Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ten Greatest Dead Expat Writers

What is it about leaving the home of your birth and writing a book? The romance of new cultures? Cheaper living costs? bohemian sensibilities? Whatever it is moving away seems to remove writing blocks and sets an artist free. I've picked ten of my favorite expat authors who are no longer with us.

10) Although Joseph Conrad is considered one of the best English novelists he did not actually learn to speak English until he was 21. Conrad was born in Poland and orphaned at the age of 11. He joined the French merchant navy at 16 and spent much of his early years on the high seas. At many points in his life, he became involved in illegal activities (such as gunrunning) and was often embroiled in political intrigue.

9) George Orwell. Born in India and came of age as a young policeman in Burma. Down and out in Paris and London. George was often happiest away from home. A great writer and a great mind Orwell is also known as one of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century.

8) Vladimir Nabokov. Forced to flee the Bolshevik revolution Nabokov moved to Cambridge and then Berlin, and then Paris. As the Nazis moved in closer he jumped on a ship to the USA where he penned the classic Lolita. One of the great novelists of the 20th cent, Nabokov was an extraordinarily imaginative writer, often experimenting with the form of the novel. Although his works are frequently obscure and puzzling—filled with grotesque incidents, word games, and literary allusions

7) Henry Miller. The grumpy old man of letters found solace in Paris for ten years before retreating to his isolated Big Sur home. "All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience."

6) Graham Greene. Travelled to what he called the worlds wildest and most remote places before finally settling near Lake Geneva. His observations on south Esat Asia have only been matched by modern writers such as Christopher G. Moore.

5) Anthony Burgess. Taught English in a Malaya classroom where he penned his Asian trilogy before being shipped back to England with a suspected brain tumor where he wrote A Clockwork Orange, reviewed books, and became a celebrity.

4) William Burroughs. Shot his wife in Mexico and fled to Tangiers where he hit the pharmacia for synthetic dope and hammered out Naked Lunch in the Socco Chico before landing at the Beat Hotel Paris. In Paris the Olympia Press published the nightmarish visions that became a canon of the counter-culture 20th century revolution. He returned to the states a cult legend in his sixties.

3) James Joyce. Emigrated in his early twenties to Zurich, Austro-Hungry and then Paris. This modernist legend lived in self-imposed exile his entire life, yet strangely only wrote about his native Dublin.

2) Somerset Maugham. Highest paid author during the 1930s, Maugham travelled to the pacific islands to research his novel on artist Gauguin. Wrote of the isolation and madness of the British colonials in the Far East.

1)Ernest Hemingway. As a young man formed part of the Parisian Lost Generation. Nobel-prize winner and legendary author spent many months shooting game in Africa and his later days in Cuba. Hemingway was a true expat at heart and some would argue that his spare economic writing style is the greatest prose ever published.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Patrick Hamilton

Hamilton was born in Sussex. He Grew up in a succession of rooming houses along the south coast. His father was a Barrister, an alcoholic and a terrible writer. Hamilton left school at seventeen and began to work as a stage hand and sometimes actor. He wrote his first novel at the age of nineteen; a Dickensian tale called Monday Morning, but it wasn't until The Midnight Bell that he began to really find his stride. Hamilton wrote about the great British pub. Pick up trilogy - Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky and you can smell the beer-soaked carpet and the musky cigar smoke. Recognize the characters that gather in taverns and plot and plan and drinking away their troubles. Hamilton wrote about the pleasure and the pains of alcohol, which he was addicted to all his life.

In 1929 something dramatic happened in Hamilton's life. He became famous. His play Rope successful both sides of the Atlantic and later made into a movie directed by Hitchcock. Three years later, and at the peak of his career Hamilton was knocked down by a car, crippled and disfigured he sunk further into the bottle. He was already a heavy-drinker and now became reliant on whiskey to function.

In 1941 Hamilton's Hangover Square appeared. Probably his finest work and one of the greatest ever fictionalized studies of Earl's Court London and the mental deterioration of the human mind. Sadly this book was not given the recognition it deserved and Hamilton is in danger of slipping under the radar in terms of twentieth century literature. This would be a shame for Hamilton is one of the most underrated writers I've ever read.

Hamilton left London during the war and settled in Henley-on-Thames, a small town which inspired his later work. He died in 1962. leaving behind a number of unfinished manuscripts. One or two of his novels have remained in print with penguin, but most titles are out of print and difficult to find.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Luke Haines

I don't like to throw the word genius around lightly. Mostly because I aint got nowhere to throw it, but I discovered a little nugget of gold recently that is, like, simply great. I have been a fan of Luke Haines since the first time I heard his first Auteurs recording. The man is so smart and so tuned on it kinda scares me. There's this whole line of great 20th century art that Haines is keeping alive. It's subtle but once you trace it all back it is so important.I followed Haines through all the Auteurs records, the black Box recordings and the Badder Meinhoff dabblings, but its his later solo stuff that really hits the spot. Especially this new meditation on the lives of 1970s British wrestlers. When Haines talks about egg and chips at the transport cafe he aint talking about a nosh up at the little chef anymore than Hemmingway was talking about fishing and hunting. It's all this great metaphor about what jolly old Enlgand used to be and what it is now. I reckon, Haines, having a little nipper growing up is reflecting on his own upbringing, what made him tick as a youngster. Luke Haines' latest album is simply the finest recording I will ever have the joy of listening to this year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review for Bangkok Express

This review was written by John Daysh of Thailand Writing and Book Reviews

There is no doubt in my mind that James Newman is the next big thing in the genre of Bangkok-Thailand Literature. He is the real deal. Newman’s first novel, Bangkok Express, is compelling proof of this, despite its flaws. It is now available to the public as an e-book having been previously rejected by print publishers when Newman refused, on artistic grounds, to re-write or edit it. That may appear indulgent and naïve and it probably was given that Newman was just twenty-four and full of youthful naivety when he wrote it. But a good writer, which James Newman undoubtedly is, should not be eternally condemned by a first novel.

