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.”
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.
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.
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.
To 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/