Your book, Bangkok People, enjoyed a lot of commercial success in Thailand. What was it about this book that made it so attractive to readers? When writing it, did you have a hunch that you were writing something special?
I knew I had a book when I went on [a] fitness and weight loss regime and had a lot of time on my hands. I made a scrapbook of the 174 stories I had written for Manager Magazine and saw that the profiles were very good--good enough for a book that appealed greatly to people living in Bangkok. The people profiled were two thirds Thai, one third ex-pat, and covered a vast range of high and low occupations.
You have travelled and worked in many places around the world. What was the most challenging situation you have ever found yourself in? Do experiences like these help generate ideas for writing creative stories?
My literary philosophy has been to wait for a disaster to happen to me and then write about it. Covering the election riots in Phnon Penh was kind of challenging; sailing a boat for 2000 miles in the South China Sea was [challenging] too, [as well as] motorcycling across Africa. Always stay a moving target and don't let the weasels get you down. My recent three years in Abu Dhabi was mostly a waste, but everywhere else--Sierra Leone, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia--has been great.
Most of your books seem to be based on your personal experiences. How much of your novels are actually fiction and what percent would you say are true? Do you see yourself as a historical fiction author or strictly a writer of fiction?
All my books are based on personal experiences. In terms of fiction, as you plunge on into a second and third and fourth draft, you realize that you can lie and more and more fiction creeps into the tale. Conversely, in my true-life humour stories, I do not owe the reader the complete truth, only a good laugh. My motto is: "What is the fragile flower of truth, before the onrushing steamroller of a good story? You squash the sucker flat." Or as William Faulkner said: "An artist has a vision he will do anything to bring it to life. He will walk over his grandmother if he has to. The 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies."