Wednesday 1 August 2012

Tom Vater interview: The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

Amazon UK | Amazon US
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

A kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs and murder on the road between London and Kathmandu.

What's unique about it?

The brief window for counter culture travellers between Europe and Asia, now known as the overland hippie trail existed from only the late 1960s to 1979, the time of the Iranian revolution. During those heady days, countless alternative deviants travelled from Europe to the Subcontinent overland and indulged in the traditional hospitality of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This all ended with the revolution in Iran. I travelled the same route in 1998, through a much changed, meaner and harder world, and I also met and talked at length to travellers who did this trip over and over in the early 1970s. Those were truly different and freer days, almost unimaginable today. I tried to bring this period back to life and in this sense The Devils Road to Kathmandu is a historical thriller with a subject matter that is rarely touched upon in (crime) fiction.

What are your expectations for The Devil's Road To Kathmandu?

I expect it to do well. The original print edition got great reviews. And I am biased of course; first I am the author; secondly, as part owner of Crime Wave Press, a new Hong Kong crime fiction imprint, I am also the co-publisher of this particular edition of the book and this is the publisher’s first product on the market.

How important is talent?

Talent is obviously important, but skill and experience are just as necessary if you want to make a living as a writer. I have been writing for a living for the past 15 years and at the beginning of my career – besides fiction, I write journalism, documentary screenplays, non-fiction books and guidebooks, all on subjects connected to Asia – I functioned on pure energy and enthusiasm. My early articles and books burn, burn, burn but lack in general writer’s savvy. Its a long hard road to becoming an accomplished writer who can make a sustainable living from his craft. Learning to write is a bit like learning to speak a language. You get by with pidgin and signs for a while, but then, to express complex ideas, the nitty-gritty of technique and knowledge is absolutely necessary.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I don’t have much spare time. I am currently setting up a new crime fiction imprint with publisher Hans Kemp of Visionary World. Crime Wave Press is a Hong Kong based fiction imprint that endeavors to publish the best new crime novels from Asia and about Asia to readers around the globe. Incidentally, Crime Wave Press is currently looking for authors.

Besides writing, I travel a lot on magazine assignments around Asia. In my spare time, I go trekking, scuba diving and read, read, read. Occasionally, I play guitar in Rock'n'Roll bands.

How much do you read?

I read a lot, several novels a month, as well as numerous non-fiction titles and countless articles. It comes with the job, reporting on culture, travel and politics in Asia, I constantly absorb information to be able to provide information.

I read fiction vociferously – especially noir crime fiction like Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Ross MacDonald and Massimo Carlotto, as well as more general fare, anything from Joseph Conrad to Graham Greene to Philip Kerr.

How much time do you dedicate to writing? How much time would you like to spend writing?

I write pretty constantly and 16-hour days are no rarity. I also travel a fair bit and write while I travel. Right now I am in France writing my third novel, which is set in Laos. I am also editing someone else’s novel which is set in India, Thailand and Laos. I have just completed a magazine assignment on street food in Cambodia, am preparing a pitch for an illustrated book, and am discussing a screenplay with a documentary director.

How much time do you dedicate to promotion?

I dedicate a fair amount of time to promotion. I run two blogs ( &, three facebook pages and contribute to many other blogs. Id say I am fairly tireless and promotion is an integral part of the job.

In July 2011, I published a book called Sacred Skin (, the first English-language book on Thailands spirit tattoos. The title has become something of a bestseller, especially in Southeast Asia, and has garnered more than thirty rave reviews, including three pages in TIME Magazine, as well as positive coverage stuff on CNN, in El Mundo, Die Zeit, Courier International and many other publications. The book has been the subject of two documentaries. All this PR was time-consuming, but in the end, the solid sales seem to make it worthwhile.

How effective is social media as a marketing aid?

Thats very hard to say. I must say I am not totally convinced by its effectiveness, in terms of PR for my work, of sites like facebook. But I leave nothing to chance and contribute regularly to fb, google + and My blog gets some 20,000 hits a month and has landed me assignments.

Do you write outside of the crime genre? If not, would you like to?

Yes, I am a widely published writer with a focus on Asia. I write for the British broadsheets, the Asia Wall Street Journal and countless other publications. Together with director Marc Eberle, I write documentary screenplays, including The Most Secret Place on Earth, a seminal film about the CIAs largest covert operation, in 1960s Laos. Together with photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat I have published a number of illustrated books, most notably Sacred Skin. See above for further details.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

The Cambodian Book of the Dead (Amazon UK | Amazon US), my second novel, is out now as a Kindle eBook with Crime Wave Press and made it into the Top 100 Hardboiled novels on Amazon within three days of publication. Its the first Maier mystery. I am currently working on a second Maier mystery, due out next year.

German Detective Maier travels to Cambodia, a country re-emerging from a half century of war, genocide, famine and cultural collapse, find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire.

As soon as the private eye and former war reporter arrives in Cambodia, his search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history: A beautiful, scarred woman with a mythical and frightening past, a Khmer Rouge general, an ex-pat gangster, an old flame, a man-eating shark and a gang of teenage girl assassins lead the detective back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia.

Maier, captured and imprisoned, is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider, a tale of mass murder that reaches from the Cambodian Killing Fields back to Europe’s concentration camps – or die.

The print edition of The Cambodian Book of the Dead will be launched at the UBUD Writers and Readers Festival, one of Asia’s largest literary events, in Bali in October.


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