Avoid the rush and learn about author Jack Fielding, now, at Thailand Footprint. Jack’s not particularly into self-promotion, which may be one reason I had not heard of him, until recently. My first thought after reading his writing: life isn’t fair. But we all knew that already, right? Jack currently resides in London and has spent a considerable amount of time living, writing, and working in Thailand. Jack enjoys the theatre, particularly if it is of the absurd. The strange worlds of Jack Fielding can be found on his blog, where he takes a satirical look at films, books and other things with a Zen point of view: http://jackfieldingauthor.blogspot.com
From his author web site found at jackfieldingauthor.com: Jack Fielding has worked and traveled throughout the world. Always drawn to the absurd and improbable, Jack has modeled cowboy hats in Tokyo, dined with General Franco’s English interpreter in Paraguay, informally coached Bangkok’s premier Elvis impersonator and once starred in a German travel commercial with a plastic dinosaur called Bernard. In his darker moments Jack describes himself as a “not terribly strident Zen Buddhist.”
Thailand Footprint welcomes Jack Fielding with mild trepidation.
KC: Greetings, Jack. I like your style. Your writing style. Your blog style. You even pull off wearing a hat and glasses with a certain panache. It’s been said you write absurdly entertaining fiction, often with a Zen edge. How would you explain your writing style to those unfortunates out there who are unfamiliar with it?
JF: Thank you and its great to be on Thailand Footprint! I seriously love books and everything to do with them – especially when they’ve got some kind of connection with Thailand. Digital books or trad I don’t mind. Just so long as they’re creative and out there!
For my One Hand Clapping stories, I guess I write in a minimalist fast-paced style. Hard-hitting. Less is more. When I’m actually writing I visualize the narrative being played out as a Tarantino or spaghetti western movie. I suppose I’m writing what I see. So my style is definitely born out of that. With Zen Ambulance I’ve tried to pare the narrative down even further, to give a stronger ‘Zen’ kick. I’ve also made up my own words, to help create a unique ‘one hand clapping’ world, fusing East and West.
I write across genres. So Shadows and Pagodas – an outrageous gothic tale set in Old Siam – has a more traditional style. I’ve even thrown in the odd archaic bit of English and Thai vocab – really love the idea of breathing life into long-forgotten words! Plus plenty of literary and movie references, too. With Neville Changes Villages I’ve stuck to a contemporary and relaxed style, reflecting the fact it’s a straightforward comedy about a guy in real-life Thailand in the 90s.
KC: What is the focus, if you have one, for your very original blog, Pulp Zen?
JF: Because I write across genres I thought my readers would enjoy a blog devoted exclusively to the ‘pulp Zen’ concept. Like the books, Pulp Zen draws in a lot of things really. Not only Zen Buddhism but samurai and spaghetti western movies, nikkatsu cinema and American / British noir. Teddy Boys, rockabilly. Retro streets. Vintage comics. Also very much about retro Thailand, you know back to 50s Bangkok and much earlier. I’m really fascinated by it, especially as there’s so little physically left. Zen City is particularly hot on breathing new life into all that long lost social history.
KC: Talk about death, just for the fun of it.
JF: One of the themes in my books is death and absurdity – always a laugh a minute around here – so I’ll share what I think by way of a true story:
At one time I was keeping a low profile in a fleapit river town called Concepcion in Paraguay. Every damned night I was plagued by the same dream: I was a young German guy called Nobby Tirpitz, working on a giant airship as a lavatory attendant in 2nd class. I had this special mop, given to me by my grandfather Othmar who had run a public convenience in Hamburg railway station. Anyway, I was in terrible danger in that airship. Trapped in the lavatory while a terrible fire raged outside, acrid smoke pouring in and the airship listing badly. Using my penknife I just had time to carve a message on the handle of the mop then shove it through a tiny porthole. There was an awful roaring noise…then I woke up.
