Bio

JamesEmmettChrisCleaveChris Cleave is 40. He lives in London with his wife and three children. His brother is the designer Alex Cleave, whose website is here.

Chris’s debut novel Incendiary won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award, was shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize, and won the United States Book-of-the-Month Club’s First Fiction award 2005. It had an unusual start in life, being a novel about an imagined terrorist attack on London that was published, by awful coincidence, on 7th July 2005. More about that here.

His second novel, published in 2008, is titled Little Bee in Canada and the US, where it is a New York Times #1 bestseller. It is titled The Other Hand in the UK, where it is a Sunday Times bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. The novel arose out of a short spell that the author spent working in a British immigration detention centre – more about that here.

Gold, published in 2012, is Chris’s third novel.

This year Chris is chairman of the judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize. He is also finishing a new novel set in London and the Mediterranean and inspired by the lives of his grandmother, who drove ambulances during the war, and his grandfather, who was part of the fledgling SAS and who was once assigned to Randolph Churchill with the order: “Look after him, David, and if at all possible keep him out of trouble.”

248 Comments

  1. What inspired you to start writing?

  2. Hi Mercedes, it’s thanks to my mother that I started writing. She always made sure that my brother and I had lots of good books to read – we visited the library every week. I loved reading as a child, and always wanted to see if I could write stories too. Sorry, this isn’t an exciting or dramatic account of how I started writing – but that’s how it happened.

  3. Dear Mr. Cleave,

    I just read “Little Bee” and want you to know that I love your style of writing and how you made the characters so real. I appreciate the depth of your writing; so much of what I read these days is shallow. Thank you. Carla Mobley

  4. Just wanted to let you know that I just read Little Bee for the second time. I am using it for a book club read and discussion. I’m excited to discuss it since it has so many facets. The whole story is ten different ones intertwined together. It’s hard to find a truly great book to discuss at length at a book club. I believe Little Bee is going to work out really well. I felt like I connected with both Little Bee and Sarah. Your character development is terrific and I’m sure the other ladies will agree. Now I’m excited to read Incendiary and Gold.

  5. I just finished reading Little Bee. What a memorable book! I now have all of your books on order. You are a fantastic writer

  6. Hi Chris,

    I just wanted to let you know that, after reading Gold (and having already read Little Bee and Incendiary), I don’t know where to go from here… I just don’t think any other book or author can compare! Your writing is by far the best I’ve ever read and I can’t express how thoroughly I’ve enjoyed all three of your books. I’m looking forward to reading whatever you come up with next, and want to thank you for your incredible writing so far!

    If you have any author/book recommendations in the meantime (as I anxiously await your next book!), it would be much appreciated :)

    Cheers,
    Natalie

  7. Dear Chris Cleave,
    I live on a small island in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Canada – peaceful, calm Canada.
    A moment ago I finished reading Little Bee. Shattered by the ending, but understanding of its truthful necessity. Enthralled with the depth and complexity of Little Bee and Sarah and their relationship. Charlie rang true – I loved the little guy.
    Appreciated the moments of humour to balance the intense tragic dramas. It was the constant surprising events and revelations that kept me reading late at night. All in all, outstanding novel.
    We have been treated in the past to book talks here by Sarah Dunant and this summer John Vaillant – interested?
    Sincerely,
    Judith Coleman

  8. I’m not one to write comments regarding great literature but this is an extraordinary work. This book is a must read if you want to be moved into compassionate understanding of the plight of refugees. Not only has this writer been able to convey cultural subtleties but he has also dealt with human frailty from such a sensitive perspective that I erroneously believed the writer was a woman. The beauty of this book is the balance, held on a razors edge, between the horrendous effects of Globalisation and the hope we hold for a peaceful and compassionate future. A future we must all work toward together. Much thanks to Mr Cleave and those who help him write.

  9. Just finished ‘Gold’ and it blew me away. I’ve loved all your books but this one, I think, is the most powerful of all – and I love how for perhaps the first time you’ve so clearly allowed a shaft of redemption to so clearly touch the world you’ve created. So uplifting. Thank you

  10. If only Judith Coleman had put some sort of warning at the beginning of her post!
    I’m halfway through Little Bee and can barely manage her suffering, and now to hear Judith’s words about the ending makes me not want to read anymore–I can’t stand Bee’s pain. Doggone.
    I plan to come see you when you come to Spokane WA in October. Your writing is exquisite!

