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Interview!

Book writer Jake Needham, Bangkok

Big_Mango_FINAL.jpg (110530 Byte)

Jake Needham, the Book writer of "Big Mango" and "Tea money"   

Tea_Money_FINAL.jpg (205313 Byte)


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Jake:
I'm on my way back to Bangkok from LA right now. Actually, believe it or not, at this very moment, according to the flat-panel TV screen at the foot of my seat, I'm at 39,000 feet just south of the Aleutian Islands, about six hours out of LA and five hours away from Tokyo. I'm on a Singapore Airlines 747 today on which SQ is testing an in-flight system which provides continuous in-flight access to the internet and all your email accounts. They've even given me a power adapter so I can plug my laptop into the power outlet at the seat instead of running off the battery and waiting for the damned thing to run out.

Norbert:
How many years have you lived in Bangkok and in which district do you live? 

Jake:
Aey I were married almost ten years ago and weíve maintained an apartment in Bangkok since then --- although we actually lived a fair amount of the time in California and Hawaii since Iíd been writing for film and television since the mid-80ís and needed to be nearer to the States when I was still doing a lot of it. When our youngest son went into the first grade, however, we decided we wanted him to go to school in Bangkok, so we bought a large duplex apartment and remodeled it into a permanent family home. Itís off Sukhumvit Road, out near Soi Thonglor

Norbert:
A lot of people hate Bangkok because of the JRN  Aey.jpg (39094 Byte) traffic, the smog and so on. What is your kind of view about Bangkok: do you love, or do you hate it?

Jake:
Foreigners living in Bangkok do seem to have this almost unnatural emotional relationship with the city, itís true. Iíve written about San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, and London and have never heard a peep out of anyone as to what they thought about the things I said concerning those cities. But Bangkok is a different deal entirely. Would you believe I get a fair bit of hate mail as a result of my novels? A couple of people have written me that since I obviously detest Thailand I ought to go back where I came from; another said I must be just another of those dim-witted foreigners whoís been in Thailand only a couple of times but thinks he knows everything; one told me it was stupid for me to write about things that I knew nothing about and that I make so many factual errors that everything I write is just a lot of rubbish. Of course, I also get a lot of letters saying how my books make people miss the city, or love it more, or something like that because the portrait I draw of Bangkok is so overflowing with affection. So go figure. Itís clear that Bangkok seems to engage a lot of people on some genuinely emotional level, and that it pisses some of them off deeply whenever anyone says anything about the place that differs in even the slightest from their own personal perceptions. A remarkable number of foreigners here see themselves as the self-appointed guardians of Ďthe truth about Bangkok,í and they sneer loudly at anyone who sees things differently or who may have a different perception of the place. They swell up at you like youíd insulted their girlfriend. I donít get it. Really I donít. This is a great place to live for a lot of reasons, and Iím very fond of it, but I donít intend to marry it.

Norbert:
Nightlife: there is a lot in Bangkok. Could you tell us your favorite places to be (Restaurants, Bars, "Entertainment Plazas")?

Jake:
Philippeís in Sukhumvit 39 is the best French bistro east of Paris; the Pacific City Club on top of Pacific Place has one of the best all-around kitchens in Asia (itís a private club, so find a member to take you); the Greyhound Cafť in the Emporium is the best place in town for a simple but very good meal while watching how terminally-hip among young Thais pass their time; and the Bulls Head is the best of the pubs. I havenít been to Patpong in something like twenty years, and I probably average about an hour a year altogether at Nana and Soi Cowboy. On the other hand, Clinton Plaza has turned into a surprisingly good place for a beer on a sticky night. Itís got possibilities.

Norbert:
Do you prefer Thai or "non-Thai"-Food and what is your favorite meal???? And which is your favorite drink?

Jake:
Aey and I eat pretty much the same way here that we did in California, a bit of this and a bit of that. When we are home our cook does primarily Thai food. Since she is a very, very good cook, thatís fine with me. My usual drink is a
Tanqueray martini, but if weíre somewhere I donít know the bartender, I generally stick to HeinekenJRN individually.jpg (34112 Byte) or maybe a Compari and soda. Asking a Thai bartender you donít know to make an American martini can louse up your whole evening.

Norbert:
After all the years living in Bangkok, do you still go out to Patpong, Nana, Soi Cowboy or do you avoid this places?

