Friday, November 11, 2016

The Bloody Road to Kampot (or the trouble with Happy Pizzas, or the Acid Writing Conference, or the shame about the Hula-Holigans and the fear of technological acid meltdown.)

YOU’D BE forgiven for thinking the fogs of pollution hugging Phnom Penh’s airport tastes like the aftermath of some recent oil refinery explosion before you hit the herbal haze that permeates the bars and guesthouses.

The Place
Here we are on street 172, a Chinese man walks up and down the street selling locally sourced fabric money pouches… No, I don't want a Tuk-Tuk, or to jump on the back of your motorcycle, but, hey, thanks for asking. Opposite stands an establishment named the Black Pearl, next to that a printing shop, and here we are at the White River Guesthouse.  

A Westerner with Eastern leanings wears a turban and smokes something life-enhancing in a clay pipe while his hands dance to an inaudible rhythm.

Trip Advisor has a lot to answer for.

Sign into the guestbook.

Name: James Newman
Occupation: Acid Crime Writer.
Permanent address: Here, man.

“What are you here for?”

“Here for the readers and writer’s convention.”

Bell boy nods sagely and points to my luggage and hands me a key.  

Upstairs my room, number 303, has a mirrored wardrobe that I'm too scared to open.

You know that old dead body in a wardrobe trick that the Cambodians like to pull on you?


Well, you should do.

The moment you open the door and take a peek inside at the decomposing corpse you’re part of the freaking conspiracy.

Then they got you. 

The Product
So let sleeping dogs, or rotting corpses, lie, or die, or whatever they do, but never open the closet door in a five dollar hotel room in Phnom Penh.

There's a funeral party right across the street, bells jingle jangle, the intermittent wailing of holy men. Maybe they slipped the body out of the ceremony and hid it in my wardrobe?

What other party tricks do these people play?

Downstairs in the restaurant none of the staff have it in them to switch on the electric fans. One US dollar gets me a cup of rich syrupy coffee. Two locals come inside play pool and proposition the waitress, she manages to glare back and hits them both with what can only be an ancient Khmer curse. 

The first man wears a ratty T-shirt with a Lamborghini badge on the breast pocket as he flashes some local currency around but he’s kidding no one. Perhaps he is the murderer of the corpse in my closet, maybe a contract killer, foolishly throwing around ill-earned gains as his victim enters stage one rigor mortis in the mirrored wardrobe of room 303.  
Now my mind’s racing from a contact high from that Trustafarian who’s smoking at the bar, and that body in the wardrobe upstairs has probably been grasped out of its resting place, filched to another room, to another unsuspecting wardrobe-door-opening-mark.

Decide to order from the menu but the service is slow, wait almost an hour for a can of coke, food takes longer, apparently, much longer.


Must be still moving the body, then.

Or perhaps this is a trick to make the place look fuller, get more customers inside, maybe I’m being paranoid, maybe it’s the coffee?

Maybe they spiked me?

You get that feeling a lot here.

Happy Pizza joints stand proudly all over the proverbial shop in the city, alas not one single “Anxiety-ridden-terrible-fear-of-sudden-death-pizza-joint,” and not a single “Huge-overwhelming-regret-brought-on-by-sudden-waves-of-inexplicable-empathy-flooding-thru-my-mind-like-a-terrible-locomotive-of-cruel-self-realization-pizza-joint.”

Oh no, it’s all Happy Pizza.

Happy. Happy. Happy.
Like I say, I’m here for the Acid Conference.

I’m here for ART.

Instead of ART I gingerly tip-toe back up to room 303 and stare at that mirrored wardrobe door knowing whatever inside radiates awful malevolent properties.

One day I shall return to that cupboard and conquer my fear, for what evil within it shall be quashed by the benevolent strength of my acid-flexed psychological muscle.

But all in good time.

Next day I meet the International Man of Mystery.

International Man of Mystery

The Man, as he is also sometimes known, lives out of a suitcase and has no visible means of financial support, but is always well funded and supportive of the ARTS and at his hotel he had booked a cab and a driver to this end. 

Our driver, let’s call him Sam, was quick to tell us he was an orphan and the circumstances of how he acquired his brand new SUV were “a long story,” two hours later Sam has told us about how he grew up in his family village where the roads were filled with pot holes you could throw a pool party in. 

How these two stories gelled both a mystery to both I and to the International Man of Mystery, and probably to you, the reader too, but we’ve all been thrown some tall stories by cabbies before.  

Casually I ask our driver Sam if he is also performing at the fiction festival, and for a terrifying moment I think he understands me as he races in between lanes of fierce traffic, me and the Man of Mystery trying to keep our conversation poignant, knowing that each and every line spoken could well be our last.  

We arrive at the festival and survey the area.

First panel was Crime fiction.

“What are you doing for female authors in the region?”

