Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Twitter - an addicts tale

You know it’s about the quality not the weight, but when you are writing a new book you just have to keep checking the word-count in that little box at the bottom of the screen. Once it starts to approach the 80,000 mark, you know you have made on huge step towards getting published. My book, Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand (www.thai-lottery.net) is around the 103,000 word mark which equates to well over 400,000 characters. How on earth, can an author express any idea worth listening to, in 160 characters or less? I was scornful, dismissive and certain that Twitter was for the shallow and the inarticulate. I could see why professional footballers might use it. I doubted that most would have the concentration span for anything longer. I would not even look at Twitter let alone start using it myself.

Then my publisher said the words I dreaded hearing more than any other. “If you want to get this book moving, you have to get on social media. You have to get yourself a Twitter account.”  It ranked with the day the doctor pulled on a rubber glove and said, “You are over 40 now, you really should have the examination.”

I did as I was told and started to experiment. Trying to work out why a bloke who had not posted a single tweet still had six followers, looking at some of the successful twitterers to see what was so interesting. I put up a few references to my book, that got me a few followers. I found a few members who shared my interests and all of a sudden I was up and running. Then I saw a few things that were genuinely funny and entertaining. I found out about #hashtags and trending and how to find people I might be really interested in. They often led me to web-sites that were definitely worth a look. I was seriously hooked. There is a vast amount of garbage out there, people who tweet and retweet those terrible sayings that your grandmother used to deliver, “turn that frown upside down” and similar trite garbage, but there are plenty of gems too. And they are not that hard to find.

The “following” thing can seem like a pointless popularity contest sometimes. People say they will follow you if you follow them back, they have nothing interesting to say and you can be certain they will never look at what you tweet. But its so tempting, it gets you one more follower and what the hell? Someone good might look at you and decide you must be interesting because you have lots of followers. So you swallow your pride and click “follow”.

Two days ago I would have described myself as an avid van of Twitter, a complete convert. Then it happened. My book is about the Thai bar scene. There is one book about the subject against which every other is judged. It’s called Private Dancer, written by Stephen Leather, who has 29,000 followers on Twitter. I sent him a message saying that I loved his books and that his web-site had genuinely helped me to get published. I mentioned that I had written a book myself and told him the name of it. He retweeted my message within the day.

If someone had told me a few weeks ago that I could approach an author I really liked and tell him he had helped me get published and he would respond by passing the information to 29,000 people who like his work too, I would have not have believed it was possible.

Then I discovered Twitter.

 Next time you are on Amazon, check out Thai Lottery by Matt Carrell, it’s got some great reviews. After that, check out Stephen Leather, he is very good too

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Facebook update - another lesson learned

Just realised I can have a page dedicated to the book itself as well as my author page. Gives more options for being picked up by anyone using the search function.

Mine is here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thai-Lottery-and-Other-Stories-from-Pattaya-Thailand/455407351182975

There are a couple of great pictures - which will give you an idea how a small Thai fishing village can change in the space of 60 years.

If you like the page - please click the "like" box.

Getting noticed

I read today that there are 700,000 self published authors in the USA alone. The web is full of sites likes GoodReads, which offer encouragement and support to aspiring writers and there are myriad places where you can advertise your new book. A cautionary tale, however, from John Locke, the only self published author to sell 1 million e-books. As a rich man he was in a position to place a six foot advertisement outside a major book store. He couldn't get the store to stock his book or even take orders from people who expressed an interest. Self published authors evidently carry a stigma.

I was lucky enough to find a small publishing house for my book and it changes the opening dynamic of any conversation on the subject. I am usually asked whether my book is self published with a look I would only adopt personally if the wine I had been keeping for a special occasion turned out to be corked. When I explain that it was taken by a professional publisher, the mood changes and I am given the benefit of the doubt that I might be a real author. Of course they haven't read my book at that stage!

Anyone trying to sell a book is up against it, self published authors even more so.

My book has been out for just two weeks so I am no position to offer you a John Locke type guide (for more click here:http://www.amazon.com/John-Locke/e/B003ATT1YO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1355570722&sr=1-2-ent)

Like the rest of this blog I am just sharing an insight into some of the things I wish I had known at the start. I thought I would do this as a list, in no particular order:

1. Obvious but you have to have a web-site: mine is here: www.thai-lottery.net. I have offered a sample story from the book, some genuine reviews, links to other sites of interest and most important of all, a page saying where you can buy the book. There are lots of links to that page from elsewhere in the site.

