Craig Cliff's award winning short story collection
I always intended to post a link on my website to the interview I did with Craig Cliff for his blog when my book first came out. Looking back, it still strikes me as an interesting conversation to have had, and I love the way the title Craig gave it has different resonances now.
CC: ‘Skin and Bones’ is a fantastic story — I can't imagine the collection starting any other way. Was it always your first choice to open the collection? And what led you to write this story in the first place?
TM: Thanks so much! The only reason it's first is because I couldn't imagine it being anywhere else either. Somehow I ended up with creation at the beginning and death at the end (well, death as well as birth), but that symmetry wasn't apparent until quite late in the development of things. To tell the truth, I think I would have hidden ‘Skin and Bones’ in the middle somewhere because of the 'adult' themes, but it didn't make sense anywhere else.
An MA classmate, Charis Boos, was looking at mythology in her poetry, and for a workshop she asked us to think about mythological traditions we were familiar with. This triggered a bit of a chain reaction for me - an old obsession with mythologies combined with some sort of idea that it would be an interesting exercise to make mythological characters more human. There's not always an explanation given for the actions of godly beings. In the versions I read, it would always say: Tane went in search of the female element or something similar (they were Maori stories in translation). There was never anything about Hine ahu one, the woman he eventually created - it was like she was a blank slate. So I thought about what kind of woman she would have been, and of course, his motivations in creating her. The funny thing was in some of the stories, Tane didn't know how to procreate with Hine once she was made, so his fumbling and experimenting is part of the story. That's a pretty human characteristic - I guess I used it as my starting point.
CC: ‘Blink’ is an interesting story. I enjoyed the way it veers into almost pulp sci-fi territory, but manages to walk that fine line and keep its credibility. It is, in the end I think, a great character study which uses some sci-fi tropes, rather than a sci-fi story which uses characters.
TM: Yes, I think it started with thoughts around relationships and paranoia. Rosie is a pretty neurotic character, and I started playing with her sense of reality. I was also having a go at deliberate humour, which I found a massive challenge, but the feedback I got was to amp up the strange and humorous aspects. So I decided to take it as far as I could. It is probably the most re-written story in the collection, whereas ‘Skin and Bones’ has changed very little from the first draft.
CC: I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see science (both pure science and sci-fi) pop up since you won the Non-Fiction category in last year's Manhire Science Writing Prize for ‘Twitch’, which looks at the similarities between Maori and scientific views of creation. Which came first: ‘Blink’ or ‘Twitch’? Were you conscious of any link between sci-fi and Maori mythology when you were working on ‘Blink’?
TM: Like most of the stories in the collection, 'Blink' was a bit of an exploration of where I could go with a story, and in the beginning it wasn't very conscious! I tried not to categorise what I was doing, so I didn't think 'this is sci-fi'. A few of the stories were structured around particular myths, but for the most part I was just figuring out what I could do with fiction. I was pretty unsure with ‘Blink’, because I didn't think sci-fi or humour were things I would be able to pull off.
'Twitch' came much later, in response to the RSNZ call for entries for the Manhire prize, but the thoughts behind it began at the same time as I first encountered all the mythology as a teenager. I remember the first time I read the Maori version of the creation of the Universe (in English translation), I thought it could be a description of the Big Bang as I understood it. I decided to check out if there was any scientific basis to my thoughts, and it turned out there was more than I had hoped for. Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything was a great source for the scientific side of things. I found it to be almost spiritual, because although it is completely about science, it continuously bumps into the mystery of things - the idea that it is completely miraculous we even exist. Read more...
Kōrerorero - Conversations
From time to time I'll post things here that haven't found a home anywhere else, or have been used in other formats. Occasionally I might even blog...