The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Matt Carrell about ''Blood Brothers... Thai Style''

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Matt Carrell about Blood Brothers... Thai Style

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Summary: Sue thoroughly enjoyed Blood Brothers... Thai Style and thought it was a fast-paced look at the beach scene on the Gulf of Thailand and what happens when the police are manipulated by local businessmen. She was delighted when author Matt Carrell popped in to chat to us.
Date: 5 October 2015
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue thoroughly enjoyed Blood Brothers... Thai Style and thought it was a fast-paced look at the beach scene on the Gulf of Thailand and what happens when the police are manipulated by local businessmen. She was delighted when author Matt Carrell popped in to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Matt Carrell: Most of my stories are set in Thailand, a country that has negative connotations for many westerners. I fear that some might expect my stories to be salacious and titillating and if so they'll be disappointed. I imagine my readers to be sitting on a plane on the way to Asia. Aside from the beaches and the sunshine, they're keen to experience first hand, a culture that is vibrant, complex and fascinating. They'll want to be entertained, amused and, if it's their first visit, they'll be looking for some insights that go beneath the stereotypical sex, drugs and poverty labelling that is so popular in the western media. If they've been before they'll want something that reminds them why they were so eager to return. I hope that both a first time visitor and a returning traveller would be satisfied if they picked up one of my books.

MC: Everyone has some form of moral compass, even those we think of as evil often place a moral framework around their actions, however warped it might be. I am fascinated by what happens to essentially good people whose code of conduct is put under pressure by greed, desire, fear and envy. Vortex explored how one single act could lead a decent man into a spiral of deceit. Blood Brothers has a similar theme, in the sense that it shows how a poor decision made in haste can create a personal trap. There's no going back, but every step forward is hindered by a choice made long ago, the implications of which could never have been foreseen.

Some readers have already pointed out similarities with a case that is currently being examined by the Thai courts, but the plot line was on paper long before that terrible crime was committed. The awful fact is that this is not the first time foreigners have found themselves in the frame for a crime when the evidence points elsewhere. Blood Brothers was certainly inspired by what appears to be a series of miscarriages of justice and by the fact that power and money can put some in a position where they are essentially above the law.

  • BB: You portray the Thai police as being essentially corrupt. To what extent is this true in fact as opposed to fiction?

MC: In 2011 the capital's top two policeman resigned following accusations of bribery and corruption. In 2010 a national newspaper claimed that a policeman was jailed on average every two months for corruption and that theft of public funds, inappropriate dealings with criminal gangs, brutality and sexual misconduct were commonplace. It also referred to the use of confidential data to blackmail members of the public or to assist others in evading the law. One top policeman even said that the definition of a good police force was one that caught more crooks than it employs. No, I'm not talking about Thailand, all those references are to the UK police service as it is now known.

Power corrupts and policemen have a great deal of power in every country in the world. It's almost certainly true that this is more widespread in Thailand than elsewhere and there are reports of countless scams used by Thai officers to supplement their wages. Cash fines for real or imaginary offences and monthly retainers from bars and massage shops are the most popular techniques employed. Having said that, I don't think we should be too smug in the West. There is plenty of evidence that corruption is a major issue in our own police forces and that power and influence ensure that not everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

  • BB: I'm an upper middle-aged British woman and after reading Vortex and Blood Brothers... Thai Style I've concluded that Thailand is not somewhere I'd feel particularly comfortable. Can you persuade me that I'm wrong?

MC: My wife, who is 55, recently spent a month as a volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. She dropped out with four days to go because a group of new arrivals (westerners) had soured the atmosphere. They had little interest in the animals, they were there to get drunk, get laid and tick another box on their world tour. The impact they had on the people around them was of no consequence. For her that was the definition of uncomfortable. She decamped to a town called Hua Hin and tried to check in to our usual hotel. It was fully booked, so she found a £25 a night hotel across the street. Days were spent wandering around town and on the beach, evenings in Hua Hin's compact nightlife area, which is full of bars and restaurants. She and I were both confident that she would be safer there than on a British High Street on a Saturday night. We have a Thai friend who owns a bar in town but most of the time she was on her own and never felt at risk.

Thailand is a staggeringly beautiful and bewitching country with a truly fascinating culture. There are dark aspects but I believe that is the same in any country in the world. When I had a proper job, I was lucky enough to travel the world and frequently encountered no go areas after dark. Neither my wife nor I could furnish you with a single story of being intimidated or insecure in Thailand. Many people have experienced a darker side of the country. Some of those have failed to recognise how important it is to respect local culture. Others, like the tragic victims of the Koh Tao murders have just been incredibly unlucky, the wrong place at the wrong time, a fate that can befall people anywhere in the world. I genuinely believe Thailand is no more dangerous that most other countries and a great deal safer than the majority.

  • BB: Illegal immigration now seems to be a global phenomenon. Is it a particular problem in Thailand and if so, from which countries?

