Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Living With A Curfew

As the CNN’s correspondent was ducking bullets in Bangkok in his armoured helmet and flack jacket protected by two former SAS bodyguards and shadowed by his own personal trauma medic, I had a more mundane task last week – to get my eleven-year-old daughter ready for her SAT tests.

The children at my daughter’s school in Bangkok sit their SATs two weeks after their British counterparts, and while back in the UK headmasters and teachers were doing their best to sabotage the tests, the staff and pupils at Bangkok Patana are all too keen to demonstrate how well they are doing.

Bangkok Patana is one of the best schools in Asia with an academic record that puts most UK schools to shame. But with Thailand in the grip of a near-civil war and the army shooting unarmed protestors, the school had to close, along with most of the others in the city.

So with SAT tests due to start on May 24, teachers had to resort to emails to keep their pupils on track, which is why as the Thai police and Army were facing down thousands of Red Shirt protestors in the city’s main business and shopping area, I was going over the basics of long division and basic algebra with my daughter, Sam, and marking her reading assignments.

The trouble had been brewing since March when tens of thousands of protestors – supported and allegedly funded by former prime minister and ex-owner of Manchester City Thaksin Sinawatra – flooded into the city. They set up a makeshift camp opposite one of the biggest and most luxurious shopping malls in Asia and announced that they wouldn’t be moving until the Government was dissolved and new elections held.

The city’s elite immediately switched their shopping trips to the almost-as-luxurious Emporium shopping centre and waited for the protestors to run out of steam. But the Red Shirts, mainly from the dirt poor North Eastern region of the country, dug in for the long haul.

When the softly-softly approach of Eton and Oxford educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva failed to make an impression, he announced that he would use whatever measures were necessary to take back the city.

As always the British Foreign Office reacted like a headless chicken, recommending that none of its citizens travel to Thailand and shutting the embassy’s doors. But the expats who call Thailand home know that even during the frequent military coups and clampdowns, life generally goes on as normal in the Land Of Smiles.

The Foreign Office’s warning did the trick though, because when I flew in on Sunday (May 16) the business class section of my EVA flight from Heathrow was three-quarters empty and the normally bustling Suvarnabhumi Airport was deserted.

The standoff broke last week and by the time the streets were eventually cleared 85 people were dead and 1,402 were injured, a cinema complex had been destroyed and the huge Central World shopping mall and the Stock Exchange were in flames.

So what is it like living in a country that the world’s media keep saying is on the brink of civil war? Actually, it’s not much different from the way it was before it was on the brink of civil war.

If you watched CNN or the BBC you’d have seen lines of stony-faced troops, protestors throwing petrol bombs and launching home-made rockets, and defensive barricades made from tyres and bamboo spears. But where we live, just five miles away from the trouble spot, we never saw a single soldier and only the occasional pick-up truck of Red Shirt supporters heading for the demonstration zone. There were no sounds of gunfire, no bombs, no heavy artillery.

There were inconveniences, of course. The Government shut down the Skytrain, one of the most successful of Bangkok’s impressive list of infrastructure projects which whisks thousands of passengers a day above the heads of the city’s notorious traffic jams. Then they announced that there would be a five day public holiday, whether people wanted it or not. And then they announced a curfew.

It was the curfew that took everyone by surprise, with the Government announcing at lunchtime on Wednesday that everyone had to be home by 8pm. Most of the main supermarkets immediately closed so everyone rushed over to the 7-11 corner shops to stock up on the basics. But even the panic-buying was carried out Thai-style with little rushing and a lot of smiles.
As the curfew drew closer, taxis started behaving the way that they do when the monsoon rains hit – they prowled around with their doors locked negotiating outrageous rates with desperate wannabe customers. With the buses cancelled, thousands of people began the long walk home. Rumours started to spread that ATMs would be shutting down during the hours of curfew but as everyone was inside, no one could check if it was true or not.

Disbelieving sex tourists headed for the internet forums, desperately trying to find out if the city’s go-go bars and saunas would still be open. When they realised they wouldn’t be – bar owners had been told they faced two years in jail if they were caught breaking the curfew - many headed for Pattaya, the seaside resort where anything goes, to discover that it was also being shut down at 8pm. The wealthier immediately booked flights for Phuket in the south which remained unaffected by the clamp-down.

When the troops went in on Wednesday, the protestors set fire to the barricades and looted shops. I had friends who were closer to the action who heard gunfire and saw plumes of smoke as the city burned but I was busy giving my daughter spelling tests and working through mental arithmetic questions and trying to find out if Pizza Hut were still delivering.