Given that some years later Newman has given the go ahead to have his un-edited manuscript published as an e-book, I get the impression that despite its structural and editorial deficiencies he is confident that it stands as proof that he is a very good writer; confident that the uncritical reader would either not recognize or easily overlook the defects, and that the critical reader would forgive the flaws in light of the evidence of literary excellence and promise. He must have done this knowing he has much more up his sleeve. Having read Bangkok Express I can easily forgive this naivety knowing he has gone on to write much better. Newman himself now admits that he would tear Bangkok Express apart if asked to edit it. It stands as it is or will be destroyed. When I finished reading it I was glad I had the opportunity, as behind this story lies an excellent writer and this is apparent at every turn of the page.

When another famous Bangkok writer was asked which of his books was his favorite he said it was impossible to say - that they were all like sickly children and he loved them all because they were his creations despite their weaknesses. Bangkok Express is a bit like a sickly child. Newman can see the illness within, but he loves it as it stands and even as it sometimes stumbles. It is a part of him and a part of his development as a writer.

Bangkok Express is the story of a young Private Detective sent from London to Thailand to examine a suspected insurance fraud masterminded by a Samui Police Chief in cahoots with the wealthiest landowner on the island. With the help of a bar owner, a fake doctor, a stunning mia noi, a hard-living expat insurance broker and an exotic bird, he takes on what a sane man would not. In the mean time he discovers all is not what it seems in the Land of Smiles, which seems to suit him just fine.

Bangkok Express is a great story full of fantastic writing but it is not a great novel. It is the work of a talented young man learning his trade. Novel writing is an ‘on the job education’ and I am sure James Newman would not dispute this. Polished? No. A good read? Yes. A sniff of future brilliance? Most certainly. And this is why it is well worth reading. The word on Sukhumvit Road is that he has just signed up with an established Western publishing house and his latest novel will be released with full fanfare in 2012. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.

Reviewed by John Daysh
Thailand Writing and Book Reviews

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Works in Progress

Rebel E Publishing have sent the contract and I've signed it electronically. The editors at Rebel seem lovely and reports from the authors are encouraging so it should be a good partnership. I'm looking forward to it's release in 2012.

Another little victory is the sale of my short story Two lumps and a pair of Glasses to Big Pulp Magazine. This will be my first publication in a USA trade print magazine. It was a crazy little story about a man with breasts who begs on the streets of Bangkok. I see him during my bus journey home from work each day. So many stories you can grab from the bus window in Bangkok. So many things going on all the time. Yep, and we are still not flooded at the moment. Well, not here, on my road, anyway.

I'm working on Black Jack thus far and I think I can finish the novel in first draft by the end of next week.(EDIT-NO YOU CAN"T! IT'S NEXT WEEK ALREADY - JN 11.11.11) It's my Jack the Ripper book. The one I've been working on for two years. Just worked out how it all falls together.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangkok Floods

Bangkok citizens were told to evacuate the city some days ago. Some people, including myself, have stayed. Here we are looking around at all the dry ground and thinking 'where is the evidence?', 'Where's this great flood?' The truth is some of the city, in the west has began to go under due to rising rivers / canals. When the flood comes it will come fast. One minute you're pointing at a small trickle of water and laughing at the great flood and the next you're up to your neck in it. If Bangkok barriers begin to fail (which may or may not happen) the northern section of the city will become inundated and STILL people like us south of the city will look around our little world and say, 'where is the great flood?' - Well, we might soon find out.

This could be human nature. In psychology, denial is a subconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings. But where to go? It seems that the whole of Bangkok are evacuating to beach resorts and surrounding towns. Finding a hotel room for a large family is a nightmare, and then there's the actual travel part. Heavy traffic, roads being blasted apart to allow water to hopefully flow away from the city. Flooded roads traveling with kids (my youngest 5 year old can't swim!) Perhaps we're safer at home on the first floor where we have moved all our possesions. We are a couple of metres above ground here. Maybe camp out hoping the city will win its fight against this mass body of water and rising tides. Maybe not. Should we stay or should we go?

Stories are filtering through blogs and forums and newsrooms. One expat thought he was safe in the Northern city of Chiang Mai back at the end of September... His neighbours were being told that the water was incoming and he looked for all of the reasons to leave the city and couldn't find any. There was no flood outside the window. Dry as a bone. His house and his business ended up being flooded by 1.8 meters of dirty diseased water. He was stranded on the second floor of his office building for almost a week with just enough food, water, and at times without electricity. Then there was the story on Thai TV about the old lady trapped in her Auythaya home for days. Up to her neck in dirty water the shack-of-a-dwelling becamce infested with snakes. And what about the hundreds that have already lost they lives already in the floods? This is a serious matter.