MC: Thailand has strong immigration controls and is known for being unsympathetic, when they so choose, to those who breach them. Little is done however, to stop undocumented workers from neighbouring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia and the Indian sub-continent. They provide a useful source of very cheap labour. The issue for western countries is that immigrants are seen as a drain on the welfare system. Thailand doesn't have the same problem, because it has no such system. There is nothing to draw people to the country unless they wish to work. Those that do arrive will generally find employment in only the lowest paid jobs and what we might call the 'black economy.' There is evidence to suggest that Thailand's huge shrimping industry is dependent on what some have described as slave labour. There are also plenty of westerners who are drawn to Thailand by the low cost of living. The media is full of stories of men (it's always men) whose money has run out and they can't afford to go home when their visas expire.

  • BB: When I read Vortex I felt that you were writing within your comfort zone, considering your knowledge of the financial markets. Did you have to stretch yourself for Blood Brothers... Thai Style? How did you do the research?

MC: Vortex is set in a world that I inhabited for nearly thirty years and many of the characters are western males. The technical 'research' was in my head the first day I put pen to paper. Work and vacation has brought me to Asia regularly and I have become a keen student of Thailand's culture, language and complex social hierarchies. I also like sitting in bars, listening to people talk about themselves and their lives. That combination gave Vortex its authenticity and provided much of the background for Blood Brothers. Having said that, the characters I chose to portray did deliver an interesting challenge. The main protagonists are either Thai, or female and in their early twenties. I try to put myself in the place of each character and imagine their feelings as they speak and the motivation for their actions. To make Emma and Rose credible they had to share their insecurities. Their words are how I imagine two twenty-year old girls might speak to one another in private. Feedback from the small panel of female screeners who read my books prior to publication leads me to think I did a decent job.

  • BB: I'd certainly agree with that, Matt.

MC: The hardest part was to write about the murder which is at the heart of the story. People die in my books, but this is the first time I've combined a truly cold-hearted killer with a totally innocent victim. My villains are usually motivated by greed or power and I've seen elements of that in my career. Depicting someone so callous was new and disturbing territory.

  • BB: Will we meet the police chief of Baan Chailai, Chatri Aromanadee, again?

MC: Never say never. I don't usually have a long term plan for any of my characters but many have appeared in more than one book. On some occasions this has happened because readers have asked me to bring them back. I think if I were to say too much about Chief Aromanadee it might give away the plot of Blood Brothers. There will certainly be a return for Colonel Mongkut Tharanyatta who is making his fourth appearance in my novels. I have to confess that I enjoy writing about a totally amoral individual who will let nothing stand in the way of his advancement. I'm also slightly appalled by how easy it has been to draw on the personality traits of people I met in the investment industry as inspiration. It's also a little disturbing that some female readers think he's hot.

  • BB: Unsurprisingly I've not been able to find a place called Baan Chailai on any map. Is it based on any particular resort?

MC: To have set the story in a real town or to admit that it is based on a particular resort would be an open invitation to a crippling lawsuit. All I can say is that there is a little bit of someone I know in every character I've ever created and a little bit of somewhere I have visited in the fictional locations. All I can say is that I've spent time in many resorts on both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand and I chose some of the best and some of the worst of what I observed in my depiction of Baan Chailai. Baan is Thai for home and Chailai is a popular name for female children. It translates as “beautiful.”

  • BB: The murder in Blood Brothers... Thai Style brought to mind the recent deaths of two British tourists in Thailand. Was this in your mind too? To what extent do you think that illegal immigrants are convenient scapegoats in such situations?

MC: The plotline was partly inspired by a whole series of apparent miscarriages of justices, not all of which occurred in Thailand. Search on the net for 'miscarriages of justice' and you will find a disturbing number in the UK which never received coverage in mainstream media. I think it's a natural reaction when a horrendous crime is committed for people to want to distance themselves from it. It couldn't have been done by one of us. People breathe a sigh of relief when they hear a suspect is from overseas or when religion is implicated, their reaction is well he can't be a real follower of my faith.

The issue in Thailand is that money and power can effectively place many people above the law. If a wealthy individual wishes to avoid indictment, they need someone else to take the blame and it's easiest to target the most vulnerable in society. Undocumented workers fall neatly into that category. Once again, however, I'd caution anyone in the West who says, it couldn't happen here. If a fraction of the claims made about institutionalised sexual abuse amongst celebrities, politicians and government employees are true, then it most certainly does.

  • BB: What's next for Matt Carrell?

MC: I received an approach, earlier in the summer, from a movie production company and we have spent the last three months working on a screen adaptation of Vortex. One of the things that drew me to writing was the contrast with what was then my day job. From writing the screenplay to learning how films are funded and produced has been another steep and invigorating learning curve. We have a producer with thirty-seven films under his belt and an award-winning director has recently signed up to the project. We are just a few short weeks away from knowing whether I will spend 2016 working on Vortex the Movie or… well I'm just not willing to contemplate the alternative right now.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the transition from the solitary art of writing to the much more collegiate world of film-making and I hope there is more of that to come. If not I have a great idea for a novel. It's about an author whose dreams of having his book turned into a film are cruelly thwarted. It's not a comedy.

  • BB: We'll keep our fingers crossed for the film, Matt - but it's good to chat to someone who can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat! Thank you for talking to us.

You can read more about Matt Carrell here.

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