Interview: Tina Clough talks about her latest novel, The Chinese Proverb

Tina Clough divides her time between writing crime novels, and translating and editing medical research papers. Tina was born in Sweden and lives outside Napier, where she grows organic vegetables, looks after her free-range hens and makes jam. Reading, photography and kayaking rate high on the list of interests.

Tina is the author of the previous novels The Girl Who Lived Twice and Running Towards Danger. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her latest novel, The Chinese Proverb.

Tell us a little about your new novel, The Chinese Proverb.

It is a story about Hunter Grant, an ex-soldier who fought in Afghanistan and who has some issues as a result of what he witnessed there. He finds a dying girl in the bush and gradually comes to understand her background of enslavement and deprivation. His sense of outrage combined with the fact that here, as opposed to in Afghanistan, he can actually do something to punish those repsonsible, drives him to action. It starts a escalating journey of danger that takes both him and the girl, Dao, to the very edge of brutal finality. But it is also a story of two damaged people who develop a trust and an understanding beyond affection, and who share some of the same character flaws, despite their very different backgrounds and experiences.

What inspired you to write this book?

I read about a girl who had been kept enslaved and isolated from childhood and wondered how someone in that situation could be integrated in normal life again; what they had not learnt about society, interactions and acceptable behaviour.

What research was involved?

Most of my research was technical: about helicopters, weapons and all that goes with them, high pressure water jet cutting machinery, gantry cranes – things that are crucial to the story.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

The Stranglers “Strange little girl” and The Cure “A Forest”

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I do so many different things all the time that a routine is impossible (maintaining a one acre property, pruning shelter belts and fruit trees, translating and editing medical research papers pre-publication for a European university etc). And I am lucky that I have the freedom to function like that; I can do whatever seems best at any given time, taking into account the weather, my mood and any deadlines looming.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Hunter Grant/Bradley Cooper  Dao/ Doona Bae   Charlie/Kate Mara

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Telling a story in the first person, male – and not any meek and mild male either – that was interesting. I had to change my style of writing and expressing myself. Developing the characters, making them come alive and take on personalities of their own – that always intrigues me. Creating believable ‘people’ with their own speech habits, mannerisms and attitudes is challenging and enjoyable. As is making them act consistently within their own ‘personality sphere’.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I started writing the next one (now finished and in its final re-write – hopefully).

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I reread an old classic: “Letters to Alice” by Fay Weldon, about the relevance of Jane Austen’s novels to modern women – and loved it. As true today as when it was written.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Finishing and publishing my next novel (which is a political corruption thriller, set in Wellington).

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Karen McKenzie Karen McKenzie is a Director of NZ Booklovers. She has worked in book publishing for the past 17 years, as a publicist and also selling international rights. Karen is passionate about book publishing and enjoys working with authors to help them realise their dreams. She is also a published author of twelve books under the name ‘Karen McMillan’. More info at

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