2. Twitter can seem to be a pointless popularity contest, an endless search for followers who don't read your stuff anyway. I was convinced it was essential and am now mildly addicted. It's fun, you do see some interesting stuff amongst the dross and I challenge you not to get a little kick out of it when you get another follower.

3. You need a Facebook page - the business variety seems to be the thing, that is one mistake I have yet to rectify. There are better ones but take a look at this - http://www.facebook.com/matt.carrell.75

4. Technical issues - for the first two weeks I did not know what a hashtag was, how important it is to retweet or even how to link Twitter to my Facebook page. The help features on each of the sites will tell you more about this than I ever could. I also tried Pinterest - but can't get the hang of it. If you do, please let me know. It also took me thirty minutes to discover the "hash" key on my Apple keyboard (Alt 3).

5. Trawl the net for sites that cover your subject matter. My book is about the Thai bar scene and I found sites that were willing to give me free coverage, post reviews of my book and generally point me in the right direction for potential readers. Particular thanks to Canterbury Tales Cafe (http://www.canterburytalescafe.com/) and Living Thai (http://www.livingthai.org/short-stories-about-pattaya.html) .

6. Forums. My task was easy, there are stacks of forums on the Thai bar scene e.g. www.pattaya-addicts.com/forum. I joined and the members have been great. Don't come on too strong with the book at first. If possible you should try to become part of the forum community before your book is even published, you may have a potential mailing list as your book gets out there.

That's my top 6 in no particular order. Feedback and any other pointers welcome.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Will a blog be successful in promoting your book?

I have absolutely no idea. I hope this one will be, that people will enjoy the content and let me have their thoughts on writing an e-book. I imagine you will be able to judge how successful this one is by its size and the activity that goes across it. If it seems a bit quiet now, check back in a few months, maybe we will have got it going by then.

In the meantime, if you find this blog you might have a few views on the content. Please mail me and let me know or find me on Facebook. I am the Matt Carrell with the huge picture of the Thai Lottery book cover on his page.

A reading list – Thai based fiction

It’s impossible to put these in any sort of qualitative order, it depends on what you like and the mood you are in.  I can only list the books (or series’ of books) in the order in which I discovered them.

Private Dancer – by Stephen Leather: it was once suggested that single men should be issued with a  free copy on arrival at Bangkok Airport. It’s a “how not to” guide for sex tourists but its also a good story with some interesting twists. “Everyone” who likes books and has a passing interest in the Thai bar scene has read Private Dancer and will probably have a strong view on its merits. The harshest critics are those who have steeped themselves in the ex-pat lifestyle and feel the story is too simplistic. I really enjoyed it and particularly liked the technique by which each key scene is described from the perspective of different characters. It’s an ingenious way of demonstrating the cultural gulf between the various players. The same circumstances can be interpreted in totally different ways depending on whether they are being viewed by a Thai or a westerner.

The Bangkok Series – by John Burdett: I found Bangkok 8 in a bookshop at Suvarnabhumi Airport as I was waiting for a flight back to London. Unfortunately I did not start reading it straight away. That’s why I still had about an hour’s reading to do when we were only 30 minutes short of Heathrow Airport. For the first time in my life, I was praying for my flight to go into a holding pattern, I could not wait to find out what happened. It was one of those books you start to read more slowly as you get to the end, you just don’t want it to end. Torture. I finished the book in the taxi home and was hugely relieved to find that it was part of a series. The quality does not let up. The author knows the region like the back of his hand  and has a quite extraordinary imagination. That combined with a fascination for eastern mysticism makes a powerful combination. It’s hard to believe he used to be a lawyer but easy to see why he quit. I went back and found an earlier book called “The Last 6 million seconds” about the British handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese. Completely different style but every bit as engaging.  

The Poke Rafferty Series – by Timothy Hallinan

This short summary appears in “Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand:

“Rafferty is a super smart travel writer turned detective.  Living with an ex bar-girl; the magnificent Rose, he unravels complex mysteries, whilst battering bad guys and taking care of Miaow, his adorable adopted daughter.  He's part Irish, part Filipino and in spite of the strange first name, extremely cool.”

