Monday, February 9, 2015

Craig Cliff: A few of my favourite things...

The next author in the ‘A few of my favourite things…’ 2015 HNSA Conference interview series is Craig Cliff. He will be on a panel discussing how historical novelists weave history into fiction: Tall Tales and True: How Story Tellers Imagine History on 21 March 2015.

Craig Cliff


Craig Cliff is the author of The Mannequin Makers, “a superb novel of parental obsession and the lure of the unattainable” (The Hoopla), and the story collection A Man Melting, which won Best First Book in the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 2013 he took part in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife and daughter.

mannequin makers


Craig’s has written several books, which has can be viewed on his website here.

You might also like to follow his blog about books and writing. And connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.


Could you please share with us what is or was your favourite –
Book as a child and as a teenager?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – first as a child, just grasping the big picture (now Alice is small, now Alice is big...), then as a teen, discovering two rich, complicated, fantastical books unlike anything else on my shelves.

Author/authors?
As a teen, my favourite author was Douglas Coupland, then Chuck Palahniuk, then Kurt Vonnegut... I never really grew out of Vonnegut.

Period of history?
That’s a bit like asking my favourite ice cream flavour. I like Boysenberry (especially when I can’t have it, which is pretty much everywhere outside New Zealand), but I’ll always pick something new and exciting if it’s on offer.

For my historical novel, The Mannequin Makers, I choose to set it in late Nineteenth / early Twentieth Century New Zealand (and Scotland, and Sydney, and the subantarctic) because I felt there was a disconnection between our contemporary perception of that era (isolated, staid, rural) with the reality, which was far more varied and rich. New Zealand had several thriving towns and cities at the turn of the Century, and their inhabitants felt connected, through newspapers and the telegraph, the fashions in department store windows and the visitors from other nations. So that’s where my novel starts, in a town with two competing department stores...

 There’s a tailor who makes cameo in The Mannequin Makers — Bernstone the Paris Tailor, he calls himself. I came across him in newspaper advertisements from the 1890s on Papers Past. I was interested in the language in the ads, and how he moved to a different town every few years. Further digging revealed legal troubles, financial troubles. He totally sidetracked my research, so I figured he deserved a walk-on role in my novel. When it came time to write his scenes, everything just fell into place.

Scene you enjoyed writing?
As with Bernstone the Paris Tailor, the most enjoyable scenes to write were those where my fictional leads rub up against real life characters. I particularly enjoyed writing the scene early in the novel where the protagonist watches Eugen Sandow, the famous strongman and entrepreneur, perform at the end of a Vaudeville show. It was a chance to take all the written accounts and a few grainy YouTube clips (Sandow was friends with Edison, which meant he was one of the first people to be filmed) and bring it all to life.

Place to write?
My office at home, in the early morning before anyone else is awake, with my headphones on. For a glimpse of what music I was streaming while writing The Mannequin Makers, check out my blog.

Step in the process of writing? E.g. researching, drafting, editing etc
Editing, definitely. Every step in the process is a struggle, but at least at the editing stage you’ve defeated the blank page and the end is in sight (even if it may appear closer than it really is). The product of a good day writing may end up being cut later on, but a good day of editing will always improve you book.

Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?
Typing. I’m trying to move my note-taking digital as well, but I can’t seem to kick the habit of filling my pockets with notes scrawled on post-its, the backs of bus tickets and till receipts.

A man melting

TV program /movie?
Recently I realised the TV shows I like have a lot of yelling in them. I’m talking: Bob’s Burgers, New Girl, Community – but definitely not reality TV. There’s something soothing about a scripted,  half-hour show about made-up issues with lots of yelling.

Comfort food?
Any kind of pasta. Good thing I married into an Italian family.

Featured book:


The Mannequin Makers
"The skin was smooth and bright as porcelain, but looked as if it would give to the touch. What manner of wood had he used? What tools to exact such detail? What paints, tints or stains to flush her with life?"

So wonders the window dresser Colton Kemp when he sees the first mannequin of his new rival, a man the inhabitants of Marumaru simply call The Carpenter. Rocked by the sudden death of his wife and inspired by a travelling Vaudeville company, Kemp decides to raise his children to be living mannequins. What follows is a tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of the River Clyde, an inhospitable rock in the Southern Ocean to Sydney's northern beaches. Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship's carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance.

Craig will be appearing in the following panel at the 2015 HNSA Conference:

21 March 2015
11.15-12.15 pm Session Three
Tall Tales and True: How Story Tellers Imagine History
How do historical novelists weave history into fiction? What draws an author to choose a particular era, and what research do they undertake to bring past times to life? Jean Bedford talks with Isolde Martyn, Johanna Nicholls, Juliet Marillier and Craig Cliff about these choices.

Here's your chance to sit next to Craig at the conference dinner on the 21st March. Book your Author Dinner ticket here.

For more information on all our panels, please visit our site for
programme details. And you can buy your tickets here.

You can also sign up to the mailing list to be the first to keep up to date with breaking news on the HNSA conference in 2015. 

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Here’s a tweet you might like to use:

Here’s a few favourite things for @craig_cliff on #HNSA2015 blog @histnovsoc #histfic http://ow.ly/IGInc

Register now for the #HNSA2015 conference! Let’s make a noise about #historicalfiction
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And please take a look at our FREE BOOK OFFERS!

The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a ‘Standard’ Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans.

All ticket holders will receive a Momentum ebook bundle in celebration of Felicity Pulman’s launch of Unholy Alliance.

The first 50 fully paid ticket holders will receive a copy of Sherryl Clark’s new book Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War in celebration of her launch. 

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