Soho Crime has a new collection of short stories featuring the following authors: Colin Cotterill, Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, Mette Ivie Harrison, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, James R. Benn, Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron and a Foreword and story by Peter Lovesey.
An excerpt from Colin’s Bio taken from his short story, There’s Only One Father Christmas, Right?:
Colin Cotterill is the author of twelve books in the critically acclaimed Dr. Siri Paiboun series, which is set in Laos in the late 1970s after the Communist takeover, and which feature a septuagenarian coroner-detective, Dr. Siri and an offbeat entourage of misfit associates who help him solve crimes. His fiction has won a Dilys Award and a CWA Dagger in the Library. He is also the author of the Jimm Juree Series set in Thailand. In addition, Colin is a professional cartoonist and has been involved in several non-profit and humanitarian organizations in Australia and Southeast Asia.
Colin lives at an undisclosed location in the south of Thailand with his wife and six, er, make that seven well-groomed dogs. He doesn’t do Facebook but his email is not hard to find if you want to reach him.
This is Colin’s second interview at Thailand Footprint:
KC: Let’s say you are God for a week or alternatively, a writer of fiction. Some say it’s close to being the same thing. How would you change the world?
cc: Last month I stood up to my knees in the surf and threw a bottle into the Gulf of Siam. It wasn’t revenge for all the trash that’s tossed up on our beach every monsoon season. It was a message. Yes, a message in a bottle. How romantic, you say. A German newspaper had asked arty people like myself to write a message for world peace and harmony, seal it in a bottle and dispatch it from the nearest body of water. When washed up and opened – hopefully two continents away rather than at the other end of our beach – the finder would contact the newspaper and the world would be united in love. Right, I didn’t expect that to work either. But it did give me a chance to spread Dr. Siri’s philosophy. Here’s his message. Do with it as you wish.
The world is vast and I am microscopic.
I despair because micro-me cannot rid the world of all its shit.
But I have a postage stamp of land and a shovel.
So, hear my mini-battle cry.
FORGET THE PLANET
SAVE THE GARDEN
KC: Tell me about your Mom, or if you prefer, your Mum. Just enough to make you uncomfortable. What did she teach you to do well? What did she teach you not to do?
cc: A few months after my thirteenth birthday I said ‘fuck’. It wasn’t the first time I’d said ‘fuck’ but on this occasion it was ill-timed and traumatic because I said it in front of my mother. I’d learned the word from our neighbour, Hilda who had an absentee husband, three kids and hygiene issues. Our block of terraced council houses did not lend itself to privacy and there was a lot that went on at Hilda’s that my mum would have preferred I didn’t pick up. The word ‘fuck’ was one such nasty and mum’s disappointment burned into me like a brand. In the sixty-two years that my mum and I were sharing a planet I never heard her swear. Even if ‘dash’ crept from her cake-not-rising lips, she would look around, blush and say ‘sorry’… even when she was alone. I’m not saying my mother succeeded in cleaning up my mouth. I played rugby and ‘gosh’ just didn’t cut it when you were forearmed by a gorilla. But she did teach me restraint. She also taught me to be nice to people I didn’t like (Bear this in mind, K). She was friendly to all our neighbours in our slummy little street, even Hilda. “A smile doesn’t cost anything”, she’d say. And when I’m riding my bicycle around the village I can always muster a free Ethel Cotterill smile. It works.
KC: You are involved in an anthology of short stories: The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. What’s it all about? It’s November after all.
cc: Actually, I haven’t read it. I can only tell you about my role in it. A couple of years ago, Soho got in touch and suggested the project. I was busy but I immediately agreed and, at the time, I didn’t know why. when I first wrote for Soho in 2004 it was really a little Mom and Pop publishing house in a crumbly old building in Chelsea. they had a full time staff of four.
Kyoko and I stopped by earlier this year on our way through New York. they’d moved. not far but certainly up. my first impression was how young the dozen or so full-timers were. how enthusiastic. how knowledgeable. I was really out of my depth. these days, I have trouble making complete sentences. I couldn’t even keep up with them drinking, and that’s my best card. the word they used a lot was ‘family’ and I guess they saw me as great-uncle Col. (all right. perhaps not great.) and they were right. they’re still a family business and I think that’s why none of the writers they contacted for The Usual Santas refused them. authors sign up for smaller houses like Soho because they don’t want to be a line in a barcode.