Years later I was living in Thailand and teaching English. Porntip was one of my best female students and one night she invited me to her family house in Don Muang (where the old international airport used to be). Her dad was a colonel in the air force. Well, I met the folks and had fantastic meal. Then her dad took me into the garage to see his collection of memorabilia. Medals, a WW2 Japanese flag and an oxygen mask, that kind of thing. And then I noticed what looked like a wooden pole. It seemed out of place so I asked him about it. He explained it was a broom handle from the Hindenburg, the airship that had exploded in 1937. Said it had some writing on it but it was in German. Well, I knew German and picked it up. I went all cold. The handle seemed strangely familiar. Then I read the writing. Incredibly it was the message I’d written in the dream – ‘Anyone want to buy a cheap airship!’
You know, I’ve never forgotten that uncanny dream and the mysterious mop handle. Death, rebirth and multiple lives. I suppose it also explains why lavatories keep appearing in my books. In Zen City, Palmer is in one when he experiences the ghastly dream sequence at the end. Milo the assassin-monk emerges from a weird roadside toilet in Zen Ambulance and Neville’s family keep surprising him when he’s sat on the bog inVillages.
One thing’s for sure – ever since, no matter where I am in the world, I’ve always tipped big when I use public lavatories.
Like I said, death and absurdity.
KC: That’s the best mop handle story I’ve heard since … well, that’s the only mop handle story I’ve ever heard. One of my favorite fictitious private eyes of all-time, Nick Danger, was once told a good line in the Rocky Rococo caper. It went, “You can’t get there from here.” You said earlier, it’s always a laugh a minute around here. How would you describe your, here? And throw in a few there’s also. Where have you been? But leave out Paraguay if you don’t mind.
JF: “You can’t get there from here” is a brilliant line really. Love it, especially when they’re laconic. I’ve always been interested in the military history of the Spartans and they were famous for it. At the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas apparently said to his 300, “Either that’s the Persian army or the new vacuum cleaners have arrived.”
Now where was I? Oh, yes. Where is ‘here’? To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve never been able to stay in one place for very long. I hitch-hiked to Normandy when I was sixteen and never looked back really. I don’t own a car or property, always spending my wedge on trying to get to places – the less fashionable and visited the better. Either to live in or hang out in bars and cafes. Shooting the breeze with strangers, getting to know people. Listening rather than talking (and taking copious notes afterwards). I’m wary of trotting out a list of places I’ve been to – I hate that approach to travel. Going to other people’s countries is always a privilege, one that most of the planet’s population don’t have.
Having said that, you did ask! Well, lived in Finland for a while, in a Helsinki suburb. As a genuine English Teddy Boy, in a country where 50s rock and roll was mainstream, I was briefly a legend in my own lunchtime. That was also where I met my first wife (short marriage, long story). Inspired by the final sequence in Elvira Madigan, I got my butterfly tattoo in the sailor’s quarter in Copenhagen. I lived on a Prague council estate in the 80s (during their first free elections) and hung out in the St Thomas pub with some ex-cons who wore pinstripe suits with very wide lapels. I’ve been shouted at in Algiers, tricked into buying an expensive pair of slippers by a blind African man in Paris and getting my bottom pinched mercilessly by a Guarani Indian girl on the Argentine border. I think her name was Marina. Strong grip, too. Throughout the 90s I was forever crossing borders into Laos, Cambodia and Kelantan. Later, I spent quite a bit of time living near a sex shop in Transylvania and in Pest I ended up being a sort of unofficial therapist to a manic depressive café owner who was owned by an Arab gentleman – the girl that is, not the cafe.
Inevitably, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time in Britain. Although my experiences here haven’t always been as positive. Getting my nose broken by an amateur boxer in a working men’s club in Newcastle (he bought me a pint afterwards), thrown on the tube tracks in east London, racially abused in Leicester and completely failing to buy a Polish sausage in High Wycombe.
KC: I’m intrigued by your making up your own words in your One Hand Clapping novels. Give me some examples of those words and their definitions.
JF: Yes, one of the ways I’ve tried to build the One Hand Clapping world is to create a unique vocab, fusing fact and fiction, East and West. Also provide info on retro Asia (particularly Thailand) and related matters which I thought my readers might find interesting. Here’s something I posted on my Strange Worlds blog a while back:
Atomic Age – the mid to late 1950s.
Bushido / ‘the code’ – warrior code of the Japanese samurai that drew on Zen Buddhism and Shinto teachings. A warped movie-trivia version of the code was adopted by the Colonel’s psychopathic gunfighters, the Four Truths.