Well, teaching six year olds English every day in school isn’t a bad start, I suppose. 

Being a crime writer from Bangkok has its moments, but one of the most testing is when you’re cast as a misogynist; in my books, the women outsmart the men every time, if you don’t read them you won’t know that, but making that assumption isn’t a crime – even if you’re a woman.

Crime panel over, I head off to Couch Potatoes for a well- deserved beer and a chat with the owner who along with the taxi driver had some of the best stories in town that week.

The Hula-Lady Yolanda Iseley is from Glastonbury performs magical moves with flashing lights inside her hula-hoop with arts group Hula-Holigans. 

The idea was obvious, to ask her to perform at the Acid Writing event the following night. Sadly the dance wasn’t to be. Technical difficulties at the theater, and well, we didn’t end the night on the high we’d expected and I’ll regret that we didn’t end the show with a dance, but the talks just about made up for it. 

Rapping about Burroughs and the 1960s counter culture will never be a chore, it was a joy, even Neal Cassidy got himself a mention.

And then the festival was over, the long drive back to the city, the guesthouse, and the wardrobe awaited me.

Back in room 303 I decide to do it.

Open the wardrobe door.

Inside sits one hand-rolled cigarette.

Should I be terrified or ecstatic?

Or both?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why I Watch Cartoons....

You want to learn how to write?

How to create story?

Watch animation.

Oh yes, I have reverse engineered Penguins of Madagascar in an attempt to discover the brilliance of pure story-telling. I’ve taken Mr. Bean apart piece by piece and put him back together again. This happens when you teach English to young learners. Nemo has not just been found, that little fishy has been discovered, examined, and dissected on a petri dish piece by bloody piece. Each part of that perfect production examined under microscopic lens. My students lost in the story have little idea that their teacher is pulling it apart and discovering the beauty of story-telling.

Want to learn about economy of story? To know what parts to leave out? Watch feature length animation. You are NOT allowed to become lost in that story, oh no, you must analyze it. Watch it cold and make notes and you will see that nothing in animation happens accidentally. The cartoonist’s world is a world of foreshadowing and manipulation. Pure story.     

These films are fluid, perfect, not a wasted frame, not a wasted moment – they can’t waste time, it is too expensive. You want to learn how to write stories? Check out Toy Story, particularly the third one. I have chills thinking about how brilliant the final scenes are.

So watch cartoons. Take these films apart and put them back together again. Apply it to your own world and your own work. A story is a story whether it be for adults or kids. It is there to entertain.

How does it entertain?

By being entertaining.

Your job is to discover how.    

Took my kids, week in and week out, to the cinema, buckets of coke and wheelie bin sized popcorn containers, we sat in the theater to watch every new release.

They get to escape into another world. I get to work out this thing called story.


But it wasn’t to last.

Before we knew it the boys had graduated from animation, and traversed to action and drama. Star Wars was okay, Pan was great, but Life of Pi was ultimately the best feature we watched together. Not ashamed to admit I wept as I realized the adaptation was all it should have been. Crying in the cinema, yeah, weeping because you know the filmmaker had nailed it.

Now the kids have grown up, we watch horror, and comedy. Yet I still have an ache and a need to watch animation, luckily I have my students who are happy to watch childish flicks.

Now if you will excuse me I have an appointment with Big Hero Six.     

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Words on writing...

Some years ago, living in rural Thailand I needed a desk, and was introduced to the local carpenter, who was a lonely soul and for the most part incoherent. But then again I wasn’t far behind him.

A desk was needed so I followed him to his workshop. We cracked open a bottle of beer Chang and he ushered me into his domain.

Inside were the most incredibly beautiful pieces of half-finished furniture. Hard wood teak tables rubbed and polished yet missing one leg. Ornate chairs beautifully carved yet to be upholstered and cushioned. Doors, again, hardwood, carved illustrations of peacocks etched into the wood grain.

Sun rays shone into this man’s workshop, reflections danced over his creations.

He may be antisocial, an outcast in the village, but his work, I concluded, was awesome.

I drew the plans for the desk, left the workshop, and waited, and waited, and waited. 

Four or five months the desk arrived. A beautiful piece, huge work surface, piano style legs, drawers lined with green felt. This was without doubt the most perfect piece of furniture I’d ever bought and it was well worth the wait.

The desk had to be perfect as it were to be the desk on which I’d type the novel that I’d been threatening myself to complete.  Once, that is, I’d extracted it from the battered pages of notebooks that I had assembled over two years of traveling around Asia. The novel was Bangkok Express, much of which was written on that desk in Surin, the other portions typed out in the Business Inn, Bangkok, Sukhumvit Road.

So the desk arrived and I sat down at it and began the journey.

I opened word, I opened a file, I began typing. Found a flow, two chapters turned into four, five into ten; then the material inexplicably dried up. 