Many books based in Thailand, have been written by visitors, people passing through who may have a good story to tell but are unable to capture the essence of the country. Hallinan is a glorious exception. The story lines are sharp and clever but the key to these books is in characterisation and atmosphere. If the author ever reads this, he can try to find a compliment in the following sentence, “when I read your books, I can smell the streets of Bangkok”.  It’s there, honestly.

Hallinan captures the feel of the city perfectly. You could be reading on the beach and you would still be transported to a polluted, overcrowded, humid, vaguely threatening metropolis in your mind’s eye. Each character is perfectly drawn, any man would yearn for a woman like Rose and the feisty Miaow would be the perfect daughter. The villains are genuinely scary and whilst you suspect a happy ending (of the literary variety of course), Hallinan manages to make you think it might not happen this time.

Brilliant stuff, the next one is already out and I will be buying the e-book once they drop that vertiginous £11 price tag for the download.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat – by Colin Cotterrill

For me this was “Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” comes to Thailand, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. A meaningless analogy if you have never read the Alexander McCall Smith series, so I will try to explain.

The heroine is Jimm Juree, a crime writer for the local Chiang Mai newspaper, but family loyalty forces her to relocate to the south. She tries to resuscitate her career by investigating the death of an abbott and the discovery of two ancient skeletons in a long buried vehicle. The characters just jump off the age at you, despite the fact that the author has attempted something quite audacious. The book is written in the first person, so a western male is writing as a Thai female. Clearly there are limitations to my ability to say he has nailed it, but from the perspective of another western man, I really think that is exactly what he has done.  

The Thailand he writes about is one I definitely recognise, and he captures the often bizarre nature of the place that makes it simultaneously bewildering and captivating. Only the second term applies to Mr Cotterill’s book. The crimes are solved with cunning, subtlety and charm rather than with guns and violence, hence the McCall Smith analogy.

I am delighted to see there is another book in the series. As soon as I have finished writing this blog, I will be straight onto it.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

An idle thought

Wish I had called my book - 50 Shades of Thai

The Thai Sex Industry

A simple case of economic exploitation of the poor by the rich. It could be stopped tomorrow by banning the tourists who arrive in Bangkok to find themselves a working girl and by closing all the bars who sell beer and the promise of “more”. Only it’s a lot more complex than that.

There is nothing I can say in a few sentences that can provide a balanced view. I don’t condone a situation where women feel they have no choice but to sell their bodies, but neither do I agree with those who say that the answer is to boycott Thailand until the government “does something about it”. The only people who would suffer in the short term are the girls, and their families for whom the sex industry offers their only source of income.

Thailand is growing fast economically and opportunities for Thai people are increasing all the time. The more jobs there are in more legitimate businesses, the greater the chance that young women can choose what they do to make a living.

In the meantime, if you are in Thailand and you visit the bars, make sure you tip generously and treat the girls with the respect they deserve. You will encounter warmth, humour, resilience and a pride that they are taking care of people they love. As Buddhists, they truly believe that this life may be tough but they will get their reward in the next.

The final word should of course go to the girls themselves. Before you make up your mind about the Thai sex industry you should check out the Empower foundation at http://www.empowerfoundation.org/index_en.html.  Also look out  for their video on You Tube, Last Rescue in Siam, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70rPAxLFFKU

Saturday, 8 December 2012


One of the first pieces of feedback that I had on the manuscript was that it was hard to imagine the inside of a Thai bar if you have never been in one. “What sort of music gets played?” was one of the questions.   That’s when I realised that my own music tastes had broadened enormously since I started working in Asia.  
I would hear a piece of music I liked, get out the I-Phone and click Shazam. The App would identify the track and offer me the chance to download it. I quickly acquired a new music collection, mainly western stuff but also some local bands that I would never have heard of in the West. Check out Bodyslam – the lyrics are totally incomprehensible unless you speak Thai, but the music is great.

The next thing that struck me was that the music in the bars often seemed to reflect what was going on around me. I once witnessed a drunk behaving appallingly in a Bangkok bar, in the seconds before Security threw him into the street the music being played was Lady GaGa’s, “Monster”. An extremely beautiful young Thai girl told a middle-aged friend of mine, that he was indeed a very attractive man. Fortunately, only I noticed that Rihanna was singing, “I Love the Way you Lie”, in the background.  As she finally lost interest in him, the track being played was “Hot & Cold”, by Katy Perry. How do they do that?

