ALFIE GOES TO THAILAND: An Interview with Writer James King

My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a  photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.

You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.

What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.

Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.”  (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”

due for release Oct-Nov 2019

In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife.  Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.

What was your inspiration for these stories?                                                       When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell.                                                                                                  Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)

What books, writers and other artists have influenced you?                 Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.

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Workers in a rice field photo by J King

Describe your writing environment

Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.

New rice

New rice field at sunset by J King

When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing?        That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.    

 

Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?

Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them.                                     My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.

 

Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph:  Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.

“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.

I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”

 

Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?                    I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.

What would you call your genre – why did you choose it?                           I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.

I agree.  I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.

I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names?                                    So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.

Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?

They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.

The Only Witness cover -JPGTo get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy.  I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!”    I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!

James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here:  Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666;      Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/;   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/

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Sanity and Serenity in a Selfish World

Each day after reading or listening to the news I want to jump on my blog and rant. I’ve restrained myself, but maybe the world situation is why I’ve been remiss blogging this year (– or maybe that just an excuse). To gain some serenity I’ve been studying Buddhism recently and this is what I’ve gleaned.

Buddhism is not a religion, but interfaith and a spiritual lifestyle. You can start anywhere to understand this way of life, but there are principles to guide ones path and open our outlook:

• Your thoughts, conscious conduct (do the right thing) and speech (how often do we speak ill of someone?) are key
Suffering is part of life, but needless suffering comes from dwelling on it (especially when it is over or out of our control)

Karma – moral cause and effect.
Meditation, which is the attraction for many to Buddhism. I was never very good at this, but I do practice Tai Chi especially when stressed – that counts doesn’t it? In the same vein, is mindfulness.

Who remembers the book “Be Here Now” from the 70s? That book made me realize I was often living in the past or worrying about the future. Be Here Now is essentially mindfulness and reminded me to stop and be with my children in the moment.

Everything is connected. John Muir  came by this on his own with the environmental movement: When one tries to tug at a single thing in nature, we find it is attached to everything else in the Universe.”

“…in every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”                         The Iroquois Confederacy

Going back to the interconnectedness of religions, most teach values such as human dignity, equality, freedom, and peace and encourage the faithful to act with empathy to others. There are many prophets who have said similar things, like the “Peace that passeth understanding” which relates to meditation and prayer and is akin to Nirvana…and the Golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a common theme.  We turn to systems of beliefs that provide a more meaningful world.

Treat others with compassion and generosity. Avoid “toxins” like greed, ignorance and ill will.           Mahatma Gandhi said There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

Accept Change: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap…” from the biblical book Ecclesiastes; turned into song by Pete Seeger who ended with “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late” (later adapted by The Byrds) https://www.youtube.com/watch

Buddhism doesn’t have many ceremonies, but I read about a Tibetan center in Colorado with a rite-of-passage where parents and children face each other, bow, and vow to be kind to themselves, to each other and all beings. Isn’t that lovely?

Venezuelan Refugees – a ray of light

In a humanitarian gesture, Colombia is giving citizenship to more than 24,000 babies of Venezuelan refugees born in the country, who would otherwise be undocumented. “To those who want to use xenophobia for political goals, we take the path of fraternity,” said  President Iván Duque.  This in spite of the strain on the country’s resources.

 

Fleeing food shortages, blackouts and hyperinflation caused by Venezuela’s catastrophic economic collapse.

Nearly 4 million Venezuelans have fled economic and political turmoil in their country. Americans hear more about the refugee crisis at the US-Mexican border, but thousands cross the Venezuelan-Colombian border every day. They flee food shortages, blackouts and hyperinflation caused by the country’s catastrophic economic collapse.

This picture below is from a Cornish family’s year long sojourn in Colombia where many Venezuelans have found refuge.  Some enterprising soul has found a way to make a peso.….. making them into purses and wallets to sell!

“With inflation running at over 1,000,000%  Venezuelan bank notes are worthless….. Sad, but resourceful.”  See their blog : https://brierleysouthamericanadventure.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/visits-and-venezuelans/comment-page-1/?unapproved=145&moderation-hash=6be59317727dd3e01958da9fc25a4543#comment-145

Black History Month: A starter reading list

Black History Month began in 1926 as a way for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It still pays tribute to those who struggle(d) against unfairness and adversity. It is celebrated in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. February was chosen as the birthday month of two men who greatly influenced the black American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Also in February, 1870 black citizens were granted the right to vote (at least legally) in the US; in February 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded and Rosa Parks was also born in February (1913). For more information go to https://asalh.org/


Below is a short list of some books by or about people of African descent that I have enjoyed. They reflect multiple themes and genres and are in no particular order.