Jake:
I really donít think about them much one way or another. Either Iíve grown up, or all that stuffís gotten old. Or maybe itís the other way around. I think a lot of people develop a certain myopia from looking at Thailand for way too long through the bottom of a beer bottle. All in all itís a pretty cheerless way to see this oddball little village we live in, and itís just not a very big part of my life.

Norbert:
As I know, you are used to drive your own car in Bangkok. This is real fascinating for me, because driving in Bangkok seems to be like a war. How is it possible to win this war??

Jake:
Easy. Hire someone to fight it for you. We have two household drivers and I leave the whole problem to them.

Norbert:
I like the "Skytrain" very much, but it seems, that the Thais don't accept the Skytrain as much as the owner wish. What could be the reasons for this behavior?

Jake:
Actually, everyone I know loves the Skytrain. Aey certainly prefers it to sitting in traffic, even with someone else driving, and she uses it frequently. I, on the other hand, would generally rather spend an extra few minutes in the back of the car reading the papers than slog up and down the steps to the Skytrain when itís either stinking hot or raining, and as you know, itís almost always one or the other in Bangkok. I think the overall ridership of the Skytrain is low principally because it covers only a very limited part of the city, and to be fair, itís the part of the city thatís home to most foreigners. There are an awful lot of Thais for whom the Skytrain just isnít much use.

Norbert:
Your novels, "The Big Mango" and "Tea Money," have been big bestsellers, I know. I am a German and a lot of the visitors of the Ibiza-Bangkok Web are Germans too. Will there be a translation in German language in the future?

Jake:
Yeah, Iíve been very happy with how well the books have sold. TEA MONEY is still on the bestseller list nearly six months after it was published. Weíve done Family group.jpg (49313 Byte) something like 20,000 copies of both books over the last year or so, and thatís just a huge number of books for the small market in which theyíve been distributed ---- way more than any other novels have ever sold here. Incidentally, Iíd absolutely love for the books to be translated into German, but I havenít yet heard from any German-language publishers asking to do it. Iíd be delighted to give a publisher permission to bring out German-language editions of both books. If you know of anyone who wants to, just ask them to email me at mail@jakeneedham.com and Iíll be happy to try and work something out.

Norbert:
How could interested people buy your novels?

Jake:
Iím happy to say that theyíre prominently displayed at bookstores, hotels, and airports all over Southeast Asia, and theyíre also sold by a number of the larger on-line booksellers such as:

at www.www.paddyfield.com

http://www.paddyfield.com.hk/?isbn=9748237462

http://www.paddyfield.com.hk/?isbn=9748237362

and at www.dcothai.com :

http://www.dcothai.com/books/bigmango.htm

http://www.dcothai.com/books/teamoney.htm

But if you still canít find them, send an email to the marketing director at Asia Books and sheíll get them to you. Her name is Rhian Owen, and her email address is Rhian@asiabooks-thailand.com.

Norbert:
Your wife is a very nice Thai-Lady. I think she and her kind of view (the "Thai-View") is a good support for your novels, is this correct?

Jake:
Too right it is. Aey is the greatest support that anyone could hope for, both personally and professionally. Whatís more, sheís quite prominent in her own right since she is the only Thai woman ever to graduate from TEA MONEY photo.jpg (1912302 Byte) Oxford and was a reasonably well known concert pianist, now prematurely retired. Being married to her has given me an insight into life here that most foreigners donít normally have.

Norbert:
As a writer, you sure don't write the whole day. Could you describe us a typical day of your life in Bangkok?

Jake:
Well, actually I do write most days, although not from dawn to dusk, of course. For example, Iím working on a new novel now which I expect to have done by the end of the summer. Then Iím also committed over the next couple of months to do a screenplay for a Thai movie and a treatment book (which is sort of like an extended outline of a screenplay) for a film version of THE BIG MANGO which is being done by an American production company. Itís usually like that, three or four projects being juggled at the same time. By eight every morning Iím normally in my study at home dealing with email as well as taking care of whatever personal business may be pending, and there always seems to be more of it than I can believe. When thatís done, I usually write without interruption for four to six hours on whatever project has pushed its way to the top of the pile that day, having lunch at my desk while I work. By mid-afternoon Iím pretty well burned out, so sometimes I play a little tennis or Aey and I might go to the gym together. Weíre out four or five nights a week as well. My wife is a bit of a socialite at heart, I guess, but donít tell her I said that. In Bangkok Iím principally recognized as the guy whoís married to Khun Aey.

