No problem writer
With six novels showcased in Thai bookstores, expatriate author David Young celebrates over a decade of penmanship in the Land of Smiles
Bangkok may have the excitement, thrills, and nightlife; but small towns may also suck you in. Just ask David Young, who has survived 12 years in the Ayutthaya countryside while making a lasting thumbprint in the world of expatriate writers.
His first arrival in Ayutthaya coincided with a legendary flood in 1995. “There were boats that took you down the main streets, but in order to reach them, you had to wade waist-deep through this black goop that might have been water once but had long since turned to the dark side,” he recalls, “There were snakes swimming by and dead things floating past, and let’s not forget the reports of crocodiles on the loose.”
His first impressions also included watching the different ways people dealt with the mess, from watching TV on their rooftops to building pity rafts so that street dogs could survive the flood. Naturally, such experience has led to keen observations about Thailand and the foreigners that visit it.
“A lot of people come to Thailand with a western sense of civility and decency and suddenly find all their notions about love and friendship bouncing off the country like a tennis ball against a brick wall,” he points out. The resulting comedy or tragedy has become a major resource for his writing material over the years, which has recently culminated in the release of his new publication, No Problem Girl.
Love’s wonderful confusions
Young’s paints his latest fiction with the character or Peter Slodell – a shallow and immature playboy, who must find a wife quickly in order to inherit the wealth of his family’s mayonnaise empire.
Ultimately, after a series of desperate propositions and surging Internet fees, Peter must decide between two women. The first is Heather – a charming, sexy, and easygoing American woman – who simply promises to marry Peter temporarily in trade for financial help in repaying her student loans. The second is Aree, a Thai girl from Isan, who unfortunately comes attached to many complications. She has recently relocated to Pattaya after losing a factory job and struggles to make an honest living while helping to pay off her father’s gambling debts. Meanwhile, family members are pressuring Aree into becoming a minor wife of the local Godfather, a shady character known as “Crocodile Man”.
Making a choice between the two women proves even more difficult as Young gleefully introduces a number of convoluted plot shifts, odd-ball characters, and indecisive dialogues from the story’s protagonist.
Making matters worse, the storyline eventually collides as three essentially flawed men fall in love with Aree and compete for her affection in different ways. Mr Dwight is a love-troubled American who employs Aree in his Pattaya nightclub. He suffers an increasingly paternalistic love while protecting her from the wayward elements of the city, as his own tragic love-life goes up in flame. Nick is the exploitive owner of the Siam Dreams Marriage Agency website where Peter and Aree meet and establish courtship. As the plot thickens, Nick’s jealousy and protectiveness ignite in a mutated romantic love that is full of blunders and confusion.
And then there is Peter Slodell – a hopelessly non-committal and materialistic male, who gradually learns that his happiness can no longer be realized by following the 50 rules listed in his “Guide to Single Living”.
Daring to say the ‘M’ Word
In the book’s narrative, Young writes, “Women love to be in love. But what about men? Don’t we hunger for those three words from time to time? Of course we do. The problem men today face is that most of the customs and rituals of courtship have vanished. Love is no longer an outward performance, but an inner experience.”
It is the exploration of this theme where No Problem Girl finds its stride. The humor of this book lies in the awkwardness of its male characters – more specifically, foreign men living in Thailand – who make feeble attempts at courtship. In a country where bargirls are commonplace and dating customs woefully skewered, how does a man find or express true love?
Young takes the theme one step further by being one of the few expatriate writers to bring up the topic of marriage. Gone are the gratuitous scenes of bar girls and token ladyboys. There are no prostitutes or corrupt Thai policemen in this book. The author is clearly trying to dig deeper and explore new comic territory.
This artistic growth may have something to do with the fact that Young finally took the plunge toward the “M” word earlier this year. He and his wife, Luk, decided to join together in a traditional Thai wedding after years of courtship. They now share a new home in Ayutthaya, while he teaches at a local school to pay the bills. “Teaching is my Clark Kent role in Thailand,” he bashfully admits, “I enjoy it, but I try to keep it separate from the writing.”
“Did marriage influence my writing? Sure!” He confesses. Though he insists that none of his books are autobiographical, there are certain traits that he shares with his characters. Like Peter Slodell and his Thai love interest, Young has discovered “a better part of himself that’s strangely empty without her.”
Scribbles from a Scribe
Young has been well-known as an expatriate writer ever since his book, The Scribe, was released by DK books in 1999. This novel explores a financially-strapped expatriate who makes a living on-the-sly by penning letters for manipulative bar girls who want to extort money from men.
With his last few novels, however, Young has consciously distanced himself from a market that has become increasingly over-saturated with sex-pat writers. “It’s like writing about anything – vampires, serial killers, CIA conspiracy plots,” he explains, “you can only cover the ground so many times before you begin repeating yourself.”
His more recent publication include Sukhumvit Road, which is considered his greatest novel by many reviewers due to its complicated storyline, multiple characters, and interwoven side plots. This was followed by Young’s first experiment with crime-fiction, Bangkok Dick, for which a sequel is in the works. Readers will also be pleased to know that a book about “another infamous road in Bangkok” is coming soon.
Young has finally found much more artistic freedom after establishing Hostage Press to promote and distribute his own books. He explains, “I’ve found that the less people involved, the better the final outcome. I don’t know if it’s improved my readership, but it’s helped keep books on the shelf long after places like DK have faded away.”
Word-of-mouth is still how most of his novels are sold. As he explains: “The thing with books – along with any other form of art – is that once you put it out there for public consumption, its sink or swim time … I remember titles that were on the shelf as recently as a year ago that have already vanished into obscurity. That doesn’t mean they were bad reads. Maybe the cover was misleading or the look and feel were off.”
Despite his secretive life in Ayutthaya, Young still loves Bangkok for exploring new material. “Whenever I’m blocked for ideas, I’ll spend a weekend in Bangkok, visit the old stomping grounds, recharge the batteries, and then go back into hibernation.”
To contact David Young or to learn more about his books, visit www.hostagepress.net.