The notebooks exhausted, the blank screen stared back at me with menacing intent.

What to do now?

The answer was simple. Open another a file. A new idea for a novel. This idea really had wings, hell it was better than the last idea; a boy with magical powers disappears during a game of chequers. Sounds great, yeah? I worked on this one. I worked really hard. Somewhere around chapter twelve I ran out of steam. Again the screen stared back at me like a broke debt collector on a rainy Lewisham afternoon.

No problem. Another file, click, open, this time a story about the population of Bangkok turning into humanoid lizards.

How could this not fly?

It didn’t.

No worries, another file, a cashless society, fight the government for a return of legal tender. This is high concept right here, how can it fail? Tap, tap, tap. This is bloody brilliant. Chapter twenty-three, hmmm. What about that lizard story? Maybe the lizard war is fought at a popular nightlife venue. Let’s get back to that book. Almost finished. Tap, tap tap. Maybe Bangkok Express needs some love. Back to that, back to this, back to that again.

Tap, tap, tap bloody tap.

And of course…

My hard drive on my computer resembled the carpenter’s workshop. Manuscripts in various stages of completion are littered all over the proverbial shop. He had half-chairs, I had half-novels. This is the way I work and it always will be. The best stuff comes when distracted from doing what I should be doing. This article came about because the pub I choose to have lunch in switched off their wireless internet. A neat trick, Kiwi Pub, keeps the customer traffic flowing. But little do they know most of my work is a reaction to what I should be doing. My favorite scenes written while I should have been writing, or doing something else, something important, practical, something that pays the bills.

So don’t feel to pressure to complete that novel, that article, that short story or poem. Let it bake, let it mature, grow.

Because when you force things to happen they appear forced and that’s not a good look. Take a leaf from my carpenter’s book. Keep ‘em waiting and deliver the goods.

Trust the carpenter.


Monday, July 11, 2016


Sydney played by F.C Nieuwoudt is a playwright on the slide. He penned The Murder Game, but since then his ideas have dried up. He stagnates in his Bangkok apartment wondering where his next hit will come from. The set and the space are well designed and eye-catching in this Bangkok production. We feel like we are in that apartment as Sydney’s wealthy wife Myra played by Cherene Knop sweeps the apartment and converses while Sydney manfully drinks what we assume is prop brandy, striding around his man cave contemplating his future with a grizzled outlook and a jaded delivery typical of a scribe on the slide. 

Knop and Nieuwoudt. Photo Loni Berry

Nieuwoudt plays the part solidly and convincing without a glimmer of hesitation or pause the entire show. Good strong delivery and expert timing from the young South African, and Knop, also from South Africa handles her part confidently, although perhaps a slight notch too enthusiastic with the screams when young Sirisak Pituck is apparently offed in the first act.  

The set designed by Loni Berry with help from Bangkok drama students consists of various weaponry; props from past fame, various knives, guns, a pair of Houdini’s handcuffs make for a subtle Chekhov’s gun. I found myself drawn to the room, and it was a nice touch to switch the location in the dialogue to Bangkok. There's a sense of audience participation, of being part of the show.

Pituck and Nieuwoudt. Photo. Loni Berry.

So on with the plot. Salvation arrives, perhaps, in the shape of a script entitled DEATHTRAP. It has drama, excitement, it will put the bums back in the theater seats, it will drive Bangkok crazy and the audience will be hungry for more. The script is written by Clifford and played by the aforementioned Sirisak Pituck.

Sydney invites the young scriptwriter over to discuss the work. But foul play is afoot as  Sydney  plots the removal of  Clifford's body having stolen the script.  “We'll put him in the back of the car, drive up to Isaan, and we bury him,” he tells his distraught wife.

But Clifford is alive all along and the victim is now Myra. We keep up with the plot, the twists and turns, screams and laughs and the murder. Following Myra's murder an onstage kiss and the young scriptwriter Clifford is now to become Sydney's live in lover, secretary, and collaborator. 

Belletti and Nieuwoudt. Photo Loni Berry. 
Despite a visit from his lawyer played by celebrity cyclist Ross Cain and a psychic Helga played by attractive Italian model Cecilia Belletti things seem to be running along smoothly. Until, that is, it comes to light that the younger man has an idea for a new play that would put the pair in an uncomfortable position with the law. The action heats up.

There are relationships here, character development, twists and turns and much humor along the way, As things spiral quickly towards a succession of final twists we are left satisfied with a finale that we didn't see coming. This is a tight production of a popular Broadway smash and it delivers on the BKK stage.

Although director Loni Berry’s run was short, just a week, with Deathtrap in Bangkok there are rumors that the DEATHTRAP may run again. We can only hope so . This is a neat two act one set production and we look out for more from the Culture Collective Studio production team.