The curfew was extended for the whole of last week and was then extended on a day-to-day basis though shortened from 8pm to 6am to 11pm to 5am. As the curfew continued, the supermarkets traded as usual and panic-buying vanished. The Skytrain started operating on Sunday and taxis have gone back to using their meters. Bangkok Patana reopened and the children took their SATs. Bangkok has returned to normal. But the underlying problems remain. The bulk of the population are poor and the rich elite that runs the country is in no hurry to spread the wealth around. The Red Shirts will probably be back. But at least next time my daughter won’t be taking her SATs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Polarised Views On Amazon

Two reviews went up on Amazon at about the same time recently - one reviewer giving it five stars, the other one star. It's worth remembering that one star is the lowest that a reviewer can give - you can't award zero stars. So you only really give a one star review to a book that you hate....

I am still not sure why a book that gets so many five star reviews (19 so far!) can also get one star reviews. It's a mystery. I guess that Jack Nightingale is like Marmite - love it or hate it....

Anyway, here's the five star review:

Wow, 21 May 2010
By Ms J Linney
This review is from: Nightfall (Paperback)
This was one of the best books I've read this year, and I read a lot! Different and intriguing. Do hope this is the beginning of a long friendship with P.I. Jack Nightingale

And here's the one star review.

Utterly dismal, 21 May 2010
By Call Me Sparky "Playful Scamp and Meglomaniac... (London, England)

This review is from: Nightfall (Paperback)

I've never read any Stephen Leather books, but convinced by te marketing campaign and reviews of his other, more traditional sounding crime novels, I read this.

The plot is far from ludicrous given it is a supernatural thriller (and I use the term thriller wrongly). A willing suspension of disbelief is obviously required. However, poorly written, off the shelf characters do nothing to elevate the story or provide any real sense of danger.

Similar to James Herbert at his worst - and that is saying something - unbelievable dialogue has stuck this book firmly in my mind along with books I read back in the early 80's. Random plotting, insufficient descriptive prowess, the inclusion of a Basil Exposition character that would fit in a Dan Brown book... I could go on but I have not got the energy.

What I will say is that it moves along quickly. Thank God. In this case it is not indicative of a gripping story, but poor characterisation and scene setting which results in this being nothing more than a basic script.

Utterly, utterly woeful.

I have to say I do find it hard to take someone seriously who calls himself Sparky and who refers to himself as "Playful Scamp and Meglomaniacal Genius". I mean, really.....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Great Review On Amazon

Just had my 29th review on Amazon and it's a goodie! Five stars!!

an amazing read!, 19 May 2010
By T. P. Manning (uk)

This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)

i have to say that ive never read a book as quickly in my life since stephen kings the stand. this book is fantastic and i cant understand the bad reviews. the characters are brilliant and both me and my dad could see this making a great movie. i personally didnt find it difficult to get my head round the occult stuff because you as a reader and nightingale as the character learn of the satanic beings at the same time. this was only my second stephen leather book and i will certainly be buying more now!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friends (Relatives) In High Places!

The whole world is corrupt, pretty much. This from the Guardian -

Barack Obama's aunt has been granted asylum after living illegally in the US, to the frustration of the president's rightwing critics who say that undocumented immigrants are flooding the country.

Zeituni Onyango, 57, lives in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama's father. She moved to America 10 years ago on a valid visa. Two years later she applied for asylum, but was rejected and ordered to leave in 2004. However, she overstayed her visa and remained in the country illegally until she won a new hearing.

Her most recent asylum case was brought on the grounds that she might be in danger if she returned to Kenya because of political and ethnic violence, and because she is related to the US president. She also sought to remain because she is suffering from an autoimmune disorder.

Her lawyer, Scott Bratton, declined to say on what grounds the immigration court had granted her the right to remain in the US indefinitely. "The asylum process is confidential and she wants to keep it that way, so we can't get into details on why the judge granted asylum, or the exact basis for her claim," he said.

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama speaks affectionately of "Auntie Zeituni", who helped him understand his family's history during a visit to Kenya in 1988. But Obama said he did not know his aunt was in the US until it was revealed by the press before the 2008 presidential election. He said he would not intervene in the case. "Any and all appropriate laws" would be followed, he said then.

That has not stopped the president's critics from suggesting he has somehow influenced the process. The rightwing Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has called for Onyango to be deported.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mistakes in Live Fire - A Reader Writes

Just got a message through Facebook from a reader complaining about mistakes in Live Fire.

Midge Bork 16 May at 15:34
I've read a bunch of the Dan Sheppard books. Got turned on to them by an English friend. I just finished Live Fire and it was a real struggle. There are so many blantant errors that I found it difficult to focus on the storyline.

1) The professhor shows up with a computer and asked to plug into the plama telelvision. They tell him it's an LCD but that he can use it anyway. He proceeds to walk over to the plasma screen. (NO! It's not plasma...)

2) The security guard asked to see identification, either a passport or driver's license. He hands over his passport. The guard compares his face to the picture on his license. (NO! He didn't have the license in his hand. It's a passport!)

3) Sheppard walks in with a container of Starbucks tea and proceeds to drink the coffee. (No feat!)