Norbert:
This questions sounds stupid, but how do you write a book?? When you start writing a book, do you know the end of the story? And how much time does it take to write a book like "The Big Mango"?

Jake:
No, itís not a stupid question at all. Every writer goes about the writing process in an entirely different way, and people are often interested in the way a particular writer works. I tend to work in a fairly structured and disciplined fashion. Six hours or so a day, six days a week, for three or four months, and I usually end up with a first draft. I work fairly free form, not from an outline, so frequently the progress of the narrative takes me by surprise and thatís one thing that really pushes me forward. The second draft goes a little faster, usually six or eight weeks, then thereís a third draft which is really just a polish, so it goes very fast, never much more than a month. That adds up to about six or seven monthsThree monkeys.jpg (65663 Byte) from the first blank page to the final manuscript. After that, of course, thereís another three or four months of work with an editor to whip the manuscript into publishable shape, and then dealing with sales and promotional planning for the publication, so in round numbers, if you work very, very hard, you can do one novel a year. Thatís always my goal.

Norbert:
I know, such things are secrets, but....... we will not tell it to anybody, accept to the visitors of the Ibiza-Bangkok-Web. Could you tell us a little bit about your next project?

Jake:
Iím working on a novel set largely in Phuket. Itís about a prominent American fugitive who takes refuge there under the protection of some powerful Thais while the US Marshals plot to grab him and take him back to the States. Itíll be published sometime near the end of this year.  

Norbert:
You have seen a lot of places at this earth, what are your favorite places?

Jake:
Anywhere my wife and sons are. I know that sounds awfully corny, but it really is the truth.  

Norbert:
If you take some days for vacation, which is the place you and your wife choose for a nice vacation?

Jake:
I guess it doesnít sound very imaginative, but we mostly tend to head down to Phuket whenever we have the time. Itís a hard place to beat, and it only takes a couple of hours to get there. I have to make three or fours trips to the States every year, mostly in connection with film work, so I average about a month each year in New York and another couple of weeks in LA, God help me. Aey goes along whenever she can, but not always. Anyway, sometimes itís a vacation to me just not to have to travel too far.

Norbert:
Which places should every visitor to Bangkok visit and which should he avoid?

Jake:
Iím not much of a temple-and-museum guy myself, so I canít be of much help to you there. Whether Iím on the road myself, however, my favorite thing to do when I have some spare time is just to hit the streets in whatever city I happen to find myself. I walk out of the hotel, turn left, and let things develop from there. And as far as Iím concerned, Bangkok is the best city in the world for doing that kind of thing. The street life here is unlike any other place in the world. Itís incredibly rich, endlessly amazing, and completely safe. You can poke around anywhere you like in Bangkok anytime you want. What could be better than that?

Norbert:
For "Non-Thai-People", the thinking of Thai people normally looks strange. Yes means No, No sometimes means perhaps and sometimes (that is real strange) yes means yes. After all this years, you are living in BKK, do you understand the "Thai-Way Of Thinking"???

Jake:
Yeah, most of the time, and I love it. Life in Thailand is rooted in the art of creative ambiguity. The national motto seems to be mi pen rai, never mind. Who can resist that? Most everything about the way the Thai people live and behave is aimed at avoiding conflicts. Contrast that with almost anywhere in America, where sometimes it seems most people think the primary point of life is to have conflicts. Lord help us.
 

Norbert:
Because I think I never could learn it: could YOU speak / write / read the Thai-Language???

Jake:
Aey always told me that she thought I could do a lot of things more useful than learning Thai. After all, weíre not talking a particularly widely used language here, are we? I took her word for it and never undertook any formal training. Of course Iíve picked up a bit here and there, but Aey and the rest of her family graduated from English universities, so none of them care whether I speak a word of Thai or not. Also, my sons assure me that they donít think Iím stupid since I barely speak a language they can not only speak but read and write perfectly. So I guess itís no great loss.

Norbert:
Have you ever been at Ibiza/Spain ?

No, but if youíll get somebody to send me a couple of first class tickets, Iíll be willing to write a novel about it.

 

The Interview was made by Norbert in Mai 2001!

And here is the Link to Jake Needhams Website:

http://www.JakeNeedham.com

 


Publishing of the Pictures with Permission of Jake Needham.
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