The Beat Goes On in Bangkok.   

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stick Figures Bangkok.

Photo: Production Promo.

Josh Ginsburg’s Stick Figures has landed in Bangkok with performances in both English and Thai in a production directed and designed by Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon, I caught the English performance on Thursday night.

Stick Figures plays at the Thonglor Art Space. Take a right down a skinny alley, past a florist shop, and up a flight of steep fire stairs and through an industrial entrance. Floor to ceiling windows, a coffee bar, and some sofas and chairs lounge in minimalist style. Down a flight of stairs into the performance area where a modular set sits and a swing hangs from the ceiling.
Lights dim, action.
A mother, father and son are grieving the loss of their seventeen year old daughter. What better way to soften their pain than to hire a surrogate daughter to play the part of their daughter? Why not have the daughter move into the family home and act as she did, speak as she would have spoken - the family can remain as normal.
Photo Credit. Natty's phone.

What could possibly go wrong?
That’s where Molly steps in - a professional surrogate who gathers all information from the grieving relatives and steps in to play the part of the dead. Another of Molly’s clients is Samual who has lost his wife to cancer, the pair were having bedroom problems before she left him. Hire a surrogate to act as his dying lover. What could go wrong here?  
Star of the show Sasapin Siriwanji plays her surrogate parts with chilling ease, switching from the seventeen year old daughter to the dying wife of Samuel played by Bangkok stage regular James Laver. I particularly liked the character develop of Molly who appears at first to be a callous broker of loss, but has, of course her own reasons, and her own scars to hide. Scars revealed and examined by Peevara Kitchumnongpan who impressively plays grieving brother Graham with an emotional range admirable for an actor of his age. Quanchanok Chotimukta’s part as mother Carol owned a humorous kitchen table coffee scene, and Dennis played by Cholatep Nabangchang was consistent in his performance as husband and father.     
Huge credit goes to design. The set switches from kitchen table to teenage bedroom to doomed lover’s nest enabling fluid scene changes as the action segues from one interwoven tale to another. As the play drew to a close and in the most powerful scene, leaves of A4 paper rained down on the cast from a printer rigged up with the ceiling lights. A wonderful touch.
Match Figures plays in both English and Thai, but be quick final show is on the 29th June.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


So it has ARRIVED.
Ah, it's here.

Two years of working everyday. Writing and rewriting. Blood, sweat and tears. Seems to have taken up such a large part of my life that it seems a shame to let it go. But go away it must and hopefully it finds some friends out there in the big bad world and comes back and tells me about it..
 Here's the promo and some review clips.

Private Eye Joe Dylan’s Fun City is corrupt to the bone and under the ever watchful surveillance system known as the Eye. Money has been abandoned in favor of the credit system. All citizens are required to carry hand held devises containing their credit score and personal information. Joe Dylan is recovering from the government attitude adjustment program known as the Punch since his credits reached zero. His adopted son Jimmy is missing presumed dead and his basement office is infested with contrarian rats. When Dylan is assigned the task of keeping socialite artist Trixie Sloane on the straight and narrow his pursuit of her leads him down into a sub-culture beneath the city where a vigilante Resistance force plan to strike out against the city before the last drop of human will is drained away.

FUN CITY PUNCH - A NOVEL by James Newman.
Here's what the critics say about the series.
'James Newman writes with a flamethrower. He's terrifically gifted and enormously energetic' Edgar nominated Timothy Hallinan.
'A world of conman,cheaters, schemers, wanderers, and the lost' Shamus winning author Christopher G. Moore.
'A Fascinating hybrid of classic detective work and gritty ultra-detail' Ish Galvan author of Splatter Island.
'Hard-boiled pulp fiction pumped up to the max' Paul Brazill.
'Newman's specialty is hard-hitting, brass-knuckles prose' Jim Algie.
'A world where most of the humans are behaving like primitive bugs and reptiles' Noir artist Chris Coles
'Exploration of the garish netherworld of private eyes, prostitutes, pimps,gangsters, cops and dirty tricks' Tom Vater Chang Mai City News.
OUT NOW with the following retailers:
Amazon Kindle:
Page foundry:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Bangkok Noir Thriller

James and John are chilling in The Beach Hut slurping back Papa Dobles - An icy blend of white rum and fresh grapefruit and lime juices, sweetened with a splash of maraschino liqueur and sugar syrup. The sun is setting and the waves are rushing up the beach. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Not unlike the writing process.

James gazes out into the pink sunset and takes a small sip of the cocktail.
New Book

JN: Like a Moth to a Flame” is a rollercoaster of a book, and I get the impression that you really enjoyed writing this one. What was the most enjoyable part of the process this time, dude?