The prudent advice is to pay heed to the government warnings, think worst case, and evacuate... once the water hits, our options are considerably reduced. The reality is that here in Bangkok we have an ocean of water above us and, any breach in flood defenses, physics takes over and water level inside the city will find equilibrium with levels outside of the barriers. The whole city will become flooded.

Thailand has taken a national holiday to allow people to escape. Shops are running out of basics like water, rice, dried noodles. Many rich Bangkokians panic-bought hording masses of essentials before fleeing the city. Stories of Hi-So Bangkok women with pocket-sized dogs and designer hand-bags checking into Pattaya bordellos keep us smiling. But the trouble is supply lines are not making it through to supply the major food-chains. Supprisingly the local markets still have all the basic things and vegtables and meat easy to find in the markets. I guess The High Society don't shop at the markets.

The next high-tide is this evening between 5-6pm. This is the time when it'll be most likely that the Chao Phraya bursts her banks. Its probably best to leave whilst we still have the choice.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snake Man

Dean Ripa was born in 1957 in Wilmington, North Carolina. A herpetological-wunderkind, he was already catching dangerously venomous snakes before the age of ten in the swamplands near his home. At age 13 he was seriously bitten, and hospitalized in intensive care for 2 weeks, losing the functional use of his right hand for over two years. Undaunted, he continued, and by age 15 was already keeping some the world’s most dangerous snakes, king cobras, Gaboon vipers, black mambas, and many others, unbeknownst to his parents, in cages hidden in the attic rooms of their spacious mansion-like house. In his early twenties, he left for Africa to capture and export live snakes back to America. As this proved successful, he began traveling the world, becoming what was probably the first international snake hunter for hire. Major zoos, laboratories, and private fanciers were his customers. Long before television snake-wranglers were staging “cobra captures” in front of camera crews, Dean Ripa was prowling the remotest areas of the earth, far from medical help and human settlement, catching deadly creature and bringing them back alive to America in order to study their habits in captivity. His adventures have taken him to five continents and more than 30 countries, and they have sometimes been harrowing. He has been wracked by malaria, schistosomiasis and dysentery, lost in Amazonian jungles, stranded in the New Guinea highlands, and held up at gun point during military coups in West Africa and Suriname. He has survived twelve venomous snakebites to date, including seven by bushmasters, surely the record number of envenomations by this deadly snake on any individual.The literary magazine, Oxford American, ran an award-winning feature on his life’s work. As author William S. Burroughs described him in his book, The Western Lands, “Dean Ripa could have stepped from the pages of a novel by Joseph Conrad.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Eastern Lands.

Yes, of course I'm part of the advant garde...I have like paintings and stuff... Post modern is so passe...A book of William burroughs...The Western Lands, his last novel proper... What a book...I took that book.... Cut up the pages and then put together a text..From the words....I'll make a novel outta it..Sammy Beckett told Burroughs its plumbing...Words aren't cattle with brands on them Burroughs responded in his Southern drawl..Don't expect you to understand it Micky... My week beats your year..Lou Reed said that...Speed paranoia...Liner notes of Metal Machine Music....Aha... What are blogs? Neat little harbours for gems...Truffles in the forrest...Feed piggy... feed...The Eastern Lands...

Flying centipedes of unfortunate varieties: run when they hatch, dwindle out in barren hills. A naked man tears at his flesh break through the skin in the Guilt Theater with limestone seats, crowds walk by faces blank circles, a stone stele, jerks convulsively as a centipede head, centipede hair, eyes and then his penis emerge. Another is eating, moving in jerks and spasmodic motions. Wilson kills the man with an overlap, stop and scrabble. Below the stele is a naked man. An area of narrow passages, straps. The couch is made of clay, six feet long, ancient holes in the marble floor. Upper cubicles are half empty naked, except for exquisite rope ladders and notes in segmented gold, with opal jammed with the dead and in the air, faces squirming and energy pours from their buckets to shiny black mirrors reflecting a vile hunger. Filtheaters between the warrens beware the Guilt Theater. The cubicles buzz about, Centipedes laying eggs in the empty ruined buildings. A circular space twenty, screaming Filtheaters as centipede heads smooth marble in the middle of ashes and blood and pus. The silent covered with tiny script, compose-catatonic. The stricken man kicks his legs and claws; the sign breaks through the crown of patterns that intercross its way through an eye socket. Stone writes with hideous life. Bound to a couch with leather hardwood. The spectators are complete between rows of wire mesh centipede necklaces and braceletsteeps, five feet high, four tiers. Their eyes, lips parted pestilent breath because few can climb up to them crawling on the skull, eyes declutched logs. The lower cubicles a vile idiot hunger, dying, barely enough. The Guilt Theater speaks “We feed with the cede!”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Charles Bukowski

As a young man I hovered around the ‘B’ section of Waterstones bookstore at Ledenhall market, city of London... The B section rarely disappointed. Burroughs, Burgess, Beckett. I trusted the Bs. Hovering around the section the name Bukowski kept interrupting me – there he was not far from Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, between Buglakov’s Master and the Margarita, and Burgess’s Malayan trilogy. I picked up the book Post Office, read the blurb, and put it back on the shelf. I knew he was bad news, cheap liquor, low-rent-rooming houses, bad women, pain. I knew all this instinctively. I knew that if I bought and read this mans books then there would be NO TURNING BACK. I did and there wasn’t. Bukowski became an obsession. The primary influence on my writing. The reason I drink too much. The failure of my first marriage. Why I spent my entire twenties changing address. The difference was Bukowski had America as a playground and I would have Thailand.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

