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.”


  1. Hi Megan, thank you – and your group – very much indeed for reading the book and for giving it such deep consideration. I’m honoured.

    I’m glad you didn’t all agree on all elements of the novel. I’ve never thought that a novel had a duty to make itself unambiguous – only to provide an interesting starting point for discussion. I myself have changed my mind about several scenes in the novel. (For example, I am now more sympathetic to the Andrew character than I was when I wrote him. And I am less keen on Sarah).

    With regard to your specific point about Andrew and the hunter, I think I was trying to show the corrosive effects of violence, whether one is the perpetrator or the victim, and whether or not one bears responsibility. Violence against the powerless is a terrible thing, and once witnessed its effects continue to surface in unexpected ways, months and years later.

    To your point about the two titles, neither of them was my original choice! I wanted to call the novel THE DEVELOPING WORLD – and I’m grateful to my editors that they wouldn’t let me.

    And to answer your question about suffering: my life has been a walk in the park, for the most part. I think of myself as a neutral observer. I try to get out there and learn about other people’s experience of life. I think that my work is to stay curious about about others, and not to become emotionally immune to the suffering they face. Luckily, I have not suffered much myself.

    I hope this helps, and I thank you again for giving the book your time.

  2. Hi Mickayla, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I did briefly work at an immigration detention centre called Campsfield, near Oxford. I was working as a casual labourer at the time, and I had a job in the kitchens for a few days. Because it was a low security prison, I was free to mingle with the inmates and talk to them on my breaks. I was horrified to realise that they were detained indefinitely, with no trial or public process, having committed no crime. It didn’t seem right to me then, and it still doesn’t. You say that your thesis is about compassion for refugees, and in my experience we need to have empathy before we can feel compassion. Spending some time with refugees, I realised they were no different from any of us, in the sense that they were simply trying to protect their families by moving from dangerous places to safer ones. We would all do just the same, if we had that kind of bad luck.

  3. I enjoyed reading Little Bee and wanted you to know that. What a great inspiring story and one that I wished didn’t end. As probably intended it has made me think about our laws and globalization and the fate of refugees and the changes that need to be made. There have been times before when reading a work that I wished the story would continue but never before have I been inspired to jot down my own thoughts as to what that would look like. No plot, no plan, just snippets that I would like to share with you; though that feels awfully presumptuous! This reader encourages a sequel and I am of course sharing the book with others as well as doing some research to learn more about the American procedures and laws that impact refugees. I must say I am afraid of what I will learn because after many years in social service I know how woefully inadequate some “helping” systems can be. Congratulations on a wonderful novel and I am looking forward to reading your other books.


  1. Lady Reads: Little Bee by Chris Cleave « - [...] But if you did or didn’t read Little Bee this summer, here is what you should take away from …

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