Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Chinese New Year in The Daily Telegraph…and on the streets of Bangkok.

My photo caption in The Daily Telegraph hardly does justice to the surreal, red tinged mayhem I witnessed in Bangkok’s Chinatown today. Dancing dragons, lots of police, thousands of people dressed in red,  as a weirdly strong wind blew up Yaowarat Road, as if a spaceship in the shape of a waving golden cat was going to land amongst the crowd any time soon. No spaceship alas, but good pad thai, two kids fighting each other with dragons off their parents shoulders, and men in strange medieval costumes.  For some, it was just too much.

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Bankok’s Third Fiction Night of Noir

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Bangkok based writer James Newman organized the third Bangkok Night of Noir at CheckInn99, a club cum bar on Sukhumvit Road, last month.

The venue, once the haunt of the likes of Bob Hope and David Bowie (probably not on the same nights) was packed with as many punters as  local ex-pat writers and aspirants and the authors’ readings, mercifully short and succinct in each case, were received enthusiastically.

This year, pulp author and publisher James Newman created a mixed line-up of poets, painters and writers including Jame DiBiasio from Hong Kong, old Asia hand Dean Barrett, the poet John Gartland, Newman’s partner at Spanking Pulp Press John Daysh from New Zealand, Kevin Wood, Harlan Wolff, the painter Chris Coles who exhibited many of his brilliantly garish impressions of Bangkok’s nightlife. and myself. A photographic slideshow of Bangkok’s neon zones by Stickman ran on various screens for parts of the evening and was harsh and gratuitous enough to out-gross any of the fiction being read, and that, I suppose is saying something on a night of Noir.

Prior to his attendance, Jame DiBiasio, author of Asian based thriller Gaijin Cowgirl, published by Crime Wave Press, wrote a rather dry blog post on his site Asiahacks . Jame flew in from Hong Kong for the event. We last met at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival in Mandalay last year and it was great to reconnect with one of my writers face to face again.

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In any case, James Newman introduced the artists and read a sickeningly beautiful short story he had written a decade or so earlier. Bangkok fiction Night of Noir gets no financial or sponsorship support at all. It’s a truly independent event and ever so slightly underground, despite its impressive list of part attendees – including Christopher G Moore, John Burdett and Carla Black.

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Jame DiBiasio read from Gaijin Cowgirl and followed up on the event with a second blog post at Asiahacks entitled  Il n’y a pas Charlie Hebdo ici. in which he raises interesting points on the culture and politics of crime writing in Southeast Asia.

Says DiBiasio, “The biggest barrier to putting Asian Noir on the global map, however, is the fact that we, generically speaking, are not free to use fiction to discuss the true nature of power in this region.

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This was the third time James invited me to the Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir and I hugely enjoy participating as a crime fiction publisher as well as an author not least because the events serve as a barometer reading of the relative health of Bangkok’s crime fiction literary scene, which is tiny and diffuse.

I read a chapter from my first novel The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu The scene takes place in a decadent night club in pre-revolutionary Iran. As I was reading just a few days after the Charlie Hebdo killings, I wanted to read something relating to the mood of the day, the Zeitgeist. A chapter on Iranian nightlife – suffused with booze, sex and drugs and a certain foggy magic – seemed the most appropriate text I could think of. In the cavernous, semi-lit, nostalgic neon night and beer infused ambiance of the Checkinn 99, my opening words, ‘Sallam Malaikum’ seemed to resonate with the same magic. At least to me.

Hope James Newman will continue with another event next year.

Just for a laugh, here’s the Bangkok Post review of The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, penned by possibly legendary journalist Bernhard Trink from 2006.

Global trekking across Asia is becoming increasingly difficult. War, terrorism, ever tighter Immigration rules are blocking the traditional land routes. And travel by plane doesn’t qualify as backpacking. Authors of wayfaring novels must set them years ago to make them plausible.
Which is what British freelance journalist Tom Vater does in his first book of fiction The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. In fact he sets the story in two different years, 1976 and 2000, alternating between them. The years are safe, the first prior to the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, the second prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan. They, along with Pakistan and Nepal are the key countries in the plot.
The author makes a serious effort to capture the mindset of the backpacker. The characters are always stoned, hump like minks, seek to connect with the vital force of the universe. If there’s a way to make money without working for it, even when dangerous, they go for it.
In 1976, Dan, Tim and Fred pool their savings and buy a second-hand Bedford bus and head for the East. What they have in common is the determination to reach the Khyber Pass, buy drugs and re-sell them at a substantial profit. Experiences along the way are detailed. At one point they pick up Thierry, the Frenchman dealing himself in.
There are girls, of course, every bit as horny. Making the strongest impressions are Lida and Madi, Armenian sisters, entertainers, Siamese twins. Immigration officers are invariably corrupt, demanding bakshish to stamp their passports.
The deal almost proves fatal to no fault of their own. The Pathans involved are having a blood feud, shots are exchanged and some passengers die. Though they get the money, it’s safer to deposit it in a Kathmandu bank than to attempt to bring it home with them. Thierry decides to stay in Asia, marrying Madi after a Stateside operation separates the twins. Fred disappears.
A quarter-century later Fred, presumed dead, e-mails his partners to come back, in order to withdraw the deposit together. Dan brings his son, Robbie. Alas the money has already been taken by a man called Marlowe and Fred is ensconced in the highest temple in the Himalayas. He never sent the e-mails, but Thierry did using his name.
The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu is a better backpacker’s book than Alex Garland’s The Beach.
Khao San Road’s habitues will go for it.

