Describe your latest project.
Little Bee is a story about two women who cross boundaries ? emotional limits and international borders ? that most people wouldn't cross. It's narrated by two very different voices: Sarah, a high-powered Londoner who has most of what she wants except happiness, and Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee girl who has lost everything except her sense of humor. It's a book for adventurous readers on a theme central to our modern world: the people who have it all and the people who come asking for a piece of it. It's pregnant with horror and hope.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
A Case of Simple Tastelessness: The Chris Cleave Story by Michiko Kakutani.
What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Clarissa Dalloway, just so I could buy the flowers myself.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
One year I worked as a yacht deliverer. The rich owners would buy the boats in place A and I would sail them to place B. The weirdest trip I did was from Marseille to Tel Aviv, on a small sailing boat that nearly sank twice. Being hundreds of miles out to sea on a sinking boat can get a man to thinking about the attractions of dry land. I wrote a short story about that trip — you can read it here.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I know it's hardly an original recommendation, but I'm constantly amazed at the number of smart people I meet who have never read Steinbeck. He's my favorite writer ? for his humanity, his warmth, and his mischievous sprinkling of humor. I think Cannery Row would be a nice introduction. It's gently funny, sadly wise, and contains a terrific recipe for beer milkshake.
Describe the best breakfast of your life.
I have a yin breakfast and a yang breakfast. One is a can of ice cold lager, on top of a mountain in the Massif Central, in a blazing summer sunrise, with my girlfriend, with Johnny Cash on the stereo, with no responsibilities and no one depending on me, way back in the day. The other is tea and toast, at my kitchen table in the suburbs, early this morning with my kids laughing and shouting and my toddler rubbing his toast into my hair. When I view them in memory, each episode is rendered more pleasurable by contrast with the other.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Breakfast. Any day that starts with breakfast is a good day. Half the world goes out to work hungry.
Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin, because it acknowledges an absolute zero, a theoretical point where all human warmth is absent. I'm often accused of being an extremist, so this is the temperature scale for me because it has such a low baseline. It recognizes how bad things can get. It is the Cormac McCarthy of temperature scales. Celsius is admirable for shunning the thrills and chills of Kelvin. Celsius accepts that most of the action will take place between the freezing and boiling points of water. If Celsius was a writer it would be a master craftsman solidly grounded in social realism, probably Richard Yates. Fahrenheit is another story entirely. Fahrenheit is brilliantly illogical. The big events happen when you least expect them: ice melts at 32 degrees and water boils at 212, which are alchemical numbers magicked from the aether. And, conversely, when you get to the places where you're expecting something huge to happen ? zero and one hundred ? nothing happens at all. Fahrenheit would be the only possible scale with which to take the temperature of a Gabriel García Márquez novel.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Short Reads That Have Made Me a Better Writer:
Two Cheers for Democracy by E. M. Forster
Exercices de Style by Raymond Queneau
Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Looking Back on the Spanish War" (essay) by George Orwell
Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook by David Werner, Carol Thuman, and Jane Maxwell