Sydney Writers' Centre interviews short story writer Craig Cliff



hi everyone I'm rose power from the Sydney Ryder center and we're here at the Sydney writers festival with Craig clip whose first book one the Commonwealth award for first book so wonderful set of short stories called a man melting Craig how's it feel to win such a big award for your very first published piece it was amazing I i won for the region that includes Australia New Zealand Singapore Malaysia and all the Pacific Islands and I'm up for the overall Commonwealth price I'm competing against the winners of Canada and the Caribbean Africa and the UK in South Asia so to be on the same level as some of these other writers and we're traveling around and doing all of these events and suddenly it's just amazing to get to even come over to Sydney and be part of the writers festival my I was in Auckland last weekend and that was my first ever writers festival on stage so it's rapidly snowballing at the moment so it's been amazing so when you wrote a book of short stories what was the inspiration behind those stories you write them for the one piece or did you kind of realize there was a theme emerging in your writing yeah I'd actually gone through a process of writing two novels that didn't get published and I had to sort of take stock and think you know gosh that takes a lot of effort to get to the point of having a novel sending it out and then getting rejected and keeps sending it out again but I couldn't stop writing I was it's an addiction so I focused on short stories but I wasn't really thinking about putting together a book I wasn't in that headspace to you know put an e-fit of writing another book but I ended up having about 40 short stories and got a couple of them published and through those connections I sort of asked my publisher Random House would you be interested in seeing an entire book of short stories from me and they sort of seed yeah you know short story collections don't sales that I get any hopes up it's not going to make you Millions but um they ended up publishing I sort of slimmed those 40 short stories down to two the best 18 and there are connections through there each of the short stories are sort of linked to the previous one and sort of forms a bit of a chain and I guess because I was writing them in quite an intense period of focusing on the short story that this commonality but there's also differences because I was always wanting to experiment and try something else so there's a little bit of sci-fi there's a little of satire there's a little bit well they were detective stories that I wrote that didn't make it into the book so there's a little bit a little bit of a hodgepodge and that's a kind of short story collection that i really like i like reading writers like and the new zealand 00 and martial law george saunders from the state's people who are out there and you don't know what the next story when you turn the page is going to be like how did you find experience of writing short stories different from writing a full-length novel manuscript the great thing about short stories is you can have the idea you can have the inspiration and you can get most of what you need to do down on the page on that just that one burst of inspiration or as with a novel it comes and waves and you you have to keep writing every day but you're sick of it and you've got to go back and you've got to keep adding to those words or else it gets harder and harder when you come back to try and pick up where you left off whereas a short story i would write first draft and then i put it away and I'd write a first draft of something else and then I'd come back and edit that the previous story and so I'd be working on two or three short stories at once so whenever I was sick of one story I would have something else to pull out so I was always working on a story every day and like I said you know running different things different types of stories whereas with a novel you have to if that has to be consistent there has to be some sort of connecting thread and if there isn't you know if it's quite wild in terms of the structure you have to really be on to it to know how to pull that off so I mean 18 short stories means you've got all the challenges of character and voice and setting but x 18 how did you go with that how did you manage to write 18 unique stories that sounded different from one another yeah and even the little things like finding 18 like names foot characters 18 times over and you can't repeat the name kevin'll you know in them some of the times I like in one of the stories that said in a boys high school so there's a character of the principal and you know you come up with a principal character just to fill out the story because it really focuses on the kids but I was really interested in this principal character that I came up with so then I couldn't let him go so I wrote a story about him went he graduated to become a politician then he becomes mayor of a small town sort of follow him that way so in some ways it's the stories themselves keep prompting me on to do other things so I'd write a very serious story about you know father-son relationships and then it would I would instinctively go and find something funny you know find an idea that was funny in my notebook and write that story and so it just happened that the there's 18 stories there that are different because I just wanted to keep weaving in and out of what what interested me I mean I'm having done so well with this project what are you working on now yeah the difficult second album it's funny because having sort of tried to write novels previously and I don't regret that process at all and I don't think any of it was lost labor I learned a lot I learned a lot about the realities of publishing and that sort of thing as well and I think I mean I wrote my first book when I was a arrogant and naive 21 year olds a terrible combination and was hopefully humbled sufficiently from from that experience and now I'm right I'm writing another novel again it's sort of a reaction to what i was doing previously and wanting to go somewhere else so most of the shots what all the short stories and my collection at sit and contemporary time and space and I either wanted to go into the future will go into the past so I'm writing a bit of a swashbuckling novel set at the tune of the 19th century night from the 19th to the 20th century with shipwrecks and mannequin makers in the early days of department stores completely different to anything that's in my collection but I guess I think people will instantly if they're in my short stories they'll recognize that that's that's me writing this this it's kind of got my quirky sense of humor you know what would you what would your advice be to new writers to people who are perhaps have written a couple of novels that haven't worked or are struggling to write something that they can really believe in what would your advice be to them I think that I mean from my experience the great thing about short stories as you can you can knock them off in a short amount of time and you can experiment and you can find you can find yourself as a writer quickly and the other thing is you you can get one published you can finish one and a month and send it out and get it published and you can build your CV as a writer whereas with another one it doesn't work then you you've got nothing to paired to your CV so when I went and talked to some high school kids today and they're taking writing electives in year 11 in year 12 and they were sort of asking you know I want to I want to be a published author one day what's the route to taking us I said to them honestly you know there's no wrong path to take as long as long as you stick with it but my experiences if you focus on short stories early on and even if you're only write one good short story out of 5 that one short story will get published it'll get your name out there it will help you get your next short story published because when you send it off to the magazine you can say it was pop your head work published elsewhere it sort of snowballs from there then you may not be able to get it the collection of short stories published but at least when you turn your mind to the novel with something it's something to add to to publishers then they know what it's like and so they know if you've been working hard you'll have got some publication credits that way and they'll take notice hopefully well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us to have a wonderful time in sydney i know i'm already looking forward to the swashbuckling next novel so good luck with writing that great thanks rose

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