James Newman's published works


CARMEN – August 2009 – Freedom Fiction
MEAT – September 2009 - 69 Flavors of Paranoia
CLEAR – February 2010 – Freedom Fiction Journal
CARMEN – March 13th 2010 – Freedom Fiction Anthology Vol: 1
KIM – April 2010 – Scalped Magazine
RAVANA – February 2011 – Freedom fiction journal
CLEAR – March 2011 – Freedom fiction Anthology Vol: 2
THAILAND AFTER DARK – Bangkok Book House – August 2011
TWO LUMPS AND A PAIR OF GLASSES - Big Pulp Magazine - March 2013


BANGKOK EXPRESS – August 2010 - Bangkok Book House
THE BOY THAT PLAYED CHEQUERS - August 2011 - Fried Fiction. Serial.
BANGKOK EXPRESS - Revised 2012 edition. Books Mango.
RED NIGHT ZONE - BANGKOK CITY - 2012 - Books Mango.
LIZARD CITY - 2012 - Books Mango. Now set for release with Spanking Pulp
THE WHITE FLAMINGO - Spanking Pulp Press 2013
A MAD BAD MAN TO KNOW - Spanking Pulp 2014
ITCHY PARK - 2014. Double Dragon. Blood Moon Publishing.


Thai Meditations (As James Alexander) – September 2010 – Bangkok Book House
THE SUB (As S.T. Ray) - April 2011- Bangkok Book House.


AURORA - Spanking Pulp 2013
UPHEAVAL - Spanking Pulp 2013
CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMAN - Spanking Pulp 2013
LOSING THE PLOT - Spanking Pulp 2013

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fried Fiction

The Boy That Played Chequers was inspired by a lucid dream. Almost wet. Earth (that's the name of the chequered boy) reaches nirvana during a game of chequers and disappears from his American homestay to form a religious cult in the Thai jungle. I went wild with it. Joe Dylan from Bangkok Express and Fun City investigates. He finds a community of naked utiopians in the Thai jungle. It's like The Beach on acid. And white whiskey. I wrote the first few chapters and posted an excerpt on the excellent Writers Beat website. Readers at that site kindly nominated it for the writer's choice quartly award. It came second. My second nomination to come, ahem, second.

David Wallace, writer, kindly offered these words.

"Excellent! probably the best piece I've read on the forum, don't hang about posting this get to it man I really think you've got something here. Get it finished, send me a copy and get it submitted."

Hmmm, ego not in check; I decided to, as he suggested, keep writing. The book wrote itself. I was sharp at the time. Off the sauce. Wrote a milllion words in 2010. Most of it published, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Submitted the piece to Silkworm press in Thailand who politely reclined. Thais are very polite about rejection. Cloaks and daggars. Mostly daggars. Never the one to feel the sting of rejection. Much. I sent the first thousand words to Fried Fiction. They accepted the first chapter and paid twenty-five dollars to publish it as a seralization. I'll spend that money on nuts for my squirrel. Not so needy now, am I Mr Acorn tree?

Thanks to David at Fried Fiction for his support. I really believe in this book. You can find the first part of the story by logging onto fried


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Anarchy in the UK!

The words of Johnny Rotton of the sex pistols back in '77....

I am an anti-christ
I am an anarchist
Don't know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passer by cos I

I wanna BE anarchy!
No dogs body!

Anarchy for the U.K it's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line
your future dream is a shopping scheme

cos I, I wanna BE anarchy!
In the city

How many ways to get what you want
I use the best I use the rest
I use the enemy
I use anarchy cos I

I wanna BE anarchy!

Is this the M.P.L.A
Or is this the U.D.A
Or is this the I.R.A
I thought it was the U.K or just
another country
another council tenancy

I wanna be anarchy
and I wanna be anarchy
Know what I mean
And I wanna be anarchist!

.... Seem horribly prophetic now.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I recall with a certain fondness flying to Bombay (or Mumbai as she is now known). I had two thousand baht in my pocket, and nothing else apart from that youthful sense of adventure that I had buckets loads of back in those days. On the flight I met an Australian character who wanted to make it big in the movies. Bollywood. I had no money. I decided to be a movie star too. We made it to what I thought was the cheap side of town. Perhaps it was. We paid ten dollars for a room and found out that a bus arrived outside the hostel to pick up western extras for the movie business.

Next morning we jumped on the bus and drove through the city until we reached the filmset. Bollywood is an industrial estate. One dull warehouse after the other. The costume area is outside in a curtained-off area. I slipped on a blue poly-cotton mix suit, and my companion David wore some brown monster of a suit that made him look like a Chicago pimp. David could have leaped out of the pages of an Ice Berg Slim book, but he was from Biggin Hill, baby.

The inside of the set was designed to look like the inside of a cruise liner. We stood around drinking fake cocktails and watching Indian women dance. The super star was Amisha Patal the lead lady. What a fox - Thats her in the picture, not some random bengal babe.

I don't know. Sometimes I think about what I used to get up to and what I do now and think that life is slipping away, slowly.

But then again, I live in Bangkok.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thailand After Dark

So I decided to go kindle. Heres the blurb....