The book is out as ebook and print with Crime Wave Press. A Spanish language edition is out with EditorialXplora.

Tom Vater on Travel Talk Asia

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I am interviewed this week on Travel Talk Asia about travel writing and my journalistic career in Asia for the past two decades. Hope there are some interesting insights on the craft and a life well lived.  Thanks to Trevor Ranges for suggesting I come on the show.

Listen to the full interview here.

Photograph by Luke Duggleby.

Crime Wave Press meets Father Ananda

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A real pleasure for myself and Hans Kemp to meet Vithaya Pansringarm, the actor who played Father Ananda in Mindfulness and Murder, published by Crime Wave Press, at the Bangkok premiere of Lupin III. And Khun Vithaya is keen to do another Father Ananda movie.

About the novel by Nick Wilgus:

When a homeless boy living at the youth shelter run by a Buddhist monastery turns up dead, the abbot recruits Father Ananda, a monk and former police officer, to find out why. He discovers that all is not well at this urban monastery in the heart of Bangkok. Together with his dogged assistant, an orphaned boy named Jak, Father Ananda uncovers a startling series of clues that eventually expose the motivation behind the crime and lead him to the murderers. “Mindfulness and Murder” is the first in the Father Ananda murder-mystery series.

An award-winning movie based on Mindfulness and Murder was released in 2011 by DeWarenne Pictures in Bangkok and nominated for Best Screenplay by the Thailand National Films Awards 2012.

Praise for the Father Ananda series:
“A gripping read peppered with fascinating insights into the day to day life of a Buddhist monk. Nick Wilgus’s Mindfulness and Murder puts a new spin on an old genre.” — UNTAMED TRAVEL MAGAZINE

“Wilgus … has a good fix on temple boys, the precepts of Buddhism, the jaundiced eye with which the populace regards the constulabary, the vendors, the weather, the air pollution.” — BANGKOK POST on Garden of Hell

“Nick Wilgus’ first novel is great. May Buddha protect Father Ananda and send him many other exciting adventures.” Livres Hebdo

Thailand ministers try to tempt tourists back – The Daily Telegraph

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Thailand attempts to fix its sagging international image while admitting it is facing increasing competition from Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

My thoughts on the kingdom’s tourism woes in The Daily Telegraph.

British Library launches campaign to save the sounds of history

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My writing career started right here, at the British Library’s National Sound Archive. I went to see them in 1993 after my first return from India. I was interested in the music of indigenous communities in the region and approached the National Sound Archive’s International Music Collection with an offer of recording and documenting the obscure sounds of Asia. A wonderful collaboration emerged in the following years. With equipment and a small grant from the Archive I roamed around Asia and recorded musicians in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, The Philippines. and Indonesia. Three CDs of my work were released and I wrote and lectured on disappearing music. I did my last recordings on the eve of the tsunami a decade ago in Sumatra. Many of the musical traditions – from the Andaman Islands to the Hindu Kush – have since disappeared. All my recordings remain with the archive and I hope there is some way to save all this invaluable collective memory.

Now The British Library has started a campaign to find funding to save its vast archive of historical sounds, and its a race against time as many old recordings are deteriorating and need to be digitized. Read more in The Daily Telegraph.

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Welcome to the 3rd Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir on January 8th

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Not sure of the line-up yet, but there’s a third Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir happening on January 8th and Jame DiBiasio, author of Gaijin Cowgirl, has been confirmed. I will be reading something too.

Looking forward to a rare literary event in the Thai capital. Hats off to writer/organizer James Newman.

Wonderful book launch for Cambodia: Journey through the Land of the Khmer in Phnom Penh

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Enjoyed the book launch for Cambodia: Journey through the Land of the Khmer with photographer Kraig Lieb.

I participated in a panel on travel writing with Lonely Planet authors Greg Bloom and Nick Ray in front of an animated audience at Meta House in Phnom Penh. Thanks to everyone for turning up.

Photo by Hans Kemp.

Happy New Year and thanks to all my Readers

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Cambodia: A Journey through the land of the Khmer – Book launch in Phnom Penh, December 8th

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