Author

Leonard H. Le Blanc III

by Tom Crowley

Koehler Books, 2021, 190 pages. www.amazon.com[email protected]

           I am more disheartened as of late at the inhumanity of most people around the world. The “Me first, you last – Just take your silly little problem down the hall and Get it away from me” attitudes are both grating and depressing. Especially during these dark days when charity, a helping hand, altruistic motives, understanding, and humanitarian gestures are needed the most. The supply of all the above appears to be rapidly evaporating everywhere you look.

           Then comes along a real gem of a book, Mercy’s Heroes. Although it contains some vignettes of heart wrenching, gut punching (or actually soul punching) inhumanity, it also contains many snippets of real hope, authentic caring and genuine selflessness. Tom Crowley has done a real service to us all in bringing the plight of the Klong Toey slum denizens to a wider audience and, hopefully, more open wallets and donations. He should be highly commended for his literary skills and his noble service to the less fortunate.

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We speak today to Simon Landy MBE, a long term resident of Thailand, highly successful real estate executive and property expert plus the author of The King and the Consul (River Books), a recent non-fiction history about the events surrounding the signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855.

 

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

 

When did you first come to Thailand?

I first came to Thailand in 1980. I was working in Singapore and came for a break. My most vivid memory is of travelling to Chiang Mai, getting very drunk with the hostel owner and agreeing to go the very next morning on a four day hilltribe trek. It was a wonderful experience, only marred by my lack of suitable footwear. I bought the largest trainers I could find in a shop in Fang. But they were two sizes too small and I ended up with gangrene of the foot. That experience somehow inspired me to apply for jobs (and accept one) in Bangkok as soon as I got back there.

 

What has changed here the most and the least?

Bangkok for both. I don’t share the nostalgic whingeing for an imaginary utopian Bangkok in the past that some people have. Perhaps I’m just too young! As long as I have known the city, it’s been a noisy, polluted, traffic jammed, chaotic and sometimes violent city that is simultaneously colourful, vibrant, exciting and even charming. One big change is air conditioned cars. The traffic is as bad or worse than before, but now drivers aren’t sweating at interminable red traffic lights, leaning on their horns and cursing the world in general and the vehicle in front of them in particular.

 

What got you interested in writing your latest book?

It was the sale and demolition of the British Embassy on the corner of Wireless and Ploenchit roads. Looking at the history of that site led me to the story of how the British were granted land on the river in Bangrak by King Mongkut in the 1850s. I felt that the little known story of intrigue and human tragedy that lay behind that gift needed to be told. Plus, it had a gruesome death! And for me it also shed a fascinating light on the history of property rights in Thailand that explained issues that had always puzzled me in my day job in property.

What do you do for enjoyment?

Covid has taught us to either enjoy the simpler pleasures of family, reading and Netflix or go bonkers. If the world were to return to what we used to consider normal, my wife and I would probably be travelling more and doing more of those cultural activities that we used to enjoy, although, weirdly, we might miss the predictability and equilibrium of lockdown life a little.

 

Where are your favourite places to visit?

We love to travel just about anywhere in Europe and Asia. In the former, Tuscany would have to be at or near the top; in the latter, it’s hard to beat upcountry Thailand. During lockdowns, my favourite place to visit is the kitchen.

 

Can you tell us about your family?

I have a small family. My daughter, Salisa, is married to Patrick and they have a young daughter, Raya. They live in Thailand, so my wife, Napaporn (Ad), and I try to spend as much time as possible here.

 

What are your favourite foods to eat?

I’m not a fussy eater, so can enjoy most cuisines. In Thailand, it’s hard to beat a great bowl of noodles for lunch and spicy curries (kaeng liang, kaeng tai pla) with jasmine rice, but I try to eat fewer carbs these days so often end up with a Mediterranean wrap or Japanese food.

 

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to move to Thailand to live?

I don’t – have advice, that is. There are few things as irritating as some old fart dispensing generalised wisdom from personal experience. On second thoughts, I would advise getting the right visa.

 

What do you see in the future for yourself?

I see great fame and riches when my book hits the top of international best seller lists, a contract to turn it into a mini series for a global streaming platform and a series of follow on projects that would rival the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises for popularity. At least that’s what I think the mor du said.

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Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2019, 296 pages, www.marshallcavendish.com/genref

In my opinion, political scientists in the west have it so easy. Only three branches of government, two main political parties, the rest is just intramural spectator sports. But here in Thailand, political scientists are always completely exhausted – five branches of government (monarchy, military, legislative, judicial, and executive), an ever-changing kaleidoscope of multiple political parties, new-and-improved constitutions and laws, all combined with professional political contact sports including sharp elbows thrown (and always ready smiles). A winner-take-all view prevails on obtaining power.