There were more. There are just hte ones that come to mind. Who reads your manusripts and lets this stuff get by? I'm really disappointed.

Here's my reply....

Terrible isn't it? Editing standards have fallen in recent years. I blame New Labour. Though I should mention that the errors in your email made it difficult to concentrate on your message - it's Shepherd not Sheppard. Professor not professhor. Licence not license. The not hte. See, everyone makes mistakes! But I do take your point. You pay good money to buy a book and you should expect to get one that is free from mistakes. I'm not sure what the answer is, Midge. Editors have to work a lot harder than they used to and their increased workload does mean that more mistakes get through. When they are pointed out they are corrected, but I do understand your frustration. It feels as if publishers are now operating the same way as Microsoft, putting out a version of Windows riddled with mistakes and then correcting them as they go along. I hate that and can understand readers who feel disappointed when they buy a book containing mistakes. I'll pass your email on to my editor and ask for corrections to be made!

Best wishes,


To be honest, the plasma/LCD is my mistake because I'm not really sure what the difference is and I don't really care! I think the tea thing is probably not a mistake - Shepherd has a cup of tea for Charlie and a coffee for himself. The licence/passport is a mistake, and its mine. Mea culpa. I shall punish myself severely.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Money From Africa! Yippee!!

Dear Friend,


I know that this mail will come to you as a surprise as we never met before. I am Auditing and Accounting section of Bank of Africa (B.O.A).

I Hoped that you will not expose or betray this trust and confident that I am about to repose on you for the mutual benefit of our both families. I need your urgent assistance in transferring the sum of Forteen Million Five Hundred Thousand united state dollars ($14.5mUSD) Immediately to your account.

The fund has been dormant (in-active) for 10 years in our Bank here without any body coming for it. I want to release the fund to you as the nearest person to our deceased customer Mr. Andreas Schranner (the owner of the account) who died a long with his supposed next of kin in air crash since on 31st July 2000. I don't want the fund to go into our Bank treasury as an abandoned fund, so this is the reason why I contacted you, so that my Bank will release the fund to you as the nearest person to the deceased customer. For more information about the crash you can visit this site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/859479.stm

Please I would like you to keep this proposal as a top secret and delete it if you are not interested. Upon receipt of your reply, I will give you more details regarding this transaction and also note that you will have 40% of the above mentioned amount if you agree to help me execute this business. And also after the funds has been transfered into your bank account you will take 10% out as a compensation for the expenses you will make in this transaction and 50% is for me. I need to hear from you urgent so that I will give you more information regarding this transaction.

3. AGE.

Am waiting for your urgent response so that we will starts immediately.

Best Regards,
Mr.Sankara Yaro

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nightfall Is Selling Well

The mass market paperback of Nightfall is selling well in the UK = Hodder sold more than five thousand copies in the first four days, which is good going! I'm Asda's author of the week, which is cool.

I finished the final draft of the sequel tonight - it'll be called Midnight, it's 108,000 words long and I think it's great. It'll be published in January next year.

I'm getting good feedback from readers, which is nice. Just got this email from Scott Davis -

I just picked up Nightfall the other day while browsing through a new book to read, so i saw Nightfall sitting on the shelf and just decided to buy it on impulse. Went home and read it and i can't put it down! seriously it's awesome. I have only eer heard of you before, you're other books aren't really my type i like supernatural thrillers etc so picking up nightfall has been a real treat.

I have a few questions about it i was wondering if you could answer for me.

1. what was your inspiration for the character of Jack Nightingale? (he reminds me a bit of Spike from Buffy the vampire slayer tv series)

2. Well his smoking habits and views on them, i was wondering if you share the same views? like how he mentions how he would have to fine himself in his own work place.

3. Is there going to be a new Jack Nightingale book anytime soon? (haven't finished Nightfall yet but getting there would still love to read more of him)

I hope you can answer these for me and i hope you enjoy having a new reader.

P.S Do you like Thai movies?

Good questions!

The inspiration for Jack Nightingale? I think subconsciously it was Mickey Rourke from that great movie Angel Heart. Crossed with the Hellraiser comic books. Definitely not the Constantine movie, though, Funny,. I hadn't thought of Spike but yes, that is I guess how I picture him, pretty much!

I've never smoked, but am starting to wish that I was a smoker just so that I could confront the anti-smoking Nazis. I think it is pretty terrible the way that we persecute smokers. And the health Nazis are now starting on alcohol and fatty food. Too many idiots are trying to tell us how to live our lives and I'm fed up with it!

I've just finished the sequel to Nightfall - to be called Midnight - and I have the third book, Nightmare, already plotted out. It has a killer of an ending!

Thai movies - they're okay, but I prefer Hong Kong gangster films! The Pang brothers' Bangkok Dangerous (not the Nicholas Cage version) was good....