I tried to carry this over into the book and the stories still offer a clue to the action through the music that’s referred to in the text. My first attempt at doing this went a stage too far. I decided that some of the song lyrics I had heard in Thailand just had to have been written for the bar scene.

Check out the first few lines of “Price Tag” by Jessie J and tell me that it isn’t a perfect epitaph for a man who has had the wool pulled over his eyes by a lady who might be more interested in his wallet than she is in him. Similarly, there is a song called “Closer” by NeYo. Either the lyricist completely lost his head over another person or they have an extraordinary imagination.

I decided to quote the lyrics.  Big mistake.

Breach of copyright (even if you attribute the source) is evidently a crime somewhere between armed robbery and second degree murder and the penalty may be more harsh. The copyright owner, and its not always easy to find out who that is, can sue for punitive damages. It does not matter whether you made anything out of it, or indeed if the claimant suffered any real loss. They can ruin you.

The lyrics got binned.

Days when it all seems worth it

You will definitely think of hitting the delete key at some stage when you are writing your book. I managed to keep the impulse down to about three times a week, so it was well under control. Then it gets published, a few people pick it up and you find a review like this one on the net.

They kindly included a sample short story that my publisher sent out - so you can get a feel for the writing.


Friday, 7 December 2012


Another product of constantly re-reading your own manuscript is that you get wedded to the text. My book is around 100,000 words or so.  At one time it was quite a bit longer. Through the editing process we added quite a bit, to flesh out the thinner parts of some of the stories. Switching from a novel format to a book of short stories also necessitated some extra writing. Each character I kept had to stand alone, rather than be a bit player in the overall narrative.

I had written the whole thing with the mind-set, “what can I add to this?” – and the result was a pretty unwieldy manuscript. That’s when the red pen came out and I tried to think about whether a sentence or a paragraph was actually necessary, whether it moved the story forward. About ten per cent of the book disappeared in a couple of days. Looking at each paragraph that was deleted, I was certain the book was poorer for its omission. Reading the whole thing from the start there was no doubt the stories had a better flow and I had a better chance of keeping the reader’s attention

If you are not still reading at this point, then I have clearly failed to carry the discipline over into my blog.

I so wanted to be a novelist

My new hobby had generated a 30,000 word manuscript in a couple of weeks. I spent the next few months grabbing my laptop at every opportunity and tweaking the existing plot or writing new material. In my own head the book had a good structure. There were clearly only a dozen or so main characters, although I had added a bunch of others to add a bit of colour or share an interesting aside. It was obvious to me where the main thread of the story lay, it would be clear to everyone else too. Wouldn’t it?

That’s when someone pointed out that I actually had 23 main characters and about another 20 others who were introduced and quickly dropped. Anyone reading the book would not know which were the important ones and which would never appear again. Thai names are often one syllable nicknames, it was actually not that easy, even to remember who the main characters were.

That was when my dream of being a novelist died. The book would never work as a novel but had potential as a series of inter-linked short stories. I started to cut and paste and discovered that I had about a dozen quite distinct plot lines. “Thai Lottery”, the novel was about to become “Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand”.

The critics

The main problem with writing a book is not about finding the words, it’s the fact that you end up re-reading it yourself over and over again. After a while you stop seeing what is on the page, word blindness kicks in and you genuinely become unable to critically appraise what you have written. You have to get someone else to read it for you and that takes some courage. If the person says they like it, you start to suspect that they are just being kind, when they tell you what they don’t like, you wish you had never asked them in the first place.

An old friend had written a book and although it was never published, I was sure she would have some good advice on how to proceed. She was incredibly helpful and strongly advised me to get someone to read the first draft, she even offered to do it herself. This is a lady of legendary style and sophistication, who loves great literature, art and the opera. She would never in a million years pick up a book like mine, but insisted that she would read it with the necessary detachment. She absolutely hated it but was kind enough to explain, in writing, exactly why.  I used her e-mail as a checklist for writing the second draft.   