JD: I live in a small town in a beautiful country and I have access to a wonderful walking track alongside a rushing river covered by a canopy of native trees. It takes one minute from my house to access this. While the most satisfying aspect of writing is always sitting back at the end of the night and reviewing what I've written, coming out of the zone and wondering how the hell it got there, the most enjoyable part was different. It was walking in nature, listening to music, separating myself from my real life and sinking my mind into the story as I walked and plotted. Every single scene was conceived while walking in nature. The words themselves, came out of those walks every night once I entered the writing zone. What happens in the zone is hard to explain. Writers will understand. Shit happens.

JN: That's beautiful. Often I speak with writers, published and unpublished, and their real purpose is to be recognized, to be admired, to be famous, or whatever, and I think to myself that the real reward from writing is the writing itself, or the thinking about the story, not any sort of end game, but the process of writing. Now that the book is finished is there a big gap in your life? Or are you straight into the next project?

JD: I'm straight into the next project which continues Nick Adamson's journey. I've found a process that works for me. The only hold up is finding time to have those regular walks. Summer time is easy. I'm a school teacher and a solo father. And it is winter here so time is much shorter. I can only guarantee two walks rather than five so the process is slower. Bring on summer.

The process is the most important thing and the most enjoyable. But the most satisfying is sitting down at my laptop after bedtime stories and pounding out a thousand words a night. Then those walks become incredibly rewarding and addictive. Without them I end up watching cooking shows on TV and waking up the next morning feeling unfulfilled.
Fuck you, Gordon Ramsey.

JN:  For me it is the bus journey in the morning. There is something about movement, solitary movement that allows a story to grow and flourish. The pages of Moth turn quickly, the reader has a sense of movement. Where do you see the story moving forward to? Who is Nick Adamson and how much of him is you?

JD:  Nick is a smart guy but hurt and vulnerable. He has experienced great emotional losses which he thinks makes him fearless. Because of this he is often reckless and exhibits maverick behaviours but always with his heart in the right place. Nothing of him is me but there is a great deal of me in him, if that makes sense. To quote you: "Every author is the sum of two things – the books he’s read and the life he has lived." Nick exemplifies this. He comes from me, from Hemingway, from Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jean Paul Satre, but most of all he comes from the social setting of Thailand and specifically, Bangkok and what it does to men.

The story is moving to another chapter in Nick's life where he is caught tight in a web of corruption. 

It is provisionally titled "Escapology".

JN:  How much of a sequel is Like a Moth to a Flame to your first Nick Adamson novel," Cut Out The Middleman"? How closely are they connected?

Photo: Alasdair McLeod
JD:  They are only connected by the main character, Nick Adamson.  The stories stand alone and are quite different in purpose and style. Middleman is more of an action adventure backpacker story set on a beach while Moth is pure Bangkok Noir. Here is the blurb for Middleman: "Nick Adamson only planned on being in Thailand for a week. But a week later he is running a beach bar, selling drugs to tourists, falling out with the police, falling in love with a hot blonde, and dueling with an out-of-control, drug lord. Cut Out the Middle Man follows Nick’s descent into the illicit underworld of beach life and the dysfunctional characters who operate beneath the thin veneer of paradise islands."

Like a Moth to a Flame picks up on Nick's life some years later as a Bangkok expat and develops the character within a fresh conflict. They can be read independently of each other. Like a Moth to a Flame could easily sit alone without being referred to as "Book 2".  In fact I like to think of Middleman as a prequel rather than Moth as a sequel

JN:  You mentioned the city of Bangkok and what it does to foreign men, this is something we have spoken about before. What is it about Bangkok that sees so many visitors burn out like a moth to a flame?

JD: Good question. Probably more intriguing that the best question in film: "What is the Matrix?" And that is probably where the answer lies. Bangkok is escape, fantasy, deception.
Morpheus:"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Living in Bangkok is like taking the red pill. You get to see what is real and what is fantasy once you get to experience it and live it over time.
Photo: Alasdair McLeod
Once you take the red pill you get sucked in to a different world where it is impossible to go back. The Flame could be anything; Bangkok itself, hot women, easy money, reinvention of self, false friendships and false promises, addictions. Just name your weakness; Bangkok will expose it. Expose and exploit it.

JN: I like the Ronny character in your novel, he seems to have made a life for himself in Bangkok. 

JD: He is a very cool character. A Bangkok old hand. Seen it all.

He exists in the corner of many a Bangkok haunt.

Photo: Stickman

The sort of guy who would have shed a tear when Washington Square was cruelly taken from us by those heartless buzzkilling developers who have yet to develop.

JN: Well, Washington Square is now a dinosaur theme park..

JD: At least Queens Park Plaza is still alive and well and features prominently in the novel. There were photos of a key setting, Crazy Girl Bar, in a recent Stickman photo essay.

I am proud to say that I played for the Crazy Girl Bar in the Bangkok Pool League for a few years.