Generalissimo Vissaek – fascist dictator of Siam and ally of the Axis powers.
Iso Isetta – the iconic ‘little Iso’ bubble car was designed by Renzo Rivolta, a successful manufacturer of refrigerators. These wonderful cars were incredibly expensive in Bangkok because of the heavy import duty.
Kamikaze Boogie – Thai rockabilly hit penned and sung by Johnny Izu.
Kouk Moun Kid – the long-forgotten star of home-grown Siamese Westerns.
Noir Age – roughly, the 1940s and early 50s.
Siam – the original name of Thailand. It was changed by Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram in 1949 as part of his modernisation programme, along with making men wear hats, women wear gloves and everyone putting on shoes when they went outside.
‘Siamese salute’ – slang term used by some foreigners in the Noir Age. It refers to the traditional Thai greeting, which involves bringing the hands together. Properly called a wai.
Shoho – name of a notorious girl gang, it means ‘Auspicious Phoenix’. The girls took the name from a famous aircraft carrier in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
‘slippy shippy’ – slang term for goods smuggled into the Bangkok docks by ship.
Teddy Boy – Street fashion that erupted on British streets in the early 1950s and quickly adopted by cool yakuza. It celebrated an Edwardian look, replete with velvet-collared drape jackets and waistcoats. Die-hard Teds can still be found in remote parts of Britain.
Ticals – currency used in 1940s Siam. Plenty of references to it in Reynolds’ novel, A Woman of Bangkok.
Amazingly, I’m still in one piece. Like Vivien Leigh I’ve always depended on the kindness of others. And, of course, being a good listener and non-judgemental helps – as does being able to retreat into my inner world. Maybe that’s where ‘here’ really is.
KC: I have enjoyed this interview, Jack. More than I would admit publicly. What’s on the horizon for Jack Fielding? What are you working on personally and professionally?
JF: Yeah, this interview has been excellent actually, and tweaking the nose of absurdity along the way always helps! Actually, on a slightly more serious note, your questions have also prompted me to reflect, not only my writing but also what I’ve got up to over the years. As Orson Palmer would say, No one is more surprised than me.
I’m currently finishing off the latest version of Neville Changes Villages, with the help of the author Matt Carrell. All about a dysfunctional English guy teaching in Thailand in the 90s. The basic theme isn’t exactly new – but I think the way I tell it is! You know, giving it the ‘Jack Fielding’ treatment.
Then I’m working on a collection of short stories. They’re retro sci-fi, inspired by the vintage comics of Alan Class like Creepy Worlds and Astounding Stories. But instead of being American the stories are set in Siam. They’re a mix of absurdity, crime, speculation, dark comedy and just the plain weird. Inspired by our interview, there might be a guest appearance by one Nobby Tirptiz.
After that, I’m either going to get back to the One Hand Clapping stories (I’ve got rough drafts for about four more of those) or I might take a different direction. I’ve got the beginnings of a novel about a dysfunctional young guy growing up in south-east London in the early twentieth century and his involvement with the new film industry. It will link in with the mysterious Shadows of Siam film that gets mentioned in Zen City, Iso. Also it will be a bit of homage to the lost world of British silent films, which I’m quite keen on.
On a personal level, I could well be moving to Switzerland later in the year. It will be a brilliant place to raise my family. And at some point I really, really need to get back and visit Thailand. Apart from family, friends and wonderful temples, it’s important my two children develop their Thai heritage. Oh, and I want to take my family to the home of Kukrit Pramoj, the author of the superb Four Reigns, to pay our respects.
My two young children are absolutely wonderful. All my creative work is ultimately dedicated to them. If they show any signs of creativity in any form, I’m determined to encourage and nurture it. I don’t want them to be like me – it took me literally years to pluck up the courage before I finally put pen to paper. Lack of self-belief is a terrible thing. When my children are older, I hope my books work will inspire them to work hard, be creative, keep moving. That’s my main motivation really. And the fact that I need to get all these damned stories out of my head and onto paper!
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my books and also the more personal stuff. Really appreciated.
KC: Thank-you, Jack. Keep the Zen edge and the absurd outlook coming. Here’s to hoping I never get a tip from you in my next life.
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Jack’s books may be found at the various Amazon sites.