I also gave the first draft to a male friend, who was equally unlikely to buy the book but would definitely get what I was trying to do. He was the first to suggest that I should change the format from a novel to a series of short stories (even though the main story still just about qualifies as a novella). He helped me think about the pace and flow of the story and gave me the confidence to believe that there was enough good stuff in there to make it worthwhile going on.

I was beginning to believe that the book had some merit and started to ask people to give me feedback. This seemed like cheating until I finished a thriller by a well-known writer who proceeded to thank about 40 people who had been involved in writing his book. Another friend who used to be a literary agent was kind enough to read it and although she was not comfortable with the content gave me plenty of good ideas about structure and tone. I had thought that books were just written, now I believe that they evolve. Although Barbara Cartland clearly had a different view.

My favourite piece of criticism features on my web-site. I gave the book to an ex-colleague who inadvertently loaded it onto his wife’s IPad.  She decided that it was “unputdownable”, but told her husband that if he was planning any trips to Thailand (particularly with me), he should think again.

There is a separate blog entry that deals with my publisher so I won’t say too much here except to characterise his punchy but effective style. I had written what I thought was a terrific ending to one of the stories and his feedback would be in my inbox when I logged in. I couldn’t wait to see what he had written and take the plaudits for my ingenious last line. He wrote, “you probably think this is dramatic……  it isn’t”. For more on this check out “My publisher… the Wolfe”.

At the time of writing this blog, there are five or so published reviews on the web-sites of Amazon and other distributors. They are all pretty flattering and the star rating could easily go to a boy’s head. I suspect that my wife wrote one of them and a friend probably wrote another. He tried to counterbalance the effusive praise about the book by pointing out that it had a typo (since corrected). I am sure that if it sells more copies, I will get some poor reviews and I accept that. Few books can please everyone. I absolutely loved Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, a good friend with whom I normally see eye-to-eye, thinks it sucks.  He is wrong of course.

When you log onto Amazon and see a really good review from someone with whom you have absolutely no connection, it’s as good as it gets.

A book with dubious moral content

I had an obvious dilemma from the start. My story was set in Thailand and many of the stories were inspired by sitting in a Bangkok bar, pretending to watch the football but actually making up stories about my fellow customers. The idea of the book was that a girl’s life could come crashing down around her ears for one small mistake. The Thai Lottery theme had made me think about a lot of the people you see in Bangkok. Locals and foreigners alike are playing their own lottery, hoping that one day they will wake up to see that their dreams have come true. An escape from a life they wish belonged to someone else. Some get lucky, most have to wait for another day, but for some “the abyss awaits”. I  also wanted to write about the westerners who take a chance on a new life in a foreign country or who save up to buy a brief escape from the “real world. When you put all those themes together there is only one setting for the book, the notorious Thai sex industry.

I am not shy about admitting that I have visited plenty of bars in Thailand, many of them have staff who “make their own arrangements” with the customers as the evening progresses. It all sounds horribly seedy but somehow the Thais deliver a “Toy Story” experience. The better bars can be seen on two different levels just like the Pixar movies. They are fun and welcoming places for women as well as men, but there is an “adult” side to it all if that is what you want. My wife once disappeared with a “lady of the night” we met in a Thai bar whilst I was playing a dice game with the waitresses.  She came back twenty minutes later having had her nose pierced. Thailand has that effect on you.

I was dwelling on how many westerners look down on Thailand and its notorious sex industry, whilst having a drink with a friend recently. We were in the bar of one of London’s most exclusive hotels. It was packed with the young, the beautiful… and old blokes like us. There were lots of stunning girls, alone or in pairs and they were so friendly. Each time I went to the men’s room they would smile. It might have gone to my head had I not been going to the Gents where I could get a reality check in the mirror. Their interest was purely professional. Now what was I saying about the Thai sex industry. Oh yes….

My problem was, how I could write a book about the sex industry without everyone assuming it was autobiographical? Oddly enough, nobody assumed that Agatha Christie was a mass murderer, but I had a queasy feeling that I would not be given the benefit of the doubt. I thought about it for a while and decided “what the hell”.  

Conventional publishing

This is totally straightforward and can be summarized as follows:

Write a book
Buy the Writers & Artists Yearbook (WAY)
Read the sections on writing a synopsis and a covering letter
Submit your proposal to a cross section of agents selected from the WAY
Sit back and wait for the offers.