  11. Dear Mr. Cleave: So exciting! I am reviewing your book, LITTLE BEE four times for the four book clubs I belong to. (Two are in Milwaukee and two are in Sarasota) So when I come to Boswell’s on Downer in Milwaukee this Monday (July 16) ,to hear you speak, I will really want your autograph for your 1st two books. I also am reviewing INCENDIARY next July, 2013 (so far one time). Love your creativity and wonder how you are able to climb into a woman’s mind like you do? Wonderful! RG

  12. Hello Chris,
    I have just finished ‘the other hand’ and have accessed your website immediately because at the back of the book it said that there would be links to charities on the website. I’m really keen to act on the compassion and concern for refugees/immigrants that your book has stirred in me and wondered if you have any thoughts as I couldn’t find the charity info. Thanks for a wonderful, worthwhile read.
    Alison Cakebread

  13. Mr. Cleave,
    I am sitting at my kitchen table, having just finished “Little Bee”, and I honestly cannot find the words to justify the emotions that ran through me continuously from the very first words until the final end(which I desperately want to continue on in the rest of Little Bee’s story). Your writing is mind-blowing, the characters so real, and the way you brought me into the minds of these complicated and tortured characters is a blessing. The only thing that saddens me is that I have owned this book for over a year yet it somehow got lost in the many piles of I have in my “to read” towers as I am a book hoarder. Once I find a good book it breaks my heart to part with it, like a good friend. Although not too knowledgeable about your country’s systems I have seen here the many problems within the immigration system and have seen the poverty and despair in South America that many flee from with what hopes I do not know? Thank you for all of your hard work, your investment in this cause, and the beauty of your words in which you have done so.

  14. Chris,
    What a pleasure to chat with you on the way to Spokane last week! And, what a nice surprise to see the sunrise photo on your website from the flight!
    You were kind enough to show me your postcard app for that photo and I would love to look into that if you would pass that on to me (again!).
    Also, I was pleased to see that not only does the High School library where I work carry “Little Bee”, but also has “Gold” on order for our students and staff. Looking forward to reading your latest!
    Safe travels to you and I hope someday to be reading your latest book about all of your travel experiences! (Such great stories about your cab drivers!!)
    Cheers~
    Theresa

  15. I have just finished reading The Other Hand (aka Little Bee) I found it hard to put down once I was sucked into wanting to understand the backstory. A well constructed plot to introduce the whole ’3rd world’ issue, with the seriousness offset by the humour based on the 3rd world vs The West culture comparison. OK I see some female reviewers have commented on some of Sarah’s actions and thoughts – and doubtless mothers/wives have different feelings to me, but I did not have any serious plot issues except maybe the frustration of them actually being on the beach at the end. But I guess our Western arrogance assumed the bribes had worked. Overall well written, enjoyable, thought provoking and well done for writing something different and not another detective/mass murder job.

  16. I am a 31 year old mother of a 2 year old boy. I am currently taking time off from work to “find myself”. I had spent the last 10 years working in corporate America. I picked up Little Bee and was memorized by the character development. It has made me come to appreciate humanity more. It has been such a wonderful reprieve exploring the lives of 2 such divergent characters and the common thread that you have so skillfully wound between them. Thank you for such a great work. It has made me fall in love with reading all over again…I will start taking my son to the library every week in hopes that he may have the same love of reading and writing one day. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Diana

  17. just thought you would like to know, you have probably ruined my chances of enjoying any other fiction book i read in the future.

    have just completed ‘gold’ and of the 3, the book that most appeals to me was ‘incendiary’.
    have told just about anyone old enough to read, read your 3 books.
    thank you so much for giving my reading great pleasure.
    any thoughts on number 4 book?
    thanks again, keep up the writing.

  18. Merci Chris pour ce bon moment de lecture. Je viens de finir little bee et j’ai passė un excellent moment. Les personnages sont vraiment trés attachants, aussi bien Sarah, que petite abeille et Charly. Vivement qu’un prochain de tes livres soit traduit en français.

  19. Merci, Marine! Je suis très touché que tu as lu le livre. J’ai du mal à trouver un éditeur français en ce moment, mais je suis toujours plein d’espoir! J’espère que nous allons vous voir, toi et Marc, très bientôt.