JN: It is only a matter of time before places like Patpong and NEP will fall to developers. I feel that Cowboy will remain as a tourist attraction. It really is a beautiful neon spectacular and very much part of the tourist list of attractions.

Times change.

Bangkok is changing.

And Nick becomes wrapped up in the New Bangkok in the next book?

JD: Does he ever! Locked in tight with the Police against his will. If you impregnate a Police Chief's daughter then you take what you’re given and have to find a way out. Sounds like vintage Nick Adamson, right?


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Joe Dylan Ten Years Old.

The publication of the fifth Joe Dylan book is approaching us, and my main man Joe has reached his tenth birthday. Ten years ago, 2006, I published the book I had begun writing when I arrived in Thailand – Bangkok Express. The first edition in the plain brown cover appeared as a print on demand edition, sold a handful of copies, and disappeared without having made much of a ripple in the world of crime fiction. Joe reappeared as an eBook in 2010 published by Bangkok Books and by that time the second in the series Red Night Zone (available for free download HERE) was well under way.    

In the very first 2006 edition Dylan was recovering from a divorce and struggling with alcohol issues while living above a chippy in a London suburban street. By the third White Flamingo my hero was shooting china white at a Jack the Ripper copy-cat crime scene in a tropical crime metropolis. Now in 2016’s Fun City Punch Dylan has been blasted nine years into the future to a cash-free brave new world where government surveillance is rife. Self-mutilated transhumanists languidly stroke exotic pets while tripping on scopolamine shakes.

Hasn't the boy done well?  

I already had the character mostly formed in my mind when my son was born in 2004 and I decided to name both my character and my son Joe Dylan. Five books later, translations into Spanish and Italian, audio books, and a film adaptation in the works, I may have managed to set up my character Joe with a footing as solid as his namesake Joe Dylan Newman who began high school this week.

Well done, Joe.

And well done, Joe.  

But how did Dylan evolve?

Stirring this question around in my mind on the Bangkok bus (the place and the time where all the ideas come is the morning bus journey) I came to the conclusion that there are two main sources of inspiration for my birthday boy private eye.

Every author is the sum of two things – the books he’s read and the life he has lived. 

Dylan evolved from a fascination with two authors.

First up and without a shadow of a doubt the writer who has influenced my writing most is a Belgium cartoonist named Herge.

There, I said it.

Hah! Newman’s finally lost the plot. But stay with me here, I think I can explain. Hold on.

But first let me tell you the second.

The second writer who has influenced me the most is an American novelist, some of you may have heard of, by the name of William Burroughs.

A strange mix you may think, but, there is always a connection between two influences and that connection with these two is, believe it or not, the Boy Scouts.

Burroughs and Herge both lived by the code. Herge was a full blown member of the scout movement during his youth and his early Tintin is basically a grown up scout masquerading as a journalist. Burroughs not only wrote a book entitled The Revised Boy Scout Manual, he, always prepared, stockpiled methadone in his garage in preparation for the impending nuclear apocalypse.

Herge began his career writing for far right publications. Tintin and the Soviets, the Congo comic strip, and even Tintin’s adventures into America were written, with a fast deadline approaching, and were made pretty much to order, and in to be fair, pretty poor taste. His later adventures were landmark crusades detailing good over evil with breath-taking attention to detail and as such, Tintin, adapted over the years, his moral compass was firmly in place to the extent that he was read and enjoyed in every part of the world except, curiously, America.

Herge was at times a genius, a hard-working genius, and one who often worked too hard but he was a great, and in my mind a master of plot and research. Perhaps he was one of the best plotters of the twentieth century..

Novelists, whoever they are, struggle with plot development. While writing the Dylan series over the last ten years I’ve written myself into and out of countless holes. During these moments of frustration I will often turn to one of the Tintin books, and go through Herge’s process of story construction. The Castiafore Emerald is a mystery in which the culprit (a magpie) of the crime is pictured in the very first frame. I used this idea in one of the Dylan series – the killer is in the first grisly scene.    

Anti-plot Burroughs, was a gifted writer who, spare the first two, could never lay down a coherent sequence of events over the course of a novel. Burroughs was hopeless when it came to plot. He did, however, write Naked Lunch, with a little help from his friends, and Burroughs, whether you like it or not, basically predicted the future of the Western consumer society before he began to get a bit too handy with a pair of scissors and destroyed any chance he had of a mainstream career. Burroughs imagery in my mind has yet to be equaled in modern fiction. 
Herge saw the problems in the world and made us understand them and Burroughs tried, but ultimately failed to prescribe a remedy, yet left us with a sense of the condition we now find ourselves in.

So perhaps Dylan is what happens when good intentions go astray.

