Tom Vater

Tom Vater

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

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

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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British Library holds a significant collection of Lao material – including unpublished recordings of remote populations by Tom Vater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 Among these are numerous unpublished recordings of remote populations of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand by Tom Vater.”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

Not easy rock ‘n’ roll — the saving of Srey Thy – in the Nikkei Asian Review

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TONIGHT on BBC Storyville – ROCKING CAMBODIA–RISE OF A POP DIVA, the incredible story of THE CAMBODIAN SPACE PROJECT & its singer Srey Thy.

Here’s my article on the film’s main protagonist Srey Thy and its director Marc Eberle in The Nikkei Asian Review today -  Not easy rock ‘n’ roll — the saving of Srey Thy.

The film, a BBC/ABC Australia co-production is an excellent look, both emotionally touching and visually exuberant, at Cambodia’s recent past and present seen through the rise and fall of Cambodian RocknRoll in the 1960s and its re-emergence in recent years, primarily driven by Cambodia based rock collective The Cambodian Space Project and its incredible singer Srey Thy.

Image created by Marc Eberle, Tim D. Huys and Julia Goschke.

Crime Wave Press launches brand new website – www.crimewavepress.com

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My crime fiction imprint Crime Wave Press has launched a new WEBSITE – www.crimewavepress.com with information on our killer titles and illustrious authors.

And we are about to publish our 18th title, Jonathan Kemp‘s A Nose for Trouble, A Scanner & Max Mystery.  Here’s the lowdown:

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.

Out on March 17th!!!

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 byCrime 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.

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

Shortly after the military coup in May 2014, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, coup leader and now Prime Minister of Thailand, published twelve values that he believes represent Thainess, which are recited by pupils in schools across the country each morning. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has picked up on the theme and its new 2015 Discover Thainess campaign launched with a parade in downtown Bangkok on Wednesday. As the centerpiece of this effort to revive a sagging tourist industry, TAT has announced a year-long global promotion campaign of twelve slightly off the beaten track cities and twelve new tourism routes.

Tourism has not fared well in 2014. TAT reported last week that visitor numbers were down 6.6 per cent on the previous year. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, minister of tourism and sports, attributes the drop in tourist arrivals to political unrest in the first half of last year, prior to the coup, and to the fall of the ruble, which has significantly reduced the number of Russian visitors.

But Thailand’s tourist industry has also been hit by safety concerns. The high profile murder of two British backpackers on the island of Ko Tao and its subsequent controversial police investigation coupled with insensitive comments about female tourists in bikinis by the Prime Minister was widely reported by the international press.

More recently, frequent incidences of police harassing foreigners in central Bangkok have created more critical headlines. Prime Minister Prayuth touched on the issue in his opening speech for 2015 Discover Thainess: “We want everyone to join hands and to help improve the country’s security.”

It’s not all bad news though. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported that Thailand was one of the top 10 global tourism destinations in 2012 and 2013. Mass tourism has been an economic mainstay in Thailand for three decades, and the country’s charm remains largely intact.

But there are new challenges facing Thailand’s tourist industry, not least from neighbouring countries. Cambodia, Laos and especially Burma are becoming ever more popular holiday alternatives.

Kobkarn acknowledges the increasing competition. “We are promoting new destinations because we have to diversify, especially due to the opening of new markets in ASEAN. The 12 cities and tourist routes project is an attempt to come up with fresh and exciting alternatives to the usual tourist hot spots like Ko Samui, Phuket and Chiang Mai.”

One such destination is Lampang, a small town south of Chiang Mai. Here, tourists can admire Lanna architecture, sample unique dishes, ride around in horse carriages and take part in meditation retreats.

Kobkarn also believes there are other, more long term strategies in place to revive the country’s image, starting with education. “Thailand’s biggest asset is its people and we need to teach young Thais to be proud and knowledgeable about their homeland, so they won’t forget their heritage and will be able to pass their culture on to visitors.”

Thainess indeed.

British Library launches campaign to save the sounds of history

Moken

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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