Thailand Personality Interviews January 1st, 2001

Christopher G Moore


Interview: CHRISTOPHER G MOORE



Christopher G. Moore, a Bangkok based Canadian author, is well-known in Asia for his fourteen novels – most of which are set in South East Asia. He has also published one non-fiction book titled Heart Talk which provides explanations of some of the romantic expressions used in the Thai language. In this interview, Chris answers some questions about himself as an author and about his fictional works. Chris's website can be found at www.cgmoore.com where you can find out more about the author, his books and even order any of his books online.

When did you first go to Thailand and since then, how much time have you spent there?

I first arrived in Bangkok in 1983. This was a brief stay amounting to two weeks. I had a friend who had been studying in Thailand. I returned in 1988 and have lived in Bangkok since that time.

How many books have you written and how many of them are set in Thailand?

I've written fifteen books. All but one are fiction. The Calvino private eye series with six novels is set largely in Thailand. Cut Out was set mostly in Cambodia during the period UNTAC forces were stationed in Cambodia and I covered the operation as a foreign correspondent. Also Comfort Zone is set mostly in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where I spent time about six weeks a year from 1990 to 1995. The Land of Smiles series consistent of five books: A Killing Smile, A Bewitching Smile, A Haunting Smile, God of Darkness and Chairs. All five books are set in Thailand.

Of the books that you have written, what is your favourite book and why?

A Haunting Smile and Chairs are perhaps my favourite books. The structure of each book is quite different from anything I had done before or had seen others attempt. Writing a book is like planning a large city, where there are all kinds of hard choices to make about design, function, utility. Characters are formed inside such a structure. In a Haunting Smile, there are many inter-connected stories that fold time and place, including history, like an Escher drawing, the one with the tadpoles endlessly turning into frogs. And in Chairs, a series of short stories re-creates the community of freelance journalists living and working in Southeast Asia. I also have considerable affection for God of Darkness where I trace the aftermath of the economic collapse in 1997 on a young expat who was living in a Thai-Chinese family compound.

Being based in Thailand, does this make your job as a novelist easier, more difficult, or is it neither here nor there?

It is helpful being close to the experiences one wishes to write about. One reason there are so many bad novels about Thailand is they are written by authors who have only a casual understanding of Thai culture or the expat communities in Thailand. For many readers it is important that the author get the details right. There is nothing as disconcerting as factual mistakes. Those who live in Bangkok pick them up immediately. If you have the body snatchers loading a corpse into a body bag, you know the author didn’t do his or her homework as they use sheet and not body bags. One reason I have developed a readership is that people can go to the places that appear in the book and confirm, yes there is a short-time hotel on that soi.

Most people that I know who have you read some or all of your books claim that "A Killing Smile" is your best work. How long had you been in Thailand before you wrote "A Killing Smile"?

A Killing Smile was my third published novel. His Lordship’s Arsenal was published in New York City in 1985 in hardback, and the paperback rights were sold to another New York publisher and the paperback was issued in 1988 – the same time I had left New York to come to Bangkok. The second novel was Enemies of Memory which was published by White Lotus in 1990.

I had been in Bangkok not quite three years before the publication of A Killing Smile. The novel apparently captures something of the era that stretched from World War II through to the late 80s. The great changes came after 1989. Whether it is my “best” book, I leave this up to reader to decide. I've found that my readers have a diverse view on the “best” book. It certainly may be the “best” title of any of my books and that has a powerful influence on a person. A Killing Smile sums up a certain attitude or feeling.

The rumour about town is that few farangs speak Thai as well as you. How did you go about getting your Thai language skills to such a high standard?

The key to learning Thai was to start studying soon upon arrival. As a generalization (and no doubt there are exceptions to it), there is about a 18-month window for most expats to learn Thai. If they don’t make an effort during this period to learn the language, the chances they never will. After a couple of years, the pattern is set. Those who have learned to speak Thai have different experiences and more diverse opportunities in Thailand. Those who do not learn Thai mostly stay within the confines of an English speaking expat community. I started to learn Thai a few months after arrival. I went to Thai language school as well. The discipline of a classroom forces you to expand your understanding of Thai.

In the time that you have been living in Bangkok, how has the city changed and have the changes changed the way that you have looked at, commented on and described Bangkok in your books?

Bangkok has changed radically since 1988. When I arrived there were no 7/11 stores. The cinemas were still old-fashioned movie houses like the one behind Villa market where rats scurried along the floor and you paid 20-baht for a ticket. There were no metered taxis and unless you spoke Thai, it was difficult to negotiate the fare. My books are a chronicle of the vast changes the city and people have experienced over the last 12 years. Hopefully, at the same time, there is a timeless quality to the novels that allow readers who weren't living here in those days, to walk through the streets of a different kind of Bangkok but yet to feel that the observations of the characters are as meaningful today as when they were first made some years ago.

What are your thoughts on the farang orientated Thailand nightlife scene at present and do you see it changing at all in the future?

The main change has been the internet. Simply put: there is a vast amount of information about the nightlife than ever existed before. People are full more knowledgeable. Perhaps it is better to say they have more “facts” but that does not always translate into understanding or wisdom in using the information. Communication is so much easier because of email. As a result, there is far more inter-reaction between people.

You have lived in Thailand for quite a long time now. What things do you miss from your native Canada?

Ice hockey, the CBC morning radio show, English Bay, skiing at Whistler, the mountains, the clean beaches, Granville Island, Stanley Park, long walks through the Endowment Lands on Point Grey, and, of course, my friends.

What does the future hold for Mr. Christopher Moore? Do you plan to continue to write novels or do you have even greater aspirations?

The immediate plan is to start (and finish) a new novel. I will continue to write. That's all I really find satisfying, and life would take on a different hue if I were not able to think and reflect about it through the prism of a novel. Writing, in other words, is not just a job one moves on from, it is a way of life. And once you have lived that life for many years it is next to impossible to imagine any other life having so much enjoyment and satisfaction.

Here in Thailand where there are only a relatively small number of Westerners, yet your books are very popular amongst this group. Is there any message you would like to send to your many fans, both in Thailand and around the world?

My fans have sustained me by buying my books. I would like to think that over the years that I may have made an observation or two that may have allowed a reader to a platform to reflect upon his or her own experiences in Thailand. I write the kind of books that go behind the surface of the situation, into the emotions of that situation, and by so doing, have hopefully added a small measure of understanding of the inter-reaction between Thais and foreigners. The silent pledge every author makes to a readers is that he won't let them down. I have tried to honour that pledge in my novels and will continue to try my best to so in the future.