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7 March 2017

Five Minute Interview with Cliff Chen

Cliff Chen is a Trinidadian-born writer. He has published several short stories and was winner of the Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Life Writing (2013) and also shortlisted for fiction category that same year. He won 3rd prize in the Golden Pen competition, was Fish International Short Story finalist (2002) and semi-finalist in Carve Magazine's Esoteric Short Story competition (2014). He studied at Edinburgh and Oxford and is writing his first novel.

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What are you reading right now?

As ever I have three strands on the go: fiction (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr), non-fiction/research (An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky), and writing reference (The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt)

Where do you write?

Embarrassingly, I write sitting up in bed. A bad habit for the back, but a table and chair feels too much like an office job. Writing is a soaring away from all that, in my view. Where better than right in the spot where we dream?

Does travelling inspire your writing?

I don't get much opportunity to travel, but I find it enriches perspective. Being outside of familiarity makes you take notice of every little thing, so that when you come home it all seems different. But writers see life in that way, wherever they are. We make new things familiar and familiar things new. For me, writing is about how you see, rather than what you see.

Paper and pen or laptop?

Laptop. I made the switch quite a number of years ago and haven't looked back. Although a part of me misses the simple act of hand-writing. But I’m just being nostalgic. Also I have all these old pages and notebooks I don’t know what to do with. I dread to think what my house would look like if I was still using paper.

What was the first book you read that made a difference?

Probably Shane by Jack Schaefer. I was quite young and remember being really moved by his relationship with the boy. I sat down and kept reading and re-reading the parting scene, trying to figure out how the words did what they did to me. Needless to say, the meaning only disintegrated. It took me a long while to discover where all that feeling had come from. Marlon Brando explained: It’s the audience that supplies the feeling. By then I was trying to re-create them in my own words.

What one book would you take to a desert island?

The Old Man and the Sea. It’s near perfect.

Which new author should the world be reading?

To be honest, I change my mind so often it wouldn’t be worth naming one. Also, I think an author needs time to prove their worth. By the time they’ve done that, they’re not new anymore. Ernest Hemingway said, ‘The only way to tell how you’re going (as a writer) is to compete with dead men.’

What book or books are you most looking forward to reading next?

I’m not sure. I let them find me. There’s always a (long) list of books I intend to read, but I love mooching about for anything that isn’t on there. Nothing worse than sticking to an agreed upon list, even if the agreement is with myself.

What role does Wasafiri play in international contemporary literature?

I can’t express how wonderful and generous this enterprise is, and how important too. It gives voice to people who might otherwise be without one. It’s a platform for raising-up themes and cultures in a way that goes beyond ethnocentrism. And it has never been more important that it is today in the current political climate.

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