“Imagination is a muscle that atrophies …”: A chat with Chris Cleave

The Press Christchurch Writers Festival is here. I’ve drawn back the curtains, kicked away the draft excluder and liberated myself from my thermals, after an epically long, damp and dreary winter I am ready for books and book talk.

And day one of the Festivale did not disappoint. I had a quick chit-chat with Chris Cleave the wonderful London-based author of Incendiary, The other hand and Gold. Here is a flavour.

All your novels have featured children. What do they bring to your books?

The children in my novels compel the adults to get it right. The ethical and moral questions I pose for the grown-ups are more potent because we desperately want to see the adults resolve their issues to the benefit of the children. They have to get their acts together. I also love the moral clarity of children; you just can’t bullshit them.

Qualities important for a writer?

Be a reader first. The best writers are readers. Imagination is a muscle that atrophies but as readers we fill in the blanks and bring just as much to the table as the writer.

You’ve described your novels as a mix of reportage and fiction, what do you want to achieve with your work?

I’m trying to write novels that are emotionally true, with the conscious desire to make a difference by either reinforcing ideas already held by my readers or by starting new thinking. Many people I respect disagree with my work but that’s fine. I want to start the debate rather than have the last word and I want the themes I raise, rather than my own opinions, to become the talking point.

On the topic of reviewers, Chris is emphatic:

They create their own hell. I don’t regard them as peers and many of them are just vicious. Reviewers get to comment on writers’ work but this is entirely one-way traffic, writers are never invited to the reviewers’ parties. I approach reviews with caution and don’t take them too seriously.

Have libraries been an important feature of your life?

I was practically brought up in libraries! I had weekly visits to our local library with my mum. Libraries were a lifeline to culture and helped make me what I am, without them I wouldn’t have become a writer. Sadly, libraries in Britain will only survive if there is a huge political shift but I also think libraries need to adapt. I’d like to see them as free speech arenas with emphasis on library events. This may require a shake-up in thinking and some new faces in UK library management.

Chris Cleave Joyce interviews Chris Cleave in the Geodome

4 thoughts on ““Imagination is a muscle that atrophies …”: A chat with Chris Cleave

  1. jane 31 August 2012 / 3:11 pm

    I think every writer that has been interviewed for the blog says that libraries were very important – but what i also always notice is the importance and routine of the library in their lives as children. I too have such fond memories of going to the library with my mum, it was a special time.

    • joyciescotland 31 August 2012 / 8:01 pm

      Makes me glad to be a librarian!

  2. Philip 31 August 2012 / 4:33 pm

    Dear Joycie

    That was interesting, especially the stuff about how libraries have to change. Glad you have liberated yourself from your thermals

    • joyciescotland 31 August 2012 / 7:50 pm

      Rod Oram mentioned silk undies several times in his interview with John Lanchester this evening. Undergarmets are clearly the motif of the festival. I bet Joe Bennett mentions bloomers too.

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