Sorry, did I mention that even if this is successful it will only get you to “first base”? Years ago, publishers had armies of young enthusiastic graduates reading manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers. It was like panning for gold in the Klondike. mainly sifting through mud and silt but with the occasional nugget to make it worthwhile. This was way too costly and a new system emerged. Now you need to find an agent who will try to secure a publisher for you in exchange for around 15% of your royalty cheques. I found twelve I thought might be interested, diligently prepared the “WAY compliant” proposals and sent them off.

The WAY list is initially daunting but I found it pretty easy to eliminate huge swathes of it. In the Internet age, I decided that an agent who flatly refused to consider an e-mail submission might prove to be a challenge to work with, if the project ever got off the ground.  Some agents manage to convey a degree of contempt for aspiring authors, even when their WAY entry is only a few lines long. The ones with web-sites often achieve this even more effectively. “Apply only if you are already a best selling author or have recently slept with an entire Premier League football team and have appeared on Reality TV”, is what you get if you read between the lines.  One agent informs us that “it might take up to four months to consider your proposal, if you have not heard from us in that time, do not contact us. You should assume we do not wish to follow up your submission”.  I decided this did not come close to my idea of basic courtesy and respect. I ruthlessly chopped them from my list.

And I had the last laugh. Oh Yes. I carefully selected the dozen names that were going to be lucky enough to see my proposal. Those who had fallen short of my stringent selection criteria were not even given the opportunity to see the book, let alone publish it. Of the twelve agents who received my submission, I am still waiting to hear from six. Two asked to see more, then rejected it and four rejected it based on initial proposal.  Back to the drawing board.

Having taken a gentle side swipe at agents, I have to admit that the 6 rejections were nicely written and told me not to give up. It was not to say that my book was not great, it was just not what they were looking for at that particular time. Reminded me of that girl at school, she said something just like that.

Getting started

The last weekend of the ski season in Europe can be fantastic for the enthusiast. Most hotels are booked Saturday to Saturday, so the last tourists have gone home and, in France at least, the locals cannot be bothered to ski that late in the season. You pretty much get the whole mountain to yourself. That was definitely the case in April 2011. Unfortunately there was another factor in play. It had barely snowed since January and the pistes were empty of people… and snow. The lifts had closed and there was nothing to do. I got out my brand new Apple Mac and started to rough out a story based on a girl who got caught between the crooks who run the illegal Thai Lottery and a man who had a winning ticket and was determined that he would be paid out. An interesting short story, I thought, maybe 20 or 30 pages. I run a couple of web-sites for friends who go on golf tours, they were usually pretty appreciative of my posts. The plan was to circulate the story to them and leave it there. It did not go according to plan.

Do you like “people watching?”
I love it. Italy is a favourite holiday destination and I have long enjoyed the evening promenade that is a feature in many Italian cities. To start with, I wanted to rush to the local bar to get a good seat, certain it would rapidly pack with locals. I was wrong; Italians enjoy the promenade so that people can look at them, not so that they can be part of the audience. I like to sit, watch and make up stories about the people I can see. I thought Italy was great, Thailand is even better. I am deeply indebted to the many people who sat alongside me in the bars of Thailand or just walked past in the street and inadvertently gave me the raw material for the book.

Vaguely encouraged by the fact that the Lottery story seemed to be coming together, I wrote it all down and tried to weave it into a coherent novel. The French trip was two-week thing and I wasn’t going to be skiing.  I drove back to the UK with 30,000 words and a hobby was born.

The book I actually wrote

The sheer scale of what I had in mind for the “City of London expose” was pretty daunting and that is what kept making me put it off. I started writing “Thai Lottery”, by accident. My work takes me to Asia about four times a year and it’s also our favourite place to take a holiday. I was chatting to a client, who has become a very good friend. We were sitting in an open air bar in Bangkok watching the hordes of people milling around below us.  I explained that I wanted to write a book about human weakness. How everyone starts with a view of the world and everyone (I am told) has moral boundaries. There is stuff that they will do but there is a line that they won’t cross. Then comes an opportunity or a threat and the moral boundary just shifts a little. If that happens enough times, the “line in the sand” can move a very long way in a relatively short time. That was the idea that underpinned my original idea for a book. I had seen it plenty of times in my career, the promise of a big bonus, a new office or a more prestigious title can make people behave in ways you would neither expect nor admire. The threat of losing any of those things is just as potent.  My friend was very encouraging and assured me that he had plenty of stories to share about greed and avarice.