James Wise has done all of us a great service in dissecting Thai politics with a highly readable, scholarly, and intelligently presented work. He has a lot of ground to cover but adroitly manages it by possessing an expert’s eye, an astute insider’s take on all things political here and a wheelbarrow-load of academic and scholarly research.

The author makes seemingly impenetrable, always confusing Thai politics clear and understandable. His book should be widely read, and he should be commended for it.

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We are talking with Dr. Paul T. Carter, a leading authority in the intelligence field on the Second Indochina War and Thailand.

When did you first come to Thailand?

In 2014, after 31 years of U.S. military service.

What has changed here the most?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, I think we would all probably agree. 

What has changed here the least?

The government’s and institutions’ repetitive paperwork to get anything done, and pollution. 

What are you working on now?

Another video about war and security. I taught myself video production and make non-monetised videos to post on You Tube, usually on subjects I feel others have not or inadequately covered. I focus on fact – to let the readers draw their own assessments – and keeping the viewer entertained and curious. I have uncovered some interesting stories. The CIA hired approximately 111 smokejumpers (Americans who parachuted in to combat Western U.S. forest fires) beginning in the 1950s for overseas clandestine service, and the CIA hiring over 100 English speaking Thai young men during the Second Indochina War for U.S. aircraft operations in Laos. I’ve conducted many individual interviews on this. Please go to You Tube and type “Paul Carter Smokejumpers” or “Paul Carter Thailand Indochina War” and you’ll find me.

Where are your favourite places to go?

The beach first, mountains second. I love Bangkok though. Critique Bangkok anyway you want, but it has its own unique, mysterious, sultry vibe unlike any other world city. A highlight pre-Covid (and hopefully again soon) was travelling to Laos for charity work several times per year. I’ll plug an American charity TLCB (Thai-Cambodia-Laos Brotherhood) that funds bathrooms, tin roofs, cement floors, and such for the poorest schools in Laos. Along with 5/6 others here, we are front men who go to Laos to inspect these simple projects to make sure the funding is spent prudently, and work done properly. We volunteer, do not get paid. It doesn’t take much money to finance a new tin roof for a one room school in Laos, especially when the villagers do their own work. The villagers are appreciative and grateful beyond explanation, and honour us with simple, heartfelt Bacci ceremonies when we visit. The homemade, villager distilled Lao Lao, Lao Hai, and Lao Kiaow are of course highlights of those celebrations. 

What are your favourite foods?

Thai food. It was my favourite food before I left the States. I even eat “gope” (frog) but I’m from Kentucky and that’s normal. I actually do a lot of cooking on my own, and finally mastered pizza dough – no small accomplishment for me. It’s surprisingly simple. Or as Jack Nicklaus said about golf, “an amazingly simple game with endless nuance.” I also have a melanger (wet grinder) to make my own chocolate from northern Thailand cocoa.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy reading, researching, making videos, and writing the most. I believe in making history interesting for others. That’s how I spend most of my time, with cooking taking up some of my time. Everything I write, to include my published journal articles, I place for free download on my academia.edu page. The videos are on my You Tube page. I do exercise daily, running and lifting weights on alternate days. 

Carter, rear in white shirt, with a group of Laos villagers during a visit

You have let a fascinating life. What can you share?

I served 21 years in the U.S. Army, 9 of those in airborne units, went to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division, then 7 years at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency with 4 civilian tours in Iraq. I used my GI bill to get masters and PhD degrees at Chulalongkorn University. I got off a plane in Bangkok in 2014 not knowing a soul in Thailand, nor ever having even been to the region. I started here from scratch.

What advice to you have for anyone moving to Thailand?

The two most important things are patience. The third is accepting you’ll never understand the Thai way. And that’s okay. You are an outsider and always will be, just embrace it. Sure, we expats like to bitch, it’s what we enjoy apparently, but don’t take the bitching seriously. If it’s that bad, move somewhere else.

What do you see is the future for yourself?

There is an old saying, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” For now, I’ll just keep reading and writing. 

Carter lecturing at the Siam Society, Bangkok, where he has conducted three historical presentations

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A British Tragedy in Old Siam, by Simon Landy

River Books, 248 pages, [email protected]

Every country has historic dates that prominently stand out. These will forever be remembered as important turning points in the nation’s future. In the UK it is The Glorious First of June (1794); in the U.S. it is 4th July 1776; and in Thailand it is 17-18th May 1688.

We can add 18th April 1855 to that list. This was when the Bowring Treaty was signed between the UK and Thailand. The pact initiated an explosive increase in trade, cemented Thailand’s rise as an independent nation equal to any and brought in modernisation.

Simon Landy’s new book is a riveting, can’t out-it-down, detailed look at the events and people surrounding the treaty. A very important contribution to Thai and UK history; it is also professionally crafted, highly detailed and well researched look at events and personages surrounding it. It is remarkably even handed and insightful. The book is highly readable, most erudite, and very enjoyable. 

