Jul 20, 2011

I Am a Cult - Guest blog by Colin Cotterill

Exposed brickwork is all the rage in Surrey. My Uncle John has an entire bathroom that looks like it was carted over directly from Berlin. But I get the feeling the naked bricks here at the Zuela Guesthouse in Luang Nam Tha, Laos, are more a homage to the cost of plastering. My room’s like a cell. No fridge. No TV. No modern arty pictures of men on buffalos. No closet safe. No closet. No feeling in my limbs after a night on the compressed bread mattress. Outside, the rains are crashing down on the banana plants and the roads are flowing red with mud. The power goes off half-a-dozen times a day. But, believe this if you will… they’ve got Wi Fi. Not even the Hilton gives away the internet for nothing. I just finished a tour of twelve cities in the ‘civilized’ side of the planet and not once did I get free wireless. But here in the hills of the north I can sit at my wonky desk and surf the world. I love this country.

How can I not have extreme feelings for a place that made me what I am today? A cult. Yes, I did spell that correctly. It’s written there in black and white on my laptop. ‘Colin Cotterill is one of the most highly regarded "cult favorite" crime writers today’. One of my two fans sent me the link. I was overwhelmed. I was elated. I didn’t know what it meant. I looked it up. Was I really a quasi-religion? I don’t think so. That only left definition 2.

a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion

So that was it. Like the hula-hoop and the slinky, I was a fad. The people in the next room at the Zuela obviously did not realize that I was the object of devotion or I wouldn’t have had to bang on the bricks with my flip flop last night to get them to shut up. And how would this cult following change me? Obviously not financially, because I believe devotees of a cult are generally reluctant to stick their hands in their pockets in fear that it might spoil me. Commercial success is the death knell for cults like me. And how did it come about, this cultdom? Just ten years ago I was staying in guest houses like this because it was all I could afford. Now I’m here on research. I can wash off the red street mud in a four-star hotel when I get back to Thailand. How did I begin along this path?
(cue harp music played by a tall slim woman with long dark hair and glasses)
It all started in 2000 when I wrote the first of my Lao books, The Coroner’s Lunch. I guess I knew then I wouldn’t be jabbing my nib into the mainstream artery of crime fiction. In fact, I didn’t even consider myself a crime writer. I thought I was just writing stories. (Eight of them last count). Only moderate and playful gratuitous violence. Absolutely no obscenity unless you’re really easily offended. Just a bunch of nice quirky characters doing quirky things. Comparable to other writers only with regard to the exotic location. . I hadn’t set out to make depressed people write rude things about me on Amazon or be disgraced by my books. I wanted my readers to have fun. Colin the Entertainer, that’s what I was.
 I argued myself blue in the face that I wasn’t a crime writer and what happened? They handed me a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger award. You try to argue you’re not a crime writer once that’s happened. So I guess, subconsciously, all the while I was pulling away from the norm. I didn’t want to be in someone else’s genre. I wanted a genre all my own. I briefly considered vampire whodunits. Toyed with Noir fairy stories. But I’m not the serious type. If I weren’t so painfully shy and didn’t need several hours to be spontaneous, I would have been a stand-up comedian. So my new series, my truly cult adventure, would have to be funny.

Four years ago I moved to the south of Thailand to a quiet fishing village on the Gulf. Monkeys collected coconuts. Jelly fish bobbed. Dogs scratched. Some might have considered it boring. I found it utterly charming. There was so little crime that the local jail didn’t even have a lock-up. So what better premise to launch a cult series than to turn this peaceful haven of innocent squid fishing into the hub of sin and iniquity of the Eastern Seaboard? I needed characters who were not clichés nor Thai stereotypes. What better way to achieve that than to take those same stereotypes and turn them upside down? What happens when the beautiful Thai transsexual ages twenty years? What happens to the traffic cop who refuses to take bribes? What happens to the body builder who is a cowardly lion? The tough female investigative journalist who has no crime to report? The organized matriarch whose mind is slowly being turned by dementia? Throw a few mysteries into this mix and a dollop of the ridiculous and what do you have? Killed at the Whim of a Hat, and its follow up, Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach.

I don’t mind being a cult. In fact I’m quite proud about it. What would I do with all that money, anyway? And look where it’s got me. I’m at the wonky desk at the Zuela reading emails from the organizers of September’s Bouchercon to which I am being sent as the token overseas fad. I’m being emailed reviews from German magazines and south African newspapers. My British publisher is hounding me for a new book. My Swedish translator tells me that ‘wanker’ isn’t in the dictionary. All this and I am a mere cult. You wait and see what happens when I get the Nobel.

 Colin's new book is KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT and is on sale now!

He is also one of the guests of honor at Bouchercon in St. Louis

Want to be entered to win a copy of the new book?
shoot an email to

We'll be sending out at least two!

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