41SKsBaGXRL._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_I know Why the Caged Bird Sings –  
a wondrous memoir by Maya Angelou  

 

Dreams from my Father:

A story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama

 

 

AmericanMarriage     An American Marriage by Tayari Jones –the sad tale of a black man sent to prison and of lives ripped apart

 

I loved this book

The Help by Kathryn Stockett shopping-1

(and the movie too) set in Mississippi in the 1960’s

ThingsFallApart      Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – great literature about pre-colonial life in Nigeria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ColorPurple             The Color Purple by Alice Walker – a very moving novel set the 1930’s

 

Hidden_Figures_book_cover      Hidden Figures by Lee Shetterly– about four black women and the space race (and yes – also a good movie!).

 

On My To Read LIST:

414JfiBCutL Becoming – a memoir by the inspirational Michelle Obama (on most every one’s list!)

 

frederick-douglass-9781416590316_lg    Frederick Douglass by David Blight, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

Contra Costa County Libraries also has a list of recommendations along the lines of Black Migrations: go to https://guides.ccclib.org/blackhistorymonth
There are so many more. Please add your own favorites in the comments below for others to enjoy.

My Year in Books 2018 (Part II)

Last week I reviewed four entertaining novels: The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Secrets of a Charmed Life, Honolulu and A Dog’s Purpose. Below I include some more worthy books with brief descriptions.

I’m not a big reader of nonfiction and have been disappointed in some of those with high reviews (but that’s just me). One worth mentioning however is Thailand in Perspective by James King. King is an entertaining writer who lives in Thailand and has written a trilogy of these books including: 15 weeks (Vol. 1 – free on Kindle) and Driving Thailand (Vol.2). I’ve never been there, but his writing makes me want to go. Even if you are not planning a visit this is good travel-armchair reading.

Other Novels I enjoyed last year are:

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks –a compelling story about a missionary’s daughter and a Native American student at Harvard – one constrained by his skin the other by her sex. Moving and at times triumphant; set in mid 1600’s.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A charming and wise little fable. A shepherd boy travels through Spain and northern Africa in search of treasure and finds simple truths.

Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah – written in present tense, about a dysfunctional family, and in past tense is the haunting saga of WWII Leningrad. Two sisters come to understand their dynamics in a satisfying conclusion.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – Enjoy the plot and the writing, full of symbolism – look for the flowers, birds and all the “opposites.” The story, set in St. Thomas, is about artist Pissarro’s extraordinary family life.

shopping

A Gentleman in Moscow – To be honest I had trouble getting through this highly acclaimed book. Amor Towles’ fans will be appalled I know, but here’s why: it is long with no page-turning plot. That said, Towles is a literary writer and I appreciated the fine writing about post-revolutionary Russia.

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Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. Unusual story about strangers who band together, to escape the Black Plague wreaking havoc in a bleak, muddy landscape. The pilgrims have been compared to the Canterbury Tales, also set in the14thcentury, each has a secret. Slow but worthwhile with a surprise ending.

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is also good. A novel about two families and how each member’s life is changed by an affair between two of the parents. Bel Canto is still my favorite Patchett book.

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A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Kline, based on the real story of Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth . I think those interested in art will like it. Orphan Train is my favorite book by her, but many would disagree with me.

Have you read any of these books?  Do you have others to recommend?

From Rainy UK to Chile

I discovered ExPat Magazine interviews expats just like I do – so … “Meet Nina, serial expat who been living out of a suitcase since she was 18. With a background in luxury travel, she was thrilled at the opportunity to move to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Chile.” She says the weather in the capitol, Santiago, is fabulous!

worldtravel guide

photo from worldtravelguide.net

 

Chile occupies a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean so the climate ranges from dry desert, Mediterranean, to snow capped peaks and glaciers. The arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile is famous for beautiful green rocks full of copper. The population and agricultural resources are concentrated in the central area with its mild Mediterranean climate. Southern Chile is scenic with forests, volcanoes and lakes and the coast is a labyrinth of fjords, peninsulas, and islands.

Nina was interviewed on her experiences and answers practical questions on expat life in Santiago and beyond:

“My name’s Nina, and I’m from the UK. I moved to Chile with my family in January 2018.”

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photo: Expat.com

 

“Prior to this, my husband was working in Nigeria, and the original plan was to meet up there. However I was pregnant, and with two kids already we weren’t sure our situation in Nigeria was going to work for us, so we switched to Chile. Right now I’m blogging and enjoying getting to know this fabulous country. My background is public relations for luxury brands and I’m working as a freelance writer and blogger.”

