My bookshelf is in Bang Kwang Central prison Bangkok. I don’t actually keep books, although I know this will probably surprise many people. In my early thirties I set off on a trip round the world and since I had no real intention of returning, I gave all my books away. Eventually I settled and lived for the seven years in Bangkok—where I wrote my Aberystwyth novels. I regularly unloaded the books I read to the English speaking prisoners, via the British Consul. It helped perhaps that I had a Thai girlfriend for whom my low status job of writer was frankly an embarrassment and who would have much preferred me to have a proper job, one she could tell her friends about, like lorry driver. I learned that when one gets rid of stuff one almost never regrets or misses it. As someone once said, books are the body not the soul of literature.
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
I’ve been teaching creative writing in the past few years and so am not fond of books that begin: Jharl, fair son of Kharghal who rode the steed Juph’jartya across the mighty Fingbong in the days when the Churraghs ruled…
Or is it Kharghal, fair son of Jharl who rode the steed Fingbong across the mighty Juph’jartya…?
I can never remember.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
Where is your favourite place to read?
A cargo ship, travelling as a passenger
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
I’ve come increasingly to the conclusion that I have no real influence over my life, and the belief that I do is an illusion. In truth, it unfolds and I hitch a ride on it like the Oxpecker bird on the back of the rhino. A book that used to strike me as instrumental in shaping my destiny, however, was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
Proust, In Search of Lost Time.
What book did you give last as a present and to whom?
I gave a copy of my first novel to my mentee
What are you reading now?
The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz
What are your top ten books?
- In Search of Lost time—Proust
- Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo—Christiane F.
- Manon des Sources—Marcel Pagnol
- Catcher in the Rye—J. D. Salinger
- Collected short stories of Robert Sheckley
- Dispatches—Michael Herr
- Gulag Archipelago—Solzhenitsyn
- Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable
- As I walked out one midsummer morning—Laurie Lee
- Justine—Lawrence Durrell
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
It used to be Fundamentals of Thai Grammar. Printed on ghastly cheap paper, years out of date and filled with daft advice on how to address your servants, it had travelled round the world with me. The pages had been pored over and studied, committed to heart, used as a notebook and diary. It was stained with beer, coconut, vanilla, the Fijian drug Kava, crushed giant cockroach wing and the telephone number of a lovely high school teacher I met in American Samoa. It was the living testament to a ten year journey and is the only book I genuinely miss. Especially the phone number.
By Malcolm Pryce
The Case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste by Malcolm Pryce will be published by Bloomsbury Today, £12.99 hardback and £10.99 eBook