Tom Vater

Tom Vater

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

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Thailand’s Unspoilt Islands in The Daily Telegraph


Thailand’s unspoilt islands: Paradise mapped

Looking for the perfect beach in Thailand? Tom Vater, our local expert, reveals his favourite island secrets…

Read the full text here.

Or check out this wonderful photo series presenting Thailand’s most sumptuous and low key hideaways.


Crime Wave Press publish first YA title – The Murder Boys by John B Bliss

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Crime Wave Press have published their first Young Adult crime novel – The  Murder Boys. I had a lot of fun editing this gripping and touching story that took place during an English summer almost four decades ago.

“It will stay with you for life boy. Either way you’ll pay for it in your soul, but it’s up to you if you want to pay for it with your time too.”
1977, a scorching summer day in England. Teenage misfits Richard and Ali throw their cruel gang leader Blakes into a canal. Scared of the repercussions, they go on the run, pursued by the police as well as a dangerous ex-cop with unsound motives.
The road less traveled throws up both obstacles and solutions. As Rich and Ali discover what it means to carry the guilt of a killing around their necks, they are helped by an alcoholic cowboy, an anarchist band of travelers and a long lost father. This classic coming of age murder mystery is about growing up and staying young.

Read an interview with author John B Bliss here.

Dans Katmandou en deuil – Reporting from Nepal for Mediapart with Laure Siegel


Ces journalistes, d’ordinaire basés à Bangkok, étaient à Katmandou au Népal, ce samedi 25 avril 2015, lorsque la terre a tremblé. Le séisme, le plus grave depuis 1934, a coûté la vie à plus de 5 500 personnes et le bilan n’est pas définitif. Des dizaines de milliers de familles sont à la rue, le pauvre réseau d’infrastructures a été gravement endommagé, les survivants, affamés et assoiffés, reprochent au gouvernement son inaction et la situation politique instable du pays risque à tout moment d’exploser. Retour sur quatre jours de deuil et d’attente dans la capitale.

Reporting on the hours following the Nepal earthquake in  the French online publication Mediapart.

My story on the Nepal earthquake for The Daily Telegraph: What does the future hold for tourism?


Holidaymakers in Nepal were helping dig locals out of the rubble in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake.

Tom Vater assesses the damage to the country’s tourist industry.

Read the full story in The Daily Telegraph today.

Kathmandu – A City in Shock in The Nikkei Asian Review


Numerous aftershocks wracked Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and surrounding regions into Monday, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region Saturday afternoon, killing more than 3,700 people and injuring at least 6,500. Many more people have been left homeless, while others are camping in the streets for fear that aftershocks could hit their residences….

Read the full story at the Nikkei Asian Review.

Trembling Kathmandu – my on the ground view in The Nikkei Aisan Review


My on the ground view of the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Better late than never – my guide to Thai New Year in The Daily Telegraph


I was away in the Himalayas for most of this month and missed Thai New Year – Songkran which took place from 13thto 16th April.

I did however, just prior to leaving, put together a guide to the festivities in The Daily Telegraph, so here. belatedly, is my run down and if you are researching Thai New Year for 2016, this might come in handy.

Read my Songkran guide here.

Crime Wave Press in The South China Morning Post


Ysabelle Cheung reports on my publishing imprint Crime Wave Press this week. My friend and partner in crime Hans Kemp provides the clues to the scene of the crime. Read the full article here..

It’s always too late for someone.” That’s the enigmatic tagline of Hong Kong-based Crime Wave Press, a two-and-a-half-year-old publishing company with a wicked hunger for crime fiction. Founded in 2012 by publisher and photographer Hans Kemp and writer Tom Vater, the press churns out all manner of grisly, quirky and full-throttle murder mysteries, from hard-boiled to noir and “cozies” – community-set stories in which violence and sex is downplayed.

Although the two nomads met while travelling in Pakistan, it was many years and a collaborated illustrated book – Sacred Skin, Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos – later that they began to consider launching their own press focusing on crime fiction. Both permanently based in Thailand, they found Hong Kong – a frequent pit stop in their freelance lives – the perfect nexus between business and culture, the West and the East. And so Crime Wave Press was born in the city.

“We were just sitting together one day, talking about [Tom's] first crime story set in London and Cambodia, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. It’s about a drug deal that went bad. He said he hadn’t found a publisher yet and I said: ‘Well, I don’t know fiction publishing very well, but I do know publishing’,” says Kemp.

Before starting Crime Wave Press, the Dutch-born photographer had self-published several illustrated and photography books. His 2003 book Bikes of Burden features motorbike drivers in Vietnam, some almost toppling over with strapped boxes and bags.

