Writer on location: Samui

samuivilla 2My unpublished novel Bloody Paradise is set entirely on Koh Samui, the Thai resort island in the South China Sea. Whereas the Val Benson novels (Gaijin Cowgirl and the fingers-crossed-soon-to-be-published Cowgirl X) flirt with Thai settings, as she chases or is chased across borders, Bloody Paradise is set entirely on Samui.

The manuscript is currently with an agent in the US. It’s more noir than thriller. I have no idea of its commercial fate, but I’m returning to Samui next month so naturally I’m reminded of my tale of lust, murder, addiction and, uh, lions, actually.

Samui itself plays a central role in the story, especially a villa that serves as the fulcrum of action. The villa and its surroundings are a copy of an actual place I’ve stayed at, twice.

The villa and environs were more than just a setting: they were my muse. Continue reading “Writer on location: Samui”

Popular Hits of the Showa Era

getimage26-666x1024Ryu Murakami is subversive by any standard but the target of his bile has always been his native Japan: the mindless Japan of piped music, fussing over pointless tasks, the ritualization of social life, pusillanimity in the face of the unexpected, politeness in the face of outrage.

He is also, by the way, extremely funny.

His novel “Popular Hits of the Showa Era” came out in 1994. Its story involves first a group of hapless men in their late 20s who have come together for no purpose other than, perhaps, the fact that no one else could possibly ever bother with them. They are energized by witnessing a woman with an unbelievable body strip naked in a nearby building, to the point that one of them harasses a woman in a park – and when she tells him off, slashes her neck with a knife. This act stirs the men into something like consciousness. They are excited for the first time in their lives. Continue reading “Popular Hits of the Showa Era”

My two crypto-cents

Blogger Kevin Cummings requested a post on whether I recommend buying Bitcoin at $210.

I don’t offer financial advice. I am not qualified to do so, and if I were, I’d charge for the service.

But it is an interesting topic. Digital currency today might be like what the Internet was in the 1980s: for geeks only, unwieldy, difficult, non-intuitive, but quietly evolving into something that becomes universally accepted.

The specific crypto-currency of Bitcoin, unleashed by “Satomi Nakamoto”, is not going to be that universal product. It is too volatile, too tainted by association with illegal or immoral transactions, too suspect by governments and too difficult for most businesses and individuals to use. Continue reading “My two crypto-cents”

Il n’y a pas Charlie Hebdo ici

Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod)

Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod)

Noir fiction follows a cynical protagonist – in the hardboiled genre, a detective, but otherwise a loser but one who maintains a certain integrity while pursuing (or being pursued by) a criminal organization or conspiracy within a legal or social system that is just as corrupt as the bad guys.

I flew to Bangkok to read at an informal literary party called Night of Noir, organized by local expat writers and held at a bar in the middle of one of the city’s prominent sex-trade neighborhoods. The event coincided with the terrible murders of editors, writers and cartoonists at Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic fundamentalists. Continue reading “Il n’y a pas Charlie Hebdo ici”

Night of Noir

I’m flying to Bangkok tomorrow to participate in “Night of Noir”. A bunch of guys are reading from their works of crime fiction at a bar off Sukhumvit. Opinion is divided as to whether this will be brilliant or crashingly terrible.

But the single privilege bestowed upon most writers is to occasionally get to do something only because you are one.

Tom Vater, my publisher and a fellow author, had invited me to participate in last year’s gig, but I couldn’t make it. That evening had featured John Burdett of “Bangkok 8″ fame, who is the Bangkok literary scene’s most internationally prominent and talented writer. Unfortunately he won’t be at this year’s Night of Noir. Continue reading “Night of Noir”

Kyushu, part 3 of 3: traditional Japan

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The island of Kyushu is no longer active as Japan’s gateway to Asia. Even as a port it is now dwarfed by Tokyo. Therefore it no longer plays the role of distiller of foreign ideas, technology and culture. For foreigners it is obscure. It seems to me, however, that Kyushu has become a bastion of tradition, rather than the progenitor of the new. Continue reading “Kyushu, part 3 of 3: traditional Japan”

Kyushu, part 2 of 3: whisky and war


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Tenjin, the administrative side of modern Fukuoka city, also competes with Hakata ward as a shopping and restaurant Mecca. It is in Tenjin that we found Bar Kitchen, a whisky bar recommended to me by Clint Anesbury. Clint’s blog, Whiskies R Us, is dedicated to the Japanese dram. You can see Clint’s post to learn more about it and its owner-manager, Tomoyuki Oka.

In terms of atmosphere, Bar Kitchen is a little cold. It’s bigger than your typical Japanese whisky dive, and Oka-san prefers Scottish/Gaelic pipes to American jazz. I guess it gets him in the mood. But in terms of selection, Bar Kitchen is hard to beat. Continue reading “Kyushu, part 2 of 3: whisky and war”

Kyushu, part 1 of 3: gateway to Asia

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Unknown to most foreigners, even to regular visitors to the country, Kyushu is Japan’s third-largest island and the southernmost big one. It has played a colorful role in history as the conduit between Japan and the Asian mainland.

photo 1Trade, Buddhism, cuisine, and foreign relations (and armies) traveled back and forth via Kyushu. Fukuoka, the main city on the island, is much closer to Korea than it is to Osaka, let alone Tokyo.

It is traditionally a fractious place, divided among nine fiefdoms throughout its history ruled by clans that continually resisted subordination into greater Japan. Clans such as those from Satsuma province, geographically the furthest from the capital at Edo during the Tokugawa medieval period, ruled in quasi-independence for centuries. Continue reading “Kyushu, part 1 of 3: gateway to Asia”

Laughing Kim to the grave


I would love to see evidence of American payback against the Kim Jong-un regime for its cyber-terrorism. The scale and sheer malevolence of its attack on Sony would seem to demand a response. The ability of a horrible mafia-led government, or by anyone, to cow movie theaters into canning a screening of a movie should anger everyone. Free expression and economic liberty worldwide are under direct threat.

Yet the options available to the US are limited. A like-for-like retaliation, by say shutting down North Korean infrastructure or government websites, would only invite counterstrikes. Those could be dangerous. It’s also likely that a brutal cyber attack against North Korea would harm its citizens but not the Kims. There is little upside to widening the conflict, which could also suck in China, Japan and South Korea, but plenty of risk. Continue reading “Laughing Kim to the grave”

Occupy’s long march

Today, December 11, Hong Kong police are clearing the sites of Occupy Central, the original name for the aim of pro-democracy activists that surprised everyone by morphing into a decentralized but disciplined student movement.

Sunday, September 28, the police galvanized the budding street closures into a full-blown confrontation with an ill-judged resort to tear gas and batons. People filled the streets with umbrellas. But not in sufficient numbers. The following Wednesday and Thursday were public holidays but the working masses mostly stayed at home.

That was evidence that the well-behaved students enjoyed broad but weak support. Over time, once the government realized it was better off the less it did and said, the movement inevitably ran out of steam.

For a while it was a beautiful thing. The movement created a new kind of space amid the skyscrapers, not just the physical landscape of tents, makeshift study spaces, umbrellas and utopian-sounding banners, but of the mind. Continue reading “Occupy’s long march”