See the interview and check out the expat blog (full of practical tips about living abroad): https://www.expat.com/en/expat-mag/2318-a-british-expat-in-chili.html

 

 

Centennial of World War I 1914-1918 – Effects on Personal Lives

This does not fall under the usual themes for this blog but, I’m writing to honor those who fought in WWI because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the end. All wars are horrible, but what brought it to life for me were the highly acclaimed Australian movie Gallipoli (back in the 1980’s), the novel Birdsong and discovering my own grandfather’s brother had been killed in France shortly after his 19th birthday.

clipping Earl died WWI

 

 

 

My great uncle Earl – one of the millions of young men who never got to marry or enjoy his youth – or the life he should have had. He left no direct descendants – he has only us to preserve his memory. (Wouldn’t he be surprised to know people would be reading about him 100 yrs. later?) I might have met him in my own youth if he’d lived.

Many puzzle still as to why all the  world’s great economic powers were drawn into this war over an assassination. But the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was just the trigger. Once the Austro- Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, the international alliances (pledged to defend each other) fell into place like a line of dominos.

Once I happened by chance, to be walking through the countryside near the German-French border and I noticed a long, straight ditch that was grown over and partially filled in. With a jolt I realized it was a World War I trench.  On that spot, and in the whole area, so many young men died on both sides.  I will never forget the eerie sensation – more disconcerting than any other grave site – it was hallowed ground.  It began to thunder and I could almost imagine the fear of hearing the shells overhead.

 

canadian-soldiers-going-over-trench

Canadian soldiers going over a trench.

 

Sebastian Faulks’ novel, Birdsong, introduced me to a wonderful writer – and the incalculable suffering during WW I. It starts out with a love story in Amiens, France where Stephen, the English protagonist, will return to fight – and a surreal existence in the trenches. From there we see lives ruined even among the survivors.

 

In spite of the horrors, it is a magnificent book.  After years on the bombed out fields destroyed of all vegetation, Stephen marvels  to hear the songs of birds again, when the war is finally over.  I also don’t normally read books about war with many battle scenes, but once I started reading this one, I couldn’t put it down.

Constant fear, noise, mud, barbed wire, cold with no end in sight was the daily fare for men who lived in the damp trenches, which occasionally flooded. Men died on the battlefield but many, who would have lived with modern medicine, died of their wounds from delayed treatment and gangrene.  After a year or more, the men felt forgotten and sacrificed; enlisted men hardly ever got much leave (although officially they were due a week every four months). They were in bitter despair at best, crazed at worse. Almost all entered an altered mental state of numbness.

Gallipoli, a narrow peninsula in northwestern Turkey was the site of the disastrous defeat of the allies, due to poor planning, leadership and insufficient artillery.

owen.cholerton.oghttp://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/introduction

The campaign is often considered as marking the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, where many felt the ANZAC soldiers had been used as “cannon fodder.”  Allegiance to the British Empire was now questioned –- this occurred in Canada as well.   Most of the surviving soldiers were then sent to the nightmare in France.

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Aussie recruiting poster needs no comment.

 

 

Another recruiting poster showed  a man in uniform with a beauty on  either arm.  Thus were patriotic    young men lured into the war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in New Zealand in the 1980’s made me aware of the part the “colonials” played. I learned that 40% of the New Zealand troops were wounded and 19% never came home. The experience of Premier Seddon’s three sons was typical: Richard was killed in France; Thomas decorated for bravery, returned and became a Member of Parliament; the  Stuart spent the rest of his life in psychiatric care as a result of the trauma.  20% of the  men had serious health or mental problems and many more “could not or would not relate their experiences – it was so hellish in relation to civilian life they could not explain it.”

Driving through the country, one is struck by hundreds of war memorials, found in towns small and large they reflect the communal grieving and the profound effect these casualties had.

Dedication_of_National_War_Memorial_Carillon,_Wellington

Dedication of National War Memorial Carillon, Wellington, New Zealand 1932

 

Inglewood war-memorial

 

The USA entered the war in 1917, when spies discovered a message from Germany to the Mexican government, promising them Texas and New Mexico if they sided with Germany in the war. When the Americans arrived they brought fresh hope to the allied troops. In France they were welcomed with open arms; too young to drink at home they developed a taste for French wine, while the French developed a taste for jazz, thanks to the African-American troops.

Unclesamby cafepress

This is the original Uncle Sam recruiting poster. (Cafepress.org)

 

(If you’ve been following me for a time this post may look familiar. I am republishing for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI for Veterans Day)

In Flanders Fields (excerpt)
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

                   In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,                                                                          between the crosses row on row….
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields…(where poppies grow).

Have books, movies or some personal experience made a war seem more real than the history books to you?