KC: In 1959 Ernest Hemingway wrote a preface for a collection of his writings titled: The Art of the Short Story. In it he says many people have a compulsion to write. He didn’t say writers he said, “people”. He goes on to say, “The compulsory writer would be advised not to attempt the short story.” Do you agree with Papa? Are you a compulsory writer? How is the art of writing a short story different from crafting a novel?
cc:Ernest (he prefers ‘ernie’ or ‘ern’) and I have had our differences over the years not least when discussing our personal philosophies of short story writing. he doesn’t answer my emails so much since he died but I take that to mean I win. my theory (not about the brontosaurus) is that everyone needs to write as therapy to combat life. not everyone can write a full length novel. it’s a commitment. it’s hard work. it’s annoying. but everyone has it in themselves to turn out short stories. whether they’re good or not is a moot point. it’s getting that baby out of you before it rots and clogs up your urinary tract that’s important.
I’m not a compulsory writer. in fact I’m totally optional. I write to eat. novels are hard work and they just show me how stupid I am. would that I were good enough a writer to stop writing full length books. but, short stories, those I can handle. when Minotaur Books decided my Jimm Juree series would not be paying their executive golf fees and ceremoniously dumped her, I took it upon myself to keep her alive. every two months I’m posting a jimm case file on the net for almost no cost at all. I like her and think that profitability should not be the end all of successful writing. she has fans, so like this I can keep feeding their addiction. I can pop out all the plot ideas I was deprived of sharing by corporate editors. and, when the JJ case files catch on and go viral, I can sit in my Jacuzzi and sip Chivas and say, ‘What do you know, Ern?’
KC: In addition to being an award winning novelist with a loyal following of fans you are also a professional cartoonist and even do the odd book cover now and then. Is cartooning an affliction or pure joy? Which cartoonists influenced you when you were seventeen? Which ones interest you in your post mid-life crisis years?
cc: I’ve always seen myself as a cartoonist who writes rather than a writer who draws. I grew up with comics like Beezer and Beano progressing through Mad magazine which left me spoiled for life. I loved Gerald Scarfe’s irreverent sketches of British idiocy and Ronald Searle’s cruel caricatures. I’ve cartooned all my life. I’ve been close to making a good career out of it but no coconut. fate was always ag’in me. a few years back I had it, the idea that would make me a household name; an editorial sports cartoon making fun of the day’s top sporting event called ‘New Balls Please’. I would syndicate it around the world. I put together a sample package with colourful thai stamps and sent them to every English language newspaper in the world. (absolutely true) I sat back and waited for fame to knock on my door.
The packages would have arrived exactly on or a few days after 9/11/2001. Fate.
KC: What is the last biography or autobiography you have read?
cc: Next month is my writing month. for four weeks I’ll lock myself up in a cave and produce the next book in my Dr. Siri series. and it’s time to talk about the Vietnam war. I’ve been avoiding it for obvious reasons. lot of background reading. I’ve just finished two autobiographies of Americans involved in the conflict. one was ‘Sunsets, Bulldozers and Elephants’ by Howard Lewin who went to Laos with IVS and USAID and ‘A Code to Keep’ by Ernest C. Brace who spent 2,868 days as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. (some time in the cell beside John McCain’s.). I’m now thoroughly depressed. I’ve never spent a year in a bamboo cage. I did have quite a hard mattress at the OnOn hotel in Phuket once.
KC: Does writing a memoir interest you? If not, why not?
cc: Really, who’d want to read about me?
Colin Cotterill’s website, which includes a cool gallery of photos of his Mum can be found here.
Colin Cotterill’s author page at Amazon can be found here.
You can buy The Usual Santas here.
Colin’s latest novel is The Rat Catchers’ Olympics (A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery).
Cartoon artwork by Colin Cotterill – Famous Last Selfies