As we looked out onto the street, we noticed an old lady carrying a thin, hinged wooden box. He explained that she was selling tickets for the Thai Lottery. No on-line options, no lucky number selection, you just get to choose from the box. It has all the hall-marks of a church raffle but for Thais, the first prize is potentially a life changing sum of money.  He went on to tell me about the Huay Tai Din. This is the parallel “underground” lottery, which is far more popular than its official counterpart.  You can be arrested for buying a ticket, let alone running one of the thousands of schemes that operate all over Thailand. I was told about a girl who sold the tickets to earn some extra money for her family. It all went horribly wrong and she and her family have spent the subsequent years picking up the pieces. Now that, I thought, is the basis of a really good story.

The book I really wanted to write

“Everyone has a book in them”, is the old adage. The rejoinder is “And for most people that is exactly where it should stay.

I knew mine would be different. I had spent 25 years working in the City of London having trained in one of the most boring professions on earth. Accountancy. Through all that time I had been burning with envy. The legal profession is arguably even duller than my own but they have TV series’ and movies coming out of their ears. LA Law, Allie McBeal and all those John Grisham books/films. The accountancy profession, as depicted on TV, has Norm from Cheers, the 1980’s US comedy and Heather from a UK soap called Brookside. She got written out in 1986 and went on to star in a show about pathologists, but she would never have made it big portraying an accountant. Lawyers, on the other hand, are sexy and cool. Even pathologists have more pull than a number cruncher. How did that happen?

I was determined to redress the balance and write a blockbuster. An expose of the City of London, the financials scandals laid bare, with a compelling commentary on the social ills of the UK set in the context of the scandalous excesses of Tony Blair’s Labour government.  After 25 years in the financial district of the City, I certainly had the material. I wouldn’t even have to make most of it up. The only problem I envisaged was that if I wrote about some of the greed and ruthlessness I had witnessed, most people would not believe me.  The book was definitely in me and I was planning to make a start on it. Tomorrow.

Writing a popular blog

My book, Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand has just been published and all my mates think it’s great; at least that’s what they tell me when I am buying the drinks. It never occurred to me that I would have to market the thing; I just assumed that someone would read it, decide it was good and then tell the rest of the world. All I would have to do is answer a few e-mails from appreciative readers and then cash the royalty cheques. A cameo role in the movie, a bit like Alfred Hitchcock used to do, would be cool too But I am a patient man, that could wait. 

Then the publisher explained my role in all this. I did the Facebook page, opened my first Twitter account and finally plucked up the courage to write a blog (yes this one). Then it struck me, I am trying to popularise my book by writing a blog, how the hell do I popularise the blog? If anyone can point me to a blog explaining how to do that, I would be very grateful. In the meantime I will just press on and hope for the best.

Writing a best-selling e-book


The Internet is awash with advice on how to write a best selling e-book.  Maybe one day I will able to add to that but the first time I looked, my book was 3,100 in the Amazon rankings. Not knowing any better, my instant reaction was absolute euphoria. Amazon sells loads of books; the last one I read was ranked 183.543. A few more sales and surely I would be up in the top 3,000. Soon it would go viral and I would be beating back the flock of movie producers desperate to sign me up.  Next day the book dropped to 7,000, then a couple of friends confirmed that they had bought it and I was back up to 3,600. That’s when I Googled, “Amazon Rankings”.  Thankfully. My average ranking for the first week of publication was going to translate into about 30 sales, I discovered. I cancelled the Ferrari and told my wife that she would have to put the Mediterranean beach house on hold for a while. She had proof-read most of my early drafts so she had got used to being unquestioningly supportive.

So, can I advise you on how to write a best selling book? Absolutely not.

But, if you are willing to bear with me I thought I might share the story of how I came to write an e-book. Maybe some day in the future I will be able to point to this blog and say, “well it all turned out OK in the end”. Or maybe not.

One thing is for sure. There is so much that that I know now that I wished I’d known when I started out. As I write this blog, I will try to share some of that stuff with you. I can’t tell you how to write a best selling book but if you bear with me, you may just learn from my mistakes.