Both men were men of principles. Reclusive men who chose their friends well. They were both leaders of their respective fields, not always championed by the establishment, and often subject to persecution. Both men were exiles for a time. Burroughs for most of his life. They were welcomed back to the Fatherland. Herge played golf with the king of Belgium.

Both men were masters of picking up on the current political and recycling it for our humorous digestion and there seems to be an ethical battle taking place in all their work.

Both men are legends to aspire to and without them there would be, for better or worse, no Joe Dylan.

Dylan tries to do the right thing again and again, but like Burroughs, is attracted or distracted by what they call the Ugly Spirit.

So happy birthday Joe, and thanks to Uncle Bill and Georges Prosper Remi otherwise known as Herge..   

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Welcome to the twisted world of Joe Dylan and James Newman.

Here you will find news, reviews, interviews, and random screams at the moon. 

Here you will find news, reviews, interviews, and random screams at the moon. 
Have fun. 
James Newman
Bangkok 2016
...The Beat Goes On.

New release date for Fun City Punch June 20th.
Cover to the right. 

Take the Fun City safari, swallow the little pill and swim with the sharks.

But be careful of the Punch. 

Some chancer may have spiked it.   

Click the link below to download a FREE copy of Red Night Zone direct from Spanking Pulp Press and  welcome to Fun City.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beware the Forbidden Fruit...Comedy and Cider....

“What do you do for a living then?”

ZZ Top’s crazed brother approaches the front line of spectators at the Magners Comedy Festival and points at the hapless squirming geezer next to me; the geezer says something about working for the UN. The bearded man is comedian Martin Mor, Northern Irish native, ex circus juggler and a mountain of a man who takes no prisoners at home or away. Mor elicits as many laughs from the crowd as he does fear, and it doesn’t matter if you’re working for the equality of human rights, peddling postcards on the streets of Bangkok or teaching English at an international school: he’ll cut you straight down to size if you’re, like me, sitting in the front row.   

The Show has sold out, and as every school boy knows; as you know, as I know; and as Martin Mor knows, the last place you want to sit at a comedy gig, is in the front row.

We are at the front. We are the low-hanging fruit.

We’re the cannon fodder, the human shield; we’re the proverbial lambs to the slaughter; we’re the turkeys shaking in Bernard Matthew’s garden shed on a frosty December night.

“What do youse do for a living then?”

Mor points a savaloy-sized digit at a couple who are out for the night as friends. Martin predicts that the male has devious desires for his female friend and the blushing begins. Man. He’s ripping them apart, piece by bloody piece; not me, please, please, please, get on with the show; don’t choose me.

The first act is introduced.  

Pic: ComedyCV

Intense, wax-mustached, friendly self-proclaimed potential Islamic terrorist (actually he’s a Columbian brought up in Windsor, UK) Matthew Giffen is almost bursting out of himself. Stance is important in this game, as is energy and Giffen, poised like a benevolent Doberman Pincher about to be freed from his lead, has both. If this lad had a tail he'd be wagging it. For a moment I wonder if there’s a reason Thailand don’t export energy beverage M150, but it’s just a fleeting thought as Giffens snarls merrily at the audience, keeping us all pleasantly in line throughout his set. Matthew is followed by local comic Aussie Matt Wharf who keeps the crowd amused with stories and gags of local interest and color; language difficulties, bar room blues and the third sex brandishing her concealed weapon.

Third on the bill is nothing short of a legend. Earl Okin hung out with the Beatles, recorded hit tunes for Twiggy. Earl Okin does musical comedy. I’m a big fan of musical comedy, my own formative music career, being, as anybody unfortunate enough to know will tell you, a bit of joke. Earl is also a ladies man, he uses his charm, talent and fine physical form to woe the entire female audience, and after his romantic web has been woven there’s not a dry seat nor eye, in the room.

Earl is show business, he’s the real deal, and he’s in Bangkok.  

The audience takes a break before Martin Mor returns to the stage and destroys my fellow front-rowers one by one. Now I understand, he’s waiting for me; he has something up his crafty circus sleeve for me, but instead he calls the Comedy Club manager and local lad Chris Wegoda to the stage.

Half Thai and half Londoner, one hundred percent showman, and collator of the event, Chris Wegoda takes the stage and delivers his routine questioning gender, race, and our preconceptions about life in the big bad mango. Following him, another local boy, lanky Irishman James Atkinson, rants about life in Bangkok and being tall in the land of the small.
Chris Wegoda and Drew McCreadie - Directors of the Comedy Club.

Headliner Lars Callieou has the audience in the palm of his hand for an extended top bill’s romp home. Pacing the stage purposefully and delivering the quips, the lines, the sly chat-ups, the confidence of his act, polished no doubt back in Canada where he hosts comedy shows, runs a club, and is a big hit on radio.