Blind dates with psychotic lady-boys. Sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. White-water rafting, oily massages with women old enough to be your mom. Mixing cocktails and blindly navigating the Bangkok streets, the bars, the women and the hustlers before hitting rock-bottom and looking at the balcony. James Newman is the Bangkok author of "Bangkok Express", "Thai Meditations," and "The Sub"....

Now I have to promote the puppy...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules for writing fiction

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1.Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4.Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5.Start as close to the end as possible.

6.Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7.Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8.Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I'll add my own one - If you have an internet conncection where you write, your output will suffer

Friday, July 8, 2011

New story from S.T Ray.

I’d been driving for longer than I could care to remember. Names of villages flash past…Sign posts…Ban Gu, Ban Bop, Ban Lok, Ban Tok… Dead snakes in the road, crushed under the wheels of passing vehicles, crepuscular (yes it’s a word, look it up…) raptors circling above marsh land diving for prey, men as black as soot wearing only underpants wade in stagnant pools trawling fishing nets. Children play in mud looking for land crabs to pound with pestle and mortar and enrich pungent som tam salad. It’s like the last five-hundred years didn’t happen. Time stood still. Cattle returning home from a days grazing, the farmer beats them along with a long bamboo cane, they plod along undeterred. Here and there groups of Thai men sit on wooden platforms, sharing local moonshine, cheap tobacco and dull conversations. Sudden Isaan music blasts from perilous two-storey dwellings built from breeze block and local timber, corrugated iron roof tops. Higher up the sky a deep red broken up with fair weather cumulus clouds (the ones that look like sheep)… Rubber plantations, eucalyptus groves, sugar-cane fields… The Honda Phantom is becoming uncomfortable between my thighs as the images flash by. The petrol tank is almost empty. I will have to stop.

The village is simply a few houses clumped haphazardly around a petrol station that doubles as the village shop-come-bar-come-gossip-point. This is where everything happens. The nucleus of a community mainly made up of the very young and the very old. The in-betweens are often drawn towards the promise of the cities. And who can blame them? The elders sit on a raised wooden platform under a sickly banana palm, eyeing me suspiciously as I approach. The dusty floor stained red with betel nut juice. They have heard stories about Farangs. These are mostly true stories about money, and the ease with which they part with it. Chickens and ducks peck at scraps in the dusty road. A few children stop playing for a moment, look me over, and start giggling saying over and over the word ‘Farang’. I wai the elders and tell a bored looking petrol pump woman to pump the petrol. As she does so I notice that there is something happening a little further down the dusty street. A group of about thirty villagers are setting up some speakers and arranging tables and chairs. Food is being prepared in large cooking pots. Some kind of party. A vaguely official looking character approaches me and wais. I assume he is the village headman. He smiles revealing bright white teeth. His head is shaven, but he has a certain gentleness about him; like he had just had himself some wat-time. He asks, in broken English, if I would like to join the party. He puts a slightly drunk hand on my shoulder, and points with his other hand in the direction of the crowd. I park the motorbike and follow him.

The area of land set aside is rectangular in shape and about the size of a tennis court. At the far end a row of five monks sit on a raised wooden platform surrounded by small statues and images of Buddha, incense sticks rise up from bowls of sand, smoke rising upwards.

‘You have come late,’ the head man tells me, ‘body already go fire.’

‘Oh,’ I say.

A number of women sit in front of the monks. They hold photographs of the deceased. A woman, in her thirties, is framed in the pictures. She is seen smiling. It is a graduation picture.

‘She drive bicycle. Have car kill her. Man drunk. Very bad.’ The headman shakes his head slowly. ‘Come follow me.’

We sit down at a table occupied by six or seven Thais sharing bottles of Leo beer. I wai each villager in turn and they fuss over getting me a glass, some ice, and some beer. Each time I take a sip the glass is replenished. I know enough Thai language to engage in basic conversation. And basic conversation is all that is really required when sharing beer with villagers. We speak of premier league football, world currencies and the cost of living in foreign lands. I am handed a plate with a tasty isaan soup, minced pork stuffed inside of a soft undetermined vegetable. I eat rice and noodles, listening to the strange Khmer dialect that the villagers preferred to use. The conversation appeared to be upbeat, not like the remorseful funerals in the West.

After several glasses the light began to fade. The women and children formed a line and walked circuits around the perimeter of the area set aside. As they walked they chanted a phrase that I could not understand. Somehow, it seemed better not to understand. Nobody seemed the least bit surprised or put out by my presence.

Not wanting to outstay my welcome I got up to leave. Where I was going, I wasn’t sure. The only thing I did know was that this was the first time I had gate crashed a funeral.

And maybe the last.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thailand Backpackers

A couple of years back I decided to embark on an expedition to the backpacker island of Ko Phangnan. My purpose was to study the modern day backpacker in their natural environment. It was quite a mission. Having returned I feel not unlike the intrepid anthropologists studying cannibals in the depths of Papua New Guinea. I managed to escape from the scene with my life, albeit with a nasty taste in the mouth.

Now what is a backpacker or a ‘traveler’ as they prefer to be called? I hate to categorise people on account of certain behavioral patterns that they exhibit, but how else can you begin to understand people who all seem to follow the same set of rules? I find it extremely difficult to determine between different sheep within a flock, as they are all sheep. The same might be said for backpackers (sorry, travelers)

Now I used to be a backpacker. There I said it. I feel better now. But when you've lived in a country for a number of years, speak the language you tend to avoid backpackers like, say, a hepes-ridden butterfly-collecter. In a lift.

