble, grumble

So, that poll idea was a good one. Pity about the execution. I've no idea why the votes got wiped every night. If you believe Blogger, after seven days only three total votes were cast...

But this exercise wasn't a waste of time. I got to have conversations (in person, via email) with lots of people, some of them strangers, about ideas and what makes a good story. Some even tried to add to the list of ten ("11. A child catches a teacher being fed answers through an ear-piece."). Thanks Geoff.

The vibe I got from these conversations, and from my mental tally of the nightly votes on the poll (pre-wiping), was that #2 'The cloud-seeder' probably won. So I'm going to write that story next.

Heck, let's dive right into the first sentence:

It wouldn't rain.

Och! Instant classic. Now to write another 400 of the buggers...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Decision 2013: What short story should I write now?

I have a list of short stories I’d like to write and I’m gonna share it with you. I know this runs the risk of people pinching ideas (phffft) or, more likely, the ideas shrivelling and dying the moment they see sunlight. So be it. Let only the strong survive.

Why am I sharing this list? Because I want you to choose which one I write now.

I only have time to write one story before my “writing” time* is gazumped by the demands of judging the novice category of this year’s BNZ Literary Awards.

[*Writing time = 5am-7am on those weekday mornings I manage to get up, which means those times I haven’t been woken too often by my 4 month old daughter, bless her tiny feet.]

Note: the titles below as just indicative. Most of the ideas have been percolating for a couple of years. One or two have been around for at least four. This might explain why some appear to have more of an arc, while others are more vague. Of course, these could just be two different types of story: high concept narrative short fiction and subtle, slow-burning character-based fiction??

Let’s see what the people prefer! (Please vote at the bottom. Please. There’s nothing sadder than a poll with no responses.)

The options

1. The sky-dive: A boy is obsessed with sky-diving. He nags his parents to let him sky-dive. They refuse, saying he’s too young. He nags and nags and finally they relent. Then he actually has to go through with it… [NB: you can read the actual moment this idea occurred to me here.]

2. The cloud-seeder: A pilot seeds clouds to make them rain, but isn’t very good at his job. Meanwhile, his ex-fiancée is getting married to another man… [This story comes from a blog entry that I never posted (due to a sudden rush of sanity), but might one day.]

3. ANZAC day: A NZer living in Australia attends an ANZAC day BBQ. An Australian who didn’t attend the dawn service is confronted by his friends and thrown out of the BBQ. Meanwhile, the NZer reflects on a trip to ANZAC cove ‘out of season’ (ie not for ANZAC day).

4. Fear of flying: A guy goes on a blind date with a girl. Turns out, she’s taken him to the final session of her ‘conquering your fear of flying’ course, where they all get to go on board a plane and simulate the flight experience without ever leaving the tarmac...

5. The lover of weeds: A young girl befriends her elderly neighbour who loves weeds and sparrows and all the things everyone else seems to hate or ignore...

6. The judge and the writer: A writer comes second in a short story competition. At the awards ceremony, the judge gets drunk and admits he regrets choosing the winning story over the writer’s, and continues to ring and email words of encouragement in the coming weeks, while the writer struggles with what to write next…

7. The online hitman: A father hires an online hitman to kill his son in a video game so he will have more time for homework… [inspired by this story]

8. Weekends at the port: An office worker takes his daughter to the port every weekend to watch the stevedores load cargo ships. In adulthood, the daughter reflects on what drew her father to the port…

9. The children of Wembley: A Ministry of Education official travels to a (fictional) small Wairarapa town to see if a school that closed in the 1980s should be re-opened. She begins to unearth the story of why the school closed in the first place…

10. The half-sister: A coming of age / desecration of youth story about a fourteen-year-old boy who goes to stay with his half-sister and her mother on the Gold Coast. Includes a scene in a thunder storm…


Okay, here's your chance. Vote away.

[Poll removed from post -- see below -- but you can still vote in the sidebar to the right]


[Friday 3 May, 8AM] Something screwy seems to have happened to the poll. All the votes from last night seem to have disappeared! Maybe they'll come back? Technology, eh? In the interim, you can always vote in the comments (anonymity is allowed).


UPDATE: [Sunday, 10.30AM] Oh man, this sucks. It seems every night the votes are getting wiped and we go back to square one. I've spoken to people who've voted on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so I know the tally I see every night (8-10 votes, always for a different mix of stories) isn't just me hallucinating. Right now, the poll says only three people have voted... Thanks Blogger. You rule.

Maybe the problem is having the poll in my post and the sidebar? So let's try just the sidebar...