  20. i’m using the other hand novel as my final assigment in unversity :)

  21. I live in Southern Ontario, Canada. I am right now at work and just finished reading Little Bee. It was recommended by a friend of my daughter’s. I now have to admonish that young woman…..I cannot stop crying and have to go back to the office after my lunch break! She should have warned me not to be in public when I finished it!!

    Seriously, I loved the book and the writing style. I look forward to getting into some of your others.

    I noticed somewhere on the website that Little Bee would be made into a movie. Is this still in the works and when do you foresee it coming out?

    Keep writing,
    Mary

  22. Loved Gold! The way you write is amazing and I have never come across anyone like you! But… if you have any author/book recommendations it would be much appreciated. Can’t wait for your next masterpiece!

  23. Chris, Little Bee was sitting, unread, on my fiances bookshelf. I’ve always been attracted first to cover art, then dust cover quotes and I knew I must read it. Magnificent! I will be picking up Incendiary today.

  24. I’m doing a project on you for class- what are your occupations other than writing?

  25. Hi Shannon, I hope your project goes well! I don’t have another occupation outside writing, though I hopefully do an okay job helping to bring up our three children. Other than that, I’m quiet. When I’m not on tour I’m becoming more and more of a recluse. I work very hard, walk around London – which is a city I love – read a lot and get to bed most nights by 10. Imagine the opposite of Jack Kerouac. Picturing that? Right, now take a little more hair off around the crown & temples, and that’s me. There, that’s an exclusive quote, so I hope you get an A.

  26. Hi Nick – thank you, sir. I’m delighted you liked it & I hope you enjoy Incendiary too.

  27. Hi Hayley, thanks very much for reading Gold – I’m delighted you liked it. Yes – I think Philipp Meyer is terrific & would highly recommend his forthcoming book THE SON. That’s my top pick so far this year. I also have an ongoing project of reading everything that Susan Orlean has ever written – she is endlessly entertaining & insightful. And I have Ann Patchett on audio on my headphones a lot when I’m traveling at the moment. All of those people can write.

  28. Hello, sir! Let me start off with a cliché, I’ve just finished The Other Hand, and it was brilliant.
    I was assigned to read it for my literature class so I thought I’d add it on my shelf on goodreads and then I found out you were a goodreads author, which was pretty exciting, because most of the authors of the books I read in class died a long time ago. And you are not only alive, but also on a website! So I thought I might as well write to you? I’m from a tiny remote country in South-east Asia whose name you might never heard of. I had also been living in Britain for a while so I can relate to Little Bee quite well. The Other Hand is very inspiring. I love that part about scars so much I put it on my bedroom wall. All my friends like it too. I’m deciding what to read next between Gold and Incendiary. Just want to let you know how far your books have reached.
    Thank you very much!
    PS. Please don’t mind my English. My English is quite terrible for someone who’s reading English at university. Shame.

  29. Hi Akira, thanks for your very kind message, and for reading The Other Hand. It cheered me up hugely to learn that I am one of the few authors you’ve been assigned who is not currently dead. Although I must say I am not a great believer in death, having never met anyone who has experienced it & reported back, it is nice to still be on this side of that great event which, undeniably, seems to make writers less prolific. I’m working on a pretty good novel at the moment, I hope, which with any luck I will live long enough to complete & humbly commend to you. Cheers in the meantime – your message made my day!

  30. Hi, Mr.Cleave
    I am from Indonesia.I love your novel very much. You can create the novel with two different perspectives. It is different from other novels that I had read before. Honestly, I decided to use your novel as the object of my thesis. However, it’s difficult to find the reviews, critics, and comments of Little Bee. Since it is used for my thesis, I must use the credible sources. Could you help me? ^^

  31. Hi Kresentia, thank you for reading the book – I’m glad you like it & I hope your thesis goes well. I’ve collected some excerpts of the reviews on this page and you can run a web search on those to get the full texts. I don’t have any more than that in terms of reviews & criticism I’m afraid – I know there’s a fair bit out there on the web but I haven’t been collecting it. Good luck!

  32. Hi Chris,

    I was just wondering if there were any books that changed or influenced you as a writer?