In case you are not familiar with the type of personage to which I refer, here is a check list for identification purposes.

1.Brand new tattoo. The image should be sore and an antiseptic cream should be heavily applied. In earlier cases it may still be bandaged ( for those virgin pussies only been in Thailand a couple of days).

2.A bottle of water. The water should last exactly 120 mins, or about the time it takes to watch a Hollywood movie in one of the bars that cater for backpackers.

3.A backpack.

4.Cheap Asian clothes. Peasant Fisherman’s trousers with no pockets are a favorite. But most backpackers will wear anything that makes Thai people cringe. All the time they feel they are ‘blending in’ with the culture.

5.A complete disability to speak the language or understand the culture.


7.Some kind of bracelet or necklace normally made of small wooden beads. Both female and male subjects can be seen wearing these.

8.A constant fear of paying too much for anything. Backpackers rarely tip. And if they do it is by mistake.

Now it seems that backpacker fashion has changed somewhat. The men seem to shave their hair nowadays rather than grow it long as they did a few years ago. I did, however meet one Spanish individual in Koh Phangnan who had long shoulder length hair and a long beard. He looked like Jesus Christ; but he couldn’t manage to drive a Honda Wave let alone walk on water. And he was so tight that if he could turn the water into wine he would have either kept it for himself or bottled it and sold it back to the masses.

I am not bitter about getting old or any thing like that. I do speak from experience. I have traveled with a back pack around most of Asia, Africa and Europe. The difference is I guess that I prefer to spend time with locals. If I wanted to sit and speak with a bunch of Europeans I would have probably moved to Spain or Greece or somewhere else with peopled with barbaric semi-literates.

There is a definite fashion scene with travelers. It seems to me that they have all DARED to give up their day jobs or school or staying at home with the parents because they feel the need to do something completely ‘different’ …They are BRAVE and ADVENTUROUS And what do they do when they escape ?...They wear the same clothes as everybody else who is being ‘different’. They go to the same hotels as everybody ‘different’ they read the same guide book as everybody ‘different’ eat the same food as everybody ‘different’ etc etc etc….

What summed it up for me was whilst sitting in one of these Backpacker bars. I became quite hungry. I asked for the menu. I ordered a ham and leek pie. I don’t need to apologise for this. I was hungry and I like pie. I like ham and I like leak. On the table opposite was a French backpacker with his girlfriend. He sported a little elfish beard. His girlfriend had a metro sexual look about her. Short hair pseudo-intellectual-borderline-lesbian-chic. She was probably dating the elf to get back at her father. If you catch my drift….

He said “That is disgusting! – How can you come all the way to Thailand and eat food like this?”

“Because, I like it.”

“But you are in THAILAND!”

“That is correct.”

He looked over at his girlfriend. They exchanged a disgusted glance. “You have to enjoy the food here whilst you stay here. You have to eat what the locals eat” He told me.

“And what do the locals eat in Ko Phangan?”

“We have ordered Kho Pad Moo.” He said proudly.

“Yes.” I said. “That’s adventurous. Be careful.”

“It is REAL THAI food,” He told me.

In fact it’s a Chinese addition to Thai cuisine, but I let it slide.

They continued to stare. I grew fed up. This French fag and his dyke girlfriend were putting me off from eating my pie. They kept on staring at me like I was about to explode from cultural misunderstanding at any given moment. I had to set them straight.

It came out “Listen friend. I have lived in this country for many years. I have been married to a Thai for six years. I run a business here. I have two children who hold Thai passports. I like to eat pie because I can not get pie where I live in Thailand. I am on holiday. Let me eat my pie, please. I didn’t ask to talk to you.”

He said something in French. I couldn’t catch what it was. I should have paid more attention at school. Or maybe he should of paid more attention at school. Perhaps he is still at school. I got up from the table.

I paid the bill, leaving a twenty percent tip, and got myself out of there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Drink and Drugs - A writers tools of the trade

Well, like Kurt Cobain once said, I never really moved on from the b section in the library. Well, he didn’t. He died.

But the Seattle Nirvana ex-axe-man had a point. The B section is one hell of a ride. Burroughs and Bukowski wrote exactly what they wanted to write and made a career doing just that. One got drunk continually for sixty years and the other shot pharmaceuticals in the main line for fifty. Kurt’s kinda writers took risks. They hung around east Hollywood and blew their pay packet at the races. They sipped coffee at the socco chico and blew Arab boys. The audacity of some of their later work is staggering.
When Burroughs was writing Queer he was debating whether it was possible to write in the third person after his debut junkie was written in the first person narrative. Pussy. Fifteen years later he is cutting up pages sticking them back together, typing them and sending them to what are now major publishing houses. These publishers would send these bizarre manuscripts to the printers and a few weeks later they were on the shelves: Post-modern stoned gibberish.

Bukowski’s last novel Pulp was written in the detective style but almost completely without plot. For all you non-writers out there plot is pretty much essential in a detective novel. All of Bukowski’s published prose is completely uncompromised especially the short stories. These writers had style and whatever they put on the page was hot. I doubt they would find a publisher nowadays. The age of sobriety is upon us. Maybe we have grown up?

