(Author’s note: From 2012)
By Andrew Biggs
Today is day one of my re-emergence after a month of hibernation, albeit self-enforced.
I step out of the cave, blinking and rubbing my eyes, oblivious to everything that has gone on around me. And it’s all because I wrote a book.
Yes, a book, dear reader. An entire book. In a month. In my non-native tongue.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m just some well-connected columnist spitting out sometimes-witty observations on a weekly basis. No, dear reader, you’re wrong. By day you may see me swanning around Paragon with whichever khunyings may still be in favor. But by night? Bring out the codpiece and cape!
I am something of an accomplished author in Thailand. While my count of books published in the English language stands at nil, this latest book I have written is my 16th – in my non-native tongue.
“Steel Noodles” will be my 16th book in the Thai language. My biggest title has sold around 250,000 copies, and I have a cumulative sales total inching towards three-quarters of a million.
My literary career began in the 1990s when I put out my very first book in the Thai language. It was a collection of my weekly columns I was writing for a political magazine about life here as a westerner.
The book, “Thailand In My Eyes,” shot to number one, surprising the entire literary world including its author. Everybody was asking: “Who the hell is this guy? Where did he come from?”
I was thrilled to have the best selling book in the kingdom for a couple of weeks. It was the timing that was all wrong.
You see, I went number one the week Thailand went bankrupt.
It was July 1997, when the tom yam kung economic crisis blew up and the Baht quickly turned to jelly along with everything else. Despite that my publisher, Dok Ya, kept paying me royalties although sadly in Thai Baht when it was sinking to 53 Baht to the American dollar.
Still … number one is number one, right? Who cares if you’re selling 50,000 copies or a mere 500 per week? Believe me, I saw both.
I was flavor of the month, and my book ended up being the country’s second biggest selling pocket book of 1997. I was pipped at the post by a book about the fad sweeping the nation called chivajit. That book was all about macrobiotic dieting and meditation.
Officially I was thrilled a book on such a healthy topic was selling in the hundreds of thousands. Officially. Privately I was warding off the dull waves from the Sea Of Losers as I sat on the lonely beach known as Number Two.
My publishers milked me for everything, and I was a willing partner. “Thailand In My Eyes (Again)” came out, yet another collection of my rants. It went Top 10. You’d have thought Thailand would have had enough of my eyes by then, but no. The following year “Thailand In My Eyes (For The Last Time)” scraped the Top 10 but only just.
That should have been it, but in 2000 my fourth book entitled, and I’m not kidding, “Thailand In My Eyes (Back From The Dead)” won me the Golden Flogger accolade at that year’s Dead Horse Awards.
Around the same time I was travelling around Thailand giving a speech about learning English. I gave it so many times I was sure the sound engineer, a dull young man with pimples and a protruding forehead, no doubt from one of those provinces with the fruit-carving competitions, could surely have hopped up and delivered the speech on stage verbatim had I suddenly dropped dead before a performance.
After several hundred renditions I knew it off by heart. One month I sat down and churned it out in Thai, my first experience at literary hibernation.
Talk about a reinvention! The result was “How To Speak English Like A Guava” which I am proud to say sold a quarter of a million copies and continues to sell to this day. It enabled me to pay off my mortgage, and my liquor cabinet, some five years ago.
Putting out a book is fun if it hits. In 2005 three of my books hit the Top 10 simultaneously. I was like Adele on the pop charts today; ubiquitous, popular, and overweight in a cute way.
I have also been like Mariah Carey when she released Charm Bracelet and Glitter. You don’t remember those albums? I have a book or two like that.
I wrote one book while I was riding the crest of fame and ordered 5,000 copies to be printed. That was 2007; to date it has sold 300 copies. Just this week those 4,700 remaining tomes were sent back to my home, after sitting in a humid Kingkaew warehouse for five years.
How coincidental they came back just as I was sending this new book off to the printer’s this week.
I hope it’s not an omen. This is my first new book on the Thai market in two years. That’s an eternity in a market where 500 new titles hit the market every month and 95 per cent disappear without a trace.
This is my first book that gets released electronically in Thailand as well as the hard copy. This is the way books are heading – are there still people out there willing to purchase books? In Thailand a bestseller is a book that sells 5,000 copies, and that figure has probably reduced drastically in the wake of illegal downloads. My back catalogue no longer sells like it used to and this month I found out why; each book is now available free on a Thai search engine!
Is Andrew Biggs still saleable? Will “Steel Noodles” be the equivalent of Santana’s “Smooth” and soar to the top of the charts, firmly re-establishing me as a literary force to be reckoned with?
Or will it … no, forget it. It’s all good no matter what the outcome.
Sometimes when life gets me down, when I am standing at the Foodland cashiers at 2.10 pm with a bottle of Absolut, I remind myself I can bash out an entire book in Thai in a month. That’s either truly impressive, or simply renders me the Jackie Collins of Thailand minus the plastic surgery.
Wish me luck. If “Steel Noodles” does blitz the bestseller charts I may just quietly purchase one-third of some faraway dull province and set up my own fruit carving school. There are worse fates in life.
(Author’s note: It did do well, dear reader. Four print runs. Followed by another successful book in 2015. Since then I’ve gone electronic as I witness, sadly, the decline of the Thai book-buying public.)