    I love all your books, particularly The Other Hand, and I’m always curious about the journey a writer has undergone in order to produce their work…

    :)

    Cheers,

    - Helen

  33. Thank you, Helen. Yes, there are quite a few books that have changed me as a writer & as a person, I suppose. I don’t think I was ever the same after I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Virginia Woolf’s work is very important to me. I would never have been a writer (I was trying to be a scientist) if I hadn’t read Primo Levi’s books – especially The Periodic Table – at university. I think I am improving slowly with the years, but I’m still working towards writing something on the level of those writers. There are a few present day novelists who inspire me, too. These days I am not so much influenced by people’s style, but rather by their example. In that regard I admire Philipp Meyer for his uncompromising attitude to the craft as much as for the superb work he produces.

  34. Hello Chris,

    I have just put down “Little Bee” having read it in pretty much one sitting. I particularly admired your writing from the female perspective, how tough was that to get right? I think you nailed it, kudos. I was very moved by this book and will definitely read your other stuff.

    best wishes,
    Julia (from NZ)

  35. So you’re your a writer; your brother a designer, please tell me about the water supply in your childhood home!! I’m the mother of five children and am fascinated by the whole nature/nurture of creative giftedness, particularly when it is seemingly clustered within one generation of offspring. It may be enlightening for me to find out more about your parents….

  36. i,ve just read the other hand. fantastic but i wanted more!!i have a kenyan sister in law so i,m sending her the book as of now.A wonderful thought provoking book.

  37. Chris Cleave,

    I’ve just finished Gold in record time (I’d easily get gold for reading speed) because it’s so bloody brilliant. I’m bereft now; bereft I tell you!

    Hurry up and finish the next one so I can grab it :)

  38. Bonjour!
    I am having a real hard time to find Little Bee in French, can you help me?

  39. Heyllo mr cleave man, i rly liek u an ur buuk little B (lol). Thx f0r maeking dis buuk, i tink it is rly aw sum an i thx u agen. amen. i h4s but 1 quest chin 4 u, when is u b1rthdey?? i ned u place of b1rrth f0 mai schuul prooject kthxbai

    ur f4v f4n

  40. I am reading the novel and I am really curious to read all other books of your. Right know I am reading little bee for my English class it is such as nice story and wells set. thanks for all your books keep writing more book.

  41. Hello Chris,

    Today I finished your novel, The Other Hand. I found it an exceptional read and very well written. I particularly liked the characters (although some where quite dislikable at times!) and the dual perspectives if both the female narators. I loved its symbolism and it’s obvious compassion. Brilliant!

    At the end of the novel you make mention of a document that you have provided a link to relating to The evolution of immigration detention in the UK).

    Unfortunately, I cannot access that link and you mention the PDF is uploaded on your website should the link go down but I cannot locate it there either? I’ve searched the web unsuccessfully.

    Are you able to post this on your web site? The link was : http://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/PDFs/rscworkingspaper27.pdf

    Thanks for a great read!

  42. I am currently reading Little Bee, it reminded me of ‘My friend Matt and Henna the whore’ by Adam Zameenzad – beautiful, heartbreaking

  43. Hi Chris, I wanted to drop you a line and thank you for the great books you’ve written. I’ve read them all and passed them on to friends and family, your writing style and story lines are interesting, believable and well written.

    ‘The Other Hand’ is one of my all time favourite reads and it has inspired me with my own writing (I’m studying with the Open University towards an English degree, only another year to go!).

    I very much look forward to your new book, and again thank you all your hard work.

    Regards
    Diane

  44. Dear Chris Cleave!

    I’ve just read Little Bee as a school-project, and I’m really happy that I chose that book for my project!
    I loved the book about Little Bee and Sarah, and I love the way you’re writing! :)

    For my school-project I just wondered:
    -What inspired you to write Little Bee?
    -And i’ve also heard that you grew up in Kamerun in Africa, so I also wondered if you got inspiration from the time you lived there?

    Best regards from Ingrid, from Norway!

  45. I have just read The Other Hand for the second time as I am reviewing it with my book club on Tuesday. It is an amazing book – very powerful, difficult to put down – a mesh of themes, characters and colour. Much has been said about the first two but I want to talk about the latter. I am a musician at heart and have always maintained that music alone has the power to really move but with is book I was really affected by the language. You brought the two worlds together with colourful descriptive passages – really inspiring!

  46. You are absolutely my new favorite writer. Loved Little Bee, and am looking forward to the others!

  47. Been a long time since you gave me your guitar.

    Nice to see you have done well.

    Kevin, Bangkok Thailand, let me know if you come my way.

  48. Kevin, it’s so good to hear from you! Have sent email :)

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