A few years ago even British writers were in on the act. Novelist, television personality and adverb bothering Will Self was sacked from the Guardian for shooting up smack on John Major’s charted aircraft. How rock and roll is that? These are the kind of writers I admired. Not the coffee-swigging university-graduates that are nowadays clogging up the Asia book shelves like ants at a frigging picnic. I liked writers who took risks.

All the major publishers are looking for is the next Stig. Preferably a live one. It’s a great time to be a Norwegian detective novelist the same way it was profitable to be a Scottish drug-writer twenty years ago. Just ask whathisname Nesbo or Alan Warner. Right place right time – I’ll think I’ll have that Porsche in lemon yellow please. Thanks very much. Nice one.

I also admire Burgess, who also had little time for plot or formula fiction. He wrote some interesting books in Malaysia that were published back in the UK. The thing with Burgess is that he drank, his wife drank and they didn’t care who knew about it. Bad boy Burgess hit the deck drunk in a Brunei classroom claimed to have a brain tumor and was sent home to pen clock work orange. Next thing he knows he is set up in a Sussex cottage reviewing and writing for good hard cash. His wife dies of alcohol and Burgess marries an Italian baroness. Sells the film rights to CO and gets annoyed that it smashes the box office. There’s no pleasing some people, apparently.

I also like some of the old pulp boys; Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Before that Stevenson, H.G. Wells. Wilde could write a line but not a plot. These writers all drank like their type-writer-ribbon depended on it. It was in the job description. Writers drink. Full stop. Well, not any more, baby.

Alexander Trocchi took it to another level. A brilliant writer who I feel was overlooked due to his lifestyle. Bad boy Alex according to Burroughs, ‘could find a vein in a mummy.’ His addiction grew to such heights that he ended up pimping his wife out on the streets to pay for both their habits. This I feel is perhaps taking a step too far into the realm of the counter-culture. But what was the beat generation all about if it was not about rich educated men acting like poor juvenile delinquents?

Gregory Corso I like as a poet. But he was by all accounts a nightmare to be around whilst he was using. Ginsberg was obviously a very bad drunk. Embarrassingly so. Kerouac wrote like you would expect a drunk to write. Quite tellingly his most powerful book Big Sur was written once he realized he had a drink problem.

The list goes on; Hemmingway, Faulkner, Hamilton. Where are today’s drunken authors?

The truth is drinking and writing is like drinking and shooting pool. There’s perhaps an hour or so after the fifth beer when you just can’t miss. Before and after that the output is pretty tame.

It seems nowadays that the print publishers are like record labels promoting safe bland product whilst challenging artists starve. A young writer can’t go out on the road the same way a young rock and roll band can so we have to write what the publishers want us to write, perish, or like myself eat window putty and drink rain water. Asia is where the new experimental fiction is. The one place in the world where there is a lot of diverse writing on the book shelves. Here we don't freeze to death from the cold and when we get hungry we make fools of ourselves in classrooms.

In Bangkok about seventy percent of the fiction is self-published and a lot of it very good. You know you are in for something different with each book. Titles written by half-drunk expats sitting in a ten dollar hotel room and hitting the keyboard while swigging back the beer. That’s my kind of writer. Not the coffee drinking, morning jogging sons of a bitches that populate the bookshelves of any high-street bookstore chain in the West. I want a novel to be a cry of despair not a means to put the author’s spoilt brat daughter through her freshman year.

Now where’s that bottle of blues.

Monday, June 6, 2011


69,000 words completed on the latest Fun City rewrite. It must be the 13th draft by now. I'll be whizzing that off to Rebel publishing for their requested review. Also Bangkok Books have sent a contract for a collection of short stories all based in Thailand. So I'll be writing a few new ones aswell as going through all the old stories published over the last few years. The sub is now out in hard copy and avaiable on amazon. All busy, busy, busy. Must get out on the streets of Bangkok this weekend and gather some material...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Nick Drake.

By the time this photo of folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Nick Drake was taken on Hamsted Heath the man was in a bad way. He died from an overdose of prescribed medication shortly after this picture was taken. Nick was always shy but this shyness had progressed into a total withdrawel from the world. Many around him blamed the drugs he took, but apart from weed and the prescribed medication Nick didn't dabble as much as many considered. In modern times like ours where we seem able to recognize and treat mental illness sooner somebody as unique as Nick Drake may have lived to write more than the three beautiful records that he left us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Navigating the Bangkok noir

Navigating the Bangkok noir.

At first glance I thought negotiating would be a better transitive than navigating to describe the Bangkok bar-scene. The way one negotiates an obstacle course, or say a bar fine. A metaphorical obstacle course, fraught with dangers, the hurdles and the prices oscillate in accordance with the negotiators strengths, weaknesses, experience and beer Singha consumption.

Then I got it!

Nobody truly understands the city! She does not really understand herself! She is a new city, two hundred years and counting and full of a hodgepodge of crazies from around the world. The word navigate spells uncharted territory. It is a better word than negotiate. Bangkok is for the tourists and the sex workers that find themselves washed up on her muddy banks a city yet to be navigated fully. These are the subjects of Chris Coles’ paintings. Women working in bars. Wenches as lost and as mean and as cruel as happy as the men drinking in those bars. It’s a long dusty, winding road from Isaan. A long flight back to the west. Twice as long if you're going back. Back empty-handed.