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We are speaking today with Lesley Naylor, author of the new book ‘The Land of Trees’

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

When did you first come to Thailand?

First trip was in 2010. My partner (he had already fallen in love with Thailand and been visiting for years) and I made the three hour bus ride from Bangkok to Ban Phe and then the boat ride on to Koh Samet. Having lived in East London for the past 20 years, a place dear to my heart but high in crime and deprivation, I was impressed by the friendliness of locals, the cheap availability of delicious foods, the lack of crime and the rocky and isolated beauty of the island with its forest covered coast and sandy beaches. I went to my first and only full moon party, joined by a coach load of ladyboy revellers and had the time of my life! 

What has changed here the most?

We moved to Phuket in 2012 and it has since changed dramatically. The airport was a one terminal building, there were no streetlights over much of the island, no dual carriageways and no Makro or Villa Market’s near us. You could drive from one end of the island to the other in an hour. Over the past decade we have seen the airport expand to an international hub capable of bringing in five times as many tourists (about ten million people) pre-Covid. The frenzied development of villas, hotels and beach clubs and subsequent removal of flora and fauna has been shocking to witness.

What has changed here the least?

In spite of all the commercial development there are still local vendors and restaurants that remain unfazed, particularly in Phuket town. 

What are you working on now?

I am writing academically for the first time in 20 years as I complete a master’s module in Education, specifically on raising the achievement of learners. 

What do you do for fun?

I love yoga, music, reading, roaming beaches, swimming in the sea and hanging out with friends.

Where are your favourite places to visit?

Since Covid, our world became very small, and we have not left the island in almost two years. Pre-Covid we loved driving to Penang in Malaysia and flying to Cambodia. Within Thailand we loved spending time in Khao Sok with its ancient tropical rainforest and multitude of animals.

What are your favourite foods to eat?

Noodles and dim sum!

What got you interested in writing about SE Asia?

I have an uncle who escaped China by swimming to Hong Kong. My family, as you can imagine just from that, has a crazy history of migration. I want to write about it as migration has always deeply affected me, but I lack the confidence. When Covid happened it kind of gave me the excuse to stop writing for a while. But it is often on my mind. I am getting ready and keeping busy in the meantime.

What advice do you have for anyone that wants to move to Thailand (or SE Asia)?

Do it. But remember you are a guest in a culture that you will need to be able to genuinely love and respect. So, visit first! Phuket is not the best place to practice the Thai language because so many people speak English and are proud of the fact but learn as much as you can. Also, give as much back as you can: recycle and reuse things and support community initiatives.

My partner says do not move to Thailand if you are a hot tempered kind of person! And he is absolutely right because Thai people have a kind of philosophy that involves being mellow at all times: Jai yen (cool heart). Confrontation and yelling at people is kind of repugnant. Obviously not every single Thai person is perfectly behaved! But you are guaranteed to meet far, far less irate people than you would in London. Thais, mostly, are kind, welcoming and principled folk. They are a big part of why we are still here. 

What do you see in the future for yourself?

I have never been good at seeing the future, even with my wild imagination! Do not know where we will be on this planet or what we will be doing. I will probably be writing though. 

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Wood Horse Press, 597 pages, 2016. http:www.amazon.com

Leonard H. Le Blanc III

It is fascinating to note the eerie parallels between the current situation in the U.S. and Germany’s Weimar Republic during the 1920s. Overt racism, street thugs who brawl against opponents, law and order breakdown, the polarization of all political parties, financial turmoil, frequent social strife, the rise of demagogues, intolerance and intolerance and, in general, a whole society that is visibly disintegrating and rapidly sliding into chaos. That horrible situation allowed the rise of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s and Donald Trump, for four years, most recently. We know how Nazi Germany turned out.

Karen Schur-Narula has done us all a real, even important, service by revising Hitler’s Germany through the eyes of a young woman who was enraptured, even dazzled, by Adolph Hitler and blinded by her own unbreakable ambition. This grand literary effort is both a most impressive, sprawling historical tale and a close, intimate portrait of a very determined, extremely talented, headstrong young woman and her wrenching journey to enlightenment and truth. A very highly recommended read for all.

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by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

I have been asked by other aspiring writers, since I am doing a lot of book reviews again for Expat Life in Thailand, how can they become a writer? I am immediately reminded what Daniel Craig (James Bond movies) just told other aspiring actors who want to become thespians: “Don’t do it!” He explained it is too hard, the humiliations and rejections are constant, the odds of becoming a success in the business are impossibly long. And this advice is coming from one of the most successful, widely admired, enormously talented actors of his generation. Give up yet? OK, you asked for it! Here we go with my (poor) advice.

