A Conversation With a Friend:
Diane Cliffe

Diane CliffeDiane Cliffe has been a Friend of The Malahat since the group began in January, 2010. Malahat volunteer Vanessa Herman interviewed her for this edition of Malahat lite.

Diane, Susan [Sanford Blades, The Malahat Review’s Marketing Manager] has told me that you were one of the first to become a friend of The Malahat.


Yes. Why did you decide to become a Friend of The Malahat?

Lots of reasons. I like literature, I’m a bit of a book fiend, and I like journals like The Malahat Review because of the variety that’s in them and the up and coming talent that gets showcased and all that kind of stuff. So when I decided to get a subscription to The Malahat I saw this deal with the Friends and I thought I’d like to give the extra support because I also think that writing programs need to be supported or we’re not going to have any new writers.  

In your past year as Friend of The Malahat can you recall any story or issue that was one of your favourites, or one that stands out to you the most?

You know if I had my back issues, instead of giving them away because I pass them on to people, I’d be able to answer that question more easily. When I first started [my subscription to The Malahat] it was the big P. K. Page issue [#117, Winter 1996], and I still have that issue. It was a fabulous issue and I got all sorts of extras with it. There is a broadside hanging by the front door, Deaf Mute in the Pear Tree, and other little goodies. And it’s signed! But you know there have been some really good short stories—I’m a short story freak—in the last few issues. There was one, I can’t quite remember… but it involved a guy who collected penis bones, animal penis bones, and had them all up on his wall and stuff, and he also did taxidermy [“Natural Bone” by Elizabeth Philips, #170, Spring 2010].  I think it was just a look at his little slice of life.  It was very well done, very absorbing… and there was one that involved the vid-cam girl [“Girl on the Fire Escape” by Kris Bertin, #173, Winter 2010].  The story was fabulous!

Are you only interested in reading or have you done any writing yourself?

Yeah I used to fancy myself a writer. I used to write a lot of poetry and then I married a writer, who was also an alcoholic. He was devastating to my writing because he used to take everything and turn it into his voice and take my voice right out of it and I got so discouraged I just stopped writing. But one thing I did learn, when I was with him, was that I am a fabulous editor. After I’d been away from him for a while I took the editing certificate course through Continuing Studies at SFU. Since then I’ve done a fair bit of editing, which I really REALLY enjoy. I enjoy monkeying with other people’s stuff more than I enjoy writing, actually.  

What about all the little extras you get as a Friend, like the 10% discount at Renaissance Books or the membership to Open Space Arts Society, have you taken advantage of any of those?

Renaissance books, I have, it’s one of my haunts.  [Diane waves her hand behind her to indicate the wall covered in bookshelves, on the far right beside the shelves is her “to-be-read” pile and along the floor bags of books are lined, ready for the Times Colonist book sale this spring.] 

And do you attend the issue launches throughout the year?

I went to one [the Winter 2009, issue and Friends of The Malahat launch in January 2010]. I don’t do very well with crowds, so I stayed for a little while upstairs and then when I had enough I went downstairs. It was in a church, an ex-church probably, and downstairs they had a silent auction. So I wandered around and bid on things. It was fun and I actually won a couple of back issues of The Malahat. They were quite old with some of my ex-husband’s work in it, which was nice.

Had you edited any of that work?

No. The only thing I edited of his was the last book, that I’m aware, he did—he may have published since—which was a supposedly a memoir but was actually creative non-fiction. That’s where I got my foot in the door. The editor at McClelland & Stewart, also named Diane, really trained me on the ground and taught me to do some of the grunt work before it was sent off to her. That’s where I learned all the special archaic symbols.

Has editing become your main job now?

It’s really freelance. I’ve got one client who has broken into the romance/sci-fi genre. She sends me work once in a while and I go through it for her. The last big project I did was the textbook for palliative care for Canada written by Dr. Doyle here at Victoria hospice.

That reminds me of a creative nonfiction piece I read in The Malahat’s last issue, [“Intimate Strangers”by Eve Joeseph, #173, Winter 2010], about working in hospice. It was beautifully written. There were some really memorable passages in it.

The thing with short prose is that, when it’s good, it is all the best of poetry and novel writing put together. So you have a narrative flow but because you only have so much space, the language is much crisper like in a poem.

It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Diane. Thank you for your time, and for being a Friend!