Bangkok noir is the end of the dream, the horrific memoir, the realization that what has motivated us for so long may not have been wholesome for the soul, the liver, nor the pocketbook. Bangkok noir is the waking up in a hot tub with a gaggle of nubile North-eastern women and wondering where it all went wrong. Bangkok noir is the hundredth client serviced in as many hours in a downtown goldfish bowl. The flicker of hope in a soi dog’s eye. The Arab’s bent dagger. The bargirl with a heart of gold. The washed-out mamasan.

This is noir.

Bangkok noir is what it is because it isn’t ever what it seems.

I arrived here ten years ago at the age of twenty-five. I foolishly considered my previous incarnation as a Lloyds of London litigation broker would prove helpful in keeping afloat above the scams and the scum and the schemes of the city. I was wrong. I naively considered romance and commerce to be two separate items. I would learn... For the women of the night they are inseparable and absolute... Money and love... There is no such thing as love without money and I’ll say whatever you want and do whatever you please as long as the lolly keeps on coming, honey...

One of my favourite pieces in the book is a Lover’s Quarrel.

Coles describes the scene.

He’s still young and naive, learning how to live. She’s spent the last five years working in a Bangkok bar, at least three lifetime compared to him. Both twenty-three, they’re not from different planets but separate solar systems, intersecting in the Bangkok night.

It’s these descriptions alongside the paintings that bring Navigating the Bangkok Noir to life. We can cook up our own stories from the paintings, but what Chris Coles does is describe them in a way that really hits the spot. All any artist in any given medium can ever hope to achieve is to show us what we already knew, or didn’t know that we knew. But somehow we knew it. Coles achieves this with each piece in the book. The thrill of realization is overwhelming. I had seen many of the paintings before the book was published and had perhaps seen some of the paintings before they were painted. This is the magic of Bangkok noir.

The book begins by an excellent introduction by Christopher G. Moore – ‘Noir is more that paintings laced with plumes of cigarette smoke, bottles of beer, angry tarts and dissolute drunks’ – It is and it isn’t. Moore concludes – ‘It is a universe full of clashing colours, dramatic contrasts, jagged lines, extremes of behaviour and personality, mankind tilted on a primitive edge.’

The dilemma that Chris Coles brings to light in his work is that of the struggle between the sexes and the cultures of desperately different wants and needs satisfying each other, or not, in the neon-lit dollar-hungry underworld of Bangkok. It is a world of abuse where nobody knows who is abusing who. Who holds the power? Is it the banker from New Jersey or the hooker from Ubon Thani? Or is it her Thai boyfriend, or the parents back home? His job, his wife? The weather?

This book is not only one of the finest art books to have been published thus far this year, it also points the way ahead for a colony of Bangkok artists to produce work that can be appreciated globally. A Bangkok art movement could be afoot. I hope it is. Coles is leading the way.

Let’s join him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Khao San Road by David Young

David Young has written seven solid, humorous books set in Thailand. Two of which, Sukhumvit Road and this the latest Khao San Road are, I believe, his best to date.

Like Sukhumvit Road, khao San is written in the third person and with the god’s eye view looking over Bangkok. The novel follows the lives of a number of characters who become entangled together over a period of days. This is the first of Young’s novels, that avoids the bar-scene completely instead concentrating on a hodgepodge of crazies living, holidaying and scamming around the backpacker ghetto.

Daniel is a backpacker looking to discover himself whilst grieving the loss of his elder brother. Merlin is a back-packing guru reality television producer. Two upcountry Thai teachers hit the road looking to recruit foreign language teachers (despite not being able to speak much in the way of English themselves.) Bud, a drop-out con-man meets his estranged wife Kemmy who has travelled east with her new self-help-book-writing-flash-packing fiancé. Episodic events clash into one another with all the familiar humour and skill that separates Young from the majority of Bangkok writers.

Characterization is one of the author’s strengths, his plots develop as the cast become aware of the increasingly crazy world of Thailand. Their lives weave in and out of each other’s. Conflict and humour lay in the differences of culture between the foreigners and the natives.

This book, along with the others is written for an audience of expats that have begun to learn a little about the country that they’ve found themselves wallowing in. There’s a truck load of tongue-in-cheek and insider jokes that the uninitiated Thai- curious may not appreciate at first. This doesn't matter. Young's found his audience and has yet to put a foot wrong in entertaining them.

I don’t expect to read a better Thailand fiction novel than Khao San Road this year.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chris Coles in Bangkok

My favourite Bangkok/L.A artist Chris Coles' show opens on the 1st of April on sukhumvit soi 31. Chris kindly let me use his soi dog No.1 for the cover of the Bangkok Express ebook published with Bangkok Book house.

I'm looking forward to seeing the real thing soon!

Last night saw the first noir crime writers convention at the foreign correspondents club. The book Bangkok noir includes crime stories from Christopher G. Moore, John Burdett and all the other heavy-weights of farang fiction. I'll be along on the 2nd to get my signed copy and hopefully meet some of the authors at the book signing session.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Ravana is the demon king of Lanta according to the ancient Ramayana epic. FFJ have published my short story based on the epic. I have incorporated ideas from the Ramayana into my latest novel Fun City and it unlines the theme for The Boy That Played Chequers. you can find it by clicking on the image to the right.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Freedom Fiction Anthology 2

The 2010 Freedom Fiction anthology is now on sale.

My Short story CLEAR is included.

You can buy by clicking on the picture to the right...