Before I ever put pen to paper back in 1988, I was a U.S. Navy Minority Officer Recruiter in El Paso, Texas, USA. I invited one of the U.S.’s best selling authors to come down to speak. He agreed to come. His name was Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr., author of the Naval classic Run Silent, Run Deep later made into a popular movie. I asked him: “What does it take to become a writer?” He replied: “You need three things. First – know what person you are speaking in. Second – know your audience. Third – know your subject.”

There was an old saying in Hollywood: “For every face you see on the screen there are a 1,000 failures.” When I occasionally moonlighted as an extra in Hollywood, when I was still in U.S. Navy Recruiting in 1988-1991, the common wisdom was there were 110,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Of that only 3,000 made more than $10,000USD a year. So the competition to succeed was intensely fierce. I did an interview with the prolific, best selling author, Colin Cotterill for Expat Life in Thailand. We spoke about what it takes to become a writer. He said that C.S. Lewis got over 800 rejection slips before someone saw the charms of The Chronicles of Narnia. (My first novel, Air Base, got slightly less rejection slips from book agents and publishers.) Colin said he got very lucky in having his enormously popular murder mystery books reach a market that was eager to read them.

However, I also spoke with the Executive Senior Editor of the U.S. official military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, Bob Reid, about writing. He explained it is all ‘rigged’. Publishing is all an insider’s game, closed to outsiders looking to break in be a successful writer. He said that a publisher will take a bad book from a famous author over a great book from an unknown author. This is definitely true, looking at some of the mangy, flea bitten, moth eaten works I have seen from some well known authors. Towards the end of his life, Mario Puzo (The Godfather) put out several critically panned books. But because he was “Mario Puzo”, these books all sold like free hot cakes since his third book was an international blockbusting best seller. I have seen other local great writers in my time including Steve Rosse, William Peskett, Robin Westley Martin, Stephen Leather, Tom Crowley, Collin Piprell, and others here craft as good, or better, as anything the bestselling authors have on the market. The problem – lack of audience for whatever reason, not skill or talent.

How did I get my five books into print? The first two books I had printed out of my own pocket. I sold them to friends, family and anyone who would buy them. I made a modest profit. The next two books went out as eBooks on Amazon. But it was said that perhaps one million other writers were also putting their self-published books up on Amazon annually. Only a few of them broke out of the herd and went on to be best sellers. On my last book, The Perfect U.S. “Deep State Operation!” I had a U.S.-based Pay-to-Print publisher do it for me. They were not cheap, but they put out a good product and are trying to get publicity for it. Writing was the easy part, getting the book into mainstream media has been (next-to-nigh on) impossible, but I am still trying to catch the right eye. I am still trying.

What else? You will need talent, luck, perseverance, stamina and patience to succeed as a writer. There are no guarantees. It is just like running around the Sahara desert trying to get struck by lightning. It can happen, but not very often. Break a leg!  

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by L. A. Naylor

Roots Books, 329 pages, 2019. https://lanaylor.com/

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

I had a troubled childhood. To escape, I buried my face in books. The page turners I liked most effortlessly whisked me away to places I’d never been to and plunked me into situations I had never been in. These books grabbed me and took me right along for the free ride to a whole other, fascinating, undiscovered world. The narratives riveted my attention and held it to the end. I loved the journey. My woes, if temporarily, melted.

A. Naylor’s ‘The Land of Trees’ most definitely qualifies as one of those thrilling rides of grand imagination and inventive creativity. You can feel yourself as part of the conversation, or at least as a willing bystander. The prose is razor sharp, shamelessly witty, and remarkably perceptive. At its heart, it is a gritty detective story. A grand tale of determination, perseverance, and resiliency. The plot pacing never flags. It is easy to see the author knows their subject, so the book rings with perfect authenticity.  Enjoy!

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by Steve Rosse

Independently published, 246 pages, 2020. https:amazon.com

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

When any writer reaches national, even international, stature they name a geographic area, genre or whole subject after them. Examples are sufficient. Southwestern U.S. Navajo Lands are simply known as “Tony Hillerman Country.” Parts of England are known as “Jane Austin County.” The Cold War spy genre has been called “John Le Carre Land” for decades. Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth and Joseph Conrad all have their names tagged in showing ownership of something major in the print world.

Now we will have to call Phuket Island “Steve Rosse Land.” (Not sure how the Thai government will react to that redesignation, hopefully they won’t mind.) Steve has penned another classic page turner with his latest work of written art, “Leaving Thailand – A Memoir.” It is a wistfully nostalgic, heartfelt, hilariously funny, and deeply insightful take of Steve’s untimely departure from the LOS 24 years ago. However, as no good deed goes unpunished, Steve will grace us with his presence shortly. Welcome back Steve! (About darn time!) Break a leg!

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