Crime writer Cleave unmasked

This interview took place as part of our 2008 coverage of The Press Christchurch Writers Festival. Read our 2010 coverage.

Paul CleaveChristchurch-based crime writer Paul Cleave used to be a pawnbroker, but has found success in Germany. He answered questions about his writing career, Redwood Library and Ralph Wiggum ahead of The Press Christchurch Writers Festival.

Do you think New Zealand is a harder place to launch a writing career from than other countries? And have any New Zealand writers inspired you?
I’m not real sure on whether NZ is harder to launch from or not because I don’t have a comparison. All I do know is that it was damn hard, and in the end I was very, very lucky that my manuscript made it to the right people’s hands on the right day, and they saw enough potential to give me a chance. None of the writers who have inspired me to become a writer, or to write the way I do or the genre I write in, are Kiwis. They’re all American or UK writers, I look up to these guys immensely.
Your books have done exceptionally well in Germany. What is it about the taut, psychological thrillers such as yours that appeals to Germans? What countries do you plan to conquer next?
From what I’ve been told, Germans love crime fiction. They can’t get enough of it. It’s been a fluke that my books have sold as well as they have over there. The publishers over there aren’t exactly sure why they have done as well as they have done - but Amazon had a big part to play in it. The readers reviews created word of mouth, it hit the bestseller lists, and things just seemed to line up for me. My books have just sold to the UK, and the first one gets released there next year. Hopefully they’ll do well there. The US is the goal - and to get published there it’ll take a lot of work and probably some bribes too.
There’s a session at the writer’s festival called The Child that books built - which books went into the building of you?
Lots of books. I read heaps as a kid. My favorites were the Mr. Men books. But when I turned eighteen, my parents decided it was time for me to move from Roger Hargraves on to Stephen King.
One of the questions we’re asking all participants this year is how they view libraries and how they use libraries? Tell us about your library experiences.
My library experiences? Hmm… well, sometimes I take books out, and I always give them back. I think that’s about it. I know I used them a lot when I was at school, then hardly at all when I left. But I renewed my membership a few years ago and started using it again. My local library is in Redwood. Whenever I go back in there, it kind of takes me back to when I was a kid, which is nice. What isn’t nice is that I’ve heard they may close it down. That would disappoint the hell out of me - that library was a big part of my life growing up, and it would be cool for other kids to create their own memories there.
Finally I read that you are a fan of the Simpsons. Who is your favourite character? And if you were writing an episode of the Simpsons what would happen?
My favorite character seems to change from season to season. Ultimately it’s Homer. But I really like Ralph Wiggum. If I wrote an episode, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t make it to air. A yellow serial killer would come to town - you can probably figure out the rest from there.

September 2008