Most of the comics tonight are seasoned veterans of the scene, survivors of workingman’s clubs ball rooms, sweaty TV studios and pub back rooms. I’m impressed; all of the audience are impressed, and I’m reflecting on this when our big bearded friend returns to the stage and stares straight at me with menace.

Martin Mor smiles, he owns that stage, and he knows he’s let me off the hook on more than one occasion, so he makes a beeline to where I sit shakily at the front row.

He says it loud and clear. “So what do youse do for a living then?” he booms.

“I review comedy shows,” I squeak, nervously jostling, perhaps for invisibility, in my front row seat…      

.....find out more about the Comedy Club Bangkok HERE

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Krom Review

Mekong Delta Blues

Cambodia’s Krom always promise an exciting outing to the often dark and dangerous avenues of our hearts and souls, mixing up blues, country and folk with traditional Khmer vocals and harmonies. Christopher Minko’s band Krom have signed with USA Musik and Film label and management team delivering this their new album Mekong Delta Blues.

Photo: Johnathan Van smit
Krom are musician Christopher Minko and the two sisters Sophea and Sopheak Chamroeun on vocals plus Jimmy Baeck on slide guitar and Mao Sokleap on bass and keys and production duties. While they shock with songs such as Lil Suzie and Taliban Man they delight with tracks like Cambodia.

Classically trained musician Christopher Minko pilots his guitar through familiar terrain in the instrumental opener Take 2. A carefully layered track, fret-board gymnastics echo through effects units, it builds up, and finds its rhythm before disappearing, traceless but not forgotten, into the night.

Mama Blue is a blues jam with a Minko lead vocal, a woman with killer eyes is looking at us. A nice touch is the keys and the urgency to which the voice grows in fear of this woman’s gaze; tension builds, falls, and finally, Minko’s over it.              

Mekong Delta Blues sees the sisters take the lead vocals as Minko plays a solid blues sequence. The Sisters Chamroeun, well known singers in Cambodia, graciously layer Khmer lyrics over a Western musical frame and this is where the band really hit, when the two cultures meet to create a unique hybrid, a musical genre that while slotting into the World Music genre is really Krom’s own bag.      

Perhaps the strongest track on the album is Lil Suzie a melodic meditation (“Good morning lil Suzie / Where did you go wrong?”) on disappointment and abandoned hope in a love hotel. Two versions of the track furnish the record. Christopher Minko takes lead vocal in one, Sophea on the other; both versions are haunting, disturbing, bleakly promising and solid examples of this thing they call Noir.

From the Heart is another Cambodia vocal lead, linguistic flurries rise and stab above and beyond a guitar phrase that could have been borrowed from Bert Jansch. Oftentimes it is too easy to compare Krom’s music with British folk but it is actually the source inspiration that is the same for the Australian Minko as it was for the British folk rock generation– American blues, arguably the source for most Western popular music today.        

New Record.
Big City / Sin City sees Minko and Co take a wander through the big bad city, which one, we can’t be sure, perhaps all cities are all the same. Cities of the East are where human beings are abandoned, tortured, bought and sold, physically and emotionally hurt and killed; Krom’s music details this, studies it, puts a microscope to it and holds it up for all to see, whether we like it or not.     

Cambodia, A love Song desperately wants to be a pop song, that piano lick, those harmonies, that chorus; this ridiculously addictive song should be adopted by the Cambodian tourist board and made their flagship tune. 
People should stand still in the street and sing it hand in hand. 
But people often do things they shouldn’t do.         

Prahok is a progressive instrumental, keys, bass, and guitar speaking as one during this restful pit stop before the disturbing Taliban Man. On first hearing the track the listener could be forgiven in finding the lyrics too heavy-handed but this is the way Minko captains his long-tail and those on board know the drill. Taliban Man assaults you, but, really, what did you expect?    
Photo: Anya Minko
Shadow Falls is as close to country as Krom tend to swim. The waters are murky, the course unclear, “Where the Shadow falls / between the day and night / the dark and light.” There is a struggle here, conflicts in emotion and ethics, a battle between right and wrong. Decisions blurred by desire. This is a strong track with too many layers to attempt to unravel with much success other than to observe that a wound is being cut open here for our entertainment. 

The record closes with an instrumental of the title track and we are all left wondering how Minko’s dark art has married with the perpetual brightness of the sisters; perhaps there is a fairy tale story here among the despair and the dust; maybe it is darkest before dawn.   

Krom’s journey is only just beginning. Christopher Minko has the band and he has the songs. Time will tell if the rest of the world catches on to the musical buzz that has been steadily building in South East Asia over the past few years: with a record like Mekong Delta Blues Krom has every chance of spreading their message far and wide beyond the Mekong.   

Mekong Delta Blues is released on MP3, CD and Vinyl by Musik and Film April 2nd 2016.

The album is for sale at Amazon as an MP3 HERE


The Beat Goes On