Interview with Andrew C. Youngson
1. WHEN DID YOU FIRST COME TO THAILAND?
I first came to Thailand in 1997 to tour some of the international schools, to take entrance exams, and to help choose an area for my mother, stepfather and I to live. It felt like I was on another planet. Having grown up in a village in north east Scotland, Bangkok couldn’t have been more different. The humidity was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and the smells were so strange to me – from the garlic of the food markets, to the wafts of khlong water, to the sweet jasmine-scented shopping malls. It was so alien, but utterly exciting.
2. WHAT HAS CHANGED HERE THE MOST?
I’ve been back to Thailand a bunch of times since school, but there was quite a large gap of about eight or nine years when I visited most recently in 2018. The main thing I noticed which fascinated me, was that it felt like Bangkok was no longer looking to the West for cultural inspiration. When I was at school in the late nineties, it was all American pop music, bowling alleys, burgers and pizza. But now, it felt like Thailand was celebrating its own culture, innovations and design far more – from Thai pop, to modern Thai architecture, to traditional and forward-looking homegrown cuisine. Maybe I just didn’t see those things as much as a kid, but it was wonderful to experience such a celebration of contemporary Thai culture all around me when I visited recently.
3. WHAT HAS CHANGED HERE THE LEAST?
It sounds corny, but what’s changed the least is how it feels to arrive in Bangkok. I love the drive in from the airport, seeing the skyscrapers rising all around me. It’s such a vibrant city, and I don’t think that feeling of excitement and energy I get from visiting will ever go away.
As for the place, maybe something that’s changed the least is the smaller sois. Away from the bustle of the main streets, the little residential sois are exactly the same. There are still motorbike taxis rattling up and down, fruit and Som Tam sellers calling out, and telephone cables draped like vines. I hope that never changes.
4. WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN WRITING?
It was probably my dad that got me into writing first of all. He’s an English teacher, you see. When I was growing up, he would ask me and my brothers to write stories which he would then print out in collections and share with the family. So in one form or another, I’ve always been writing. But it was after university that I realised writing was something I could do for a living. It’s followed me through my whole career, from writing scripts for commercial radio, to press releases for PR agencies, to years spent as a journalist on a features desk. They’re all very different kinds of writing, but the rhythm of me and the keyboard has been the same.
5. WHAT OTHER BOOKS OR PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I’m working on a few things at the moment. I’ve been fleshing out a potential sequel to The Memory Project, set 50 years after the events of the first book. No spoilers, but it’s fun to imagine how the world will have changed after what happens at the end of the book.
I’m also doing some short story writing, which I’m posting on my website whenever they’re ready. I really like the palate-cleansing effect of writing shorter pieces.
And finally, I’m at the very starting blocks of a completely new book – one that will merge traditional Scottish fairy tales with a modern-day drama.
6. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY?
I’ve got quite a sprawling family who are mostly based in Scotland and England. I’ve got an older sister and two brothers.
I’m the baby, although now that my siblings all have kids I’m an old baby!
It was only me, my mum and stepdad who moved out to Thailand – my siblings were already working or at uni – so it was strange to suddenly have such a small family unit around me. My mum, a drama teacher, got a job at my school, which was really nice as it meant the school became our de facto family for the duration of our Thailand years. And those bonds remain to this day.
7. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN OR ENJOYMENT?
To be honest, I’m a big fan of sitting on my butt and reading books and watching TV. Sure, I enjoy jogging, going out for long walks and meeting up with friends, but nothing beats escapism.
8. WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL?
I love city breaks. I grew up in the countryside, so while I love fresh air and open fields, I prefer to visit other cities when it comes to travelling. Some of my favourite recent trips have been to Hong Kong, San Francisco and Copenhagen. Top of my list once the pandemic subsides is Tokyo. That’s been my number one destination for some time now actually.
9. SCI FI AND HORROR STORIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EXTREMELY POPULAR. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE GENRES?
It’s probably a tired answer, but I think both sci-fi and horror genres are at their best when they remember to service character as much as cleverness or jump-scares. What draws us into any genre the most is believable characters.
I also think that these broad genre categories can be quite restricting at times. Some of my favourite books bleed across the boundaries of genre, borrowing the best elements of many. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, for example, could be called a drama, or a piece of literary fiction, but it also has elements of crime and thriller about it. And a lot of Stephen King’s books lean in multiple directions – ‘It’ being a particular favourite of mine.
Bleeding across the genres in this way helps authors defy expectations – a great accomplishment for any writer to aim for.
10. WHAT DO YOU SEE IS THE FUTURE FOR YOURSELF?
Gosh I don’t know really. All I know is that writing gives me a motivation that many other activities don’t. I’ve always written, and will always write. And this move into novel writing has given me a whole new gear to explore.