Nowadays it’s possible to publish without impressing a huge amount of overhead costs

The press started small, first with Vater’s crime story, then later with manuscripts chosen from unsolicited submissions. They now have 16 titles under their belt and take about one out of every 10 manuscripts that are submitted by writers across the globe. Although the duo initially were looking for crime stories set in Asia, they soon had to widen their pool because of the dearth of such stories.

“We thought stories set in Asia was more niche, but there just wasn’t enough material coming in,” says Kemp. “And it has to be written in English as we can’t translate yet. But half our titles are still set in Asia and we have authors across the world.”

Their books include Gaijin Cowgirl (written by Hong Kong-based Jame DiBiasio), featuring a time-travelling heroine on a dangerous treasure hunt, yakuza mobsters and painted genitals, and a pulp series whose protagonist is a Buddhist monk pulled back to his former duties of ghost detective.

Vater’s background as a journalist and editor comes in handy when polishing manuscripts, and Kemp’s visual eye for detail oversees the design component of the books and website, although both put equal effort into the small start-up – “a real labour of love”, says Kemp.

Crime Wave Press also operates with a unique strategy where a book is only printed if a customer buys it – a model called print-on-demand. Traditional, huge publishing houses usually order paperback copies in the thousands. However, Kemp says this way he and Vater can manage the production without going out of business, and more and more small publishing houses are starting to operate this way as well. “The publishing world is always changing. Nowadays it’s possible to publish without incurring a huge amount of overhead costs,” he says. “We’re not making much money – yet – but we really feel there’s potential here.”

With authors self-publishing their works also on the rise, Kemp is aware of the many routes writers can take in getting their work to the readers. “Self-publishing is totally possible, but you’re always the worst judge of your work, I feel,” he says. “You might need someone external to direct you and guide you.”

Kemp says that with Crime Wave Press, the relationship between the publisher and writer is a priority, something that might not be the case at a larger, traditional house where a writer is one of hundreds – plus, he and Vater favour meaty, intriguing stories over profit.

“We do publish stories that are slightly weirder that we know might not sell a lot of copies, but we do that because we like them and they’re well-written,” Kemp says.

The market for literature is undeniably tough – especially in Hong Kong, with the Dymocks bookstores closing recently and a start-and-stop culture when it comes to books. However, Kemp and Vater are persistent in their mission and regularly nose out Asia’s prominent literary festivals.

The submissions page on Crime Wave Press’ website states they’re looking for manuscripts (completed) between 20,000 and 90,000 words, and the deadline is rolling. They’re eager to publish the next best crime fiction writer. Could it be you?


A Nose for Trouble – a new Asia set thriller out with Crime Wave Press


Hans Kemp, my partner in crime at Crime Wave Press, Asia’s crime fiction imprint, has written his first novel, A Nose for Trouble, out this week.

After responding to a richly scented plea for help Chicago PI Scanner Grant teams up with the charismatic Max Zwoelstra to travel to Hong Kong in search of Max’s adoptive father who has disappeared while selling cheese to the Chinese.
Closer to home, a slew of abductions and the gruesome murder of a young Tibetan girl severely rattle Scanner’s old friend and guardian, the esoteric taxi driver Lobsang.
As both seemingly unrelated cases edge closer to an explosive finale, Scanner & Max need all the help they can muster while they confront a Nazi scientist, a battle scarred Vietnamese pimp, an over the hill Aussie punter and a morbid Japanese priest.
The long hidden secrets they unravel along the way are bound to change their lives forever.

Hans, who writes as Jonathan Kemp is working on a second Scanner and Max Mystery.

Here’s an interview by Paul D. Brazill with Hans on his debut.

British Library holds a significant collection of Lao material – including unpublished recordings of remote populations by Tom Vater

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Hmong Lao Khaen player in Vientiane 2001

The British Library holds a small but significant collection of Lao material, consisting of manuscripts, rare printed books, periodicals and post cards, mainly acquired after 1973. However, the oldest items in Lao language date back to the 19th century. The earliest book about Laos is in Italian and was published in 1663. …. Among these are numerous unpublished recordings of remote populations of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand by Tom Vater.”

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Hmong Musician in Ponsavan, Hmong New Year, 2001

Very happy to have some of the recordings of indigenous people I made in the 90s as part of the Lao collection at The British Library..

In fact, 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 great 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. Three CDs of my work were released and I lectured on disappearing music. I did my last recordings on the eve of the tsunami a decade ago in Sumatra. All my recordings remain with the archive and I hope there is some way to save all this invaluable collective memory.

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Young Hmong woman in traditional clothes singing, Ponsavan, Hmong New Year, 2001