WmMalteseWilliam Maltese
interviews Peter Mitchell
and reviews Mitchell's

The Peculiar History of Oliver Trent


[Interviewer’s Note: For British citizen Peter Mitchell, who resides in Thailand and Spain, self-publishing (his novel THE PECULIAR HISTORY OF OLIVER TRENT) proved far less easily accomplished than for the majority of us].

WILLIAM MALTESE: What inspired you to write a first novel so late in life?

PETER MITCHELL: I needed something to do at a time when my partner, Nok, returned to Thailand and I had to stay on in Spain for another six weeks for visa purposes. I had been writing all my life — speeches, articles, Parliamentary Bills, and the like — so I wanted to know if I could use the basic skills I had to create a novel.

WM: But you didn’t want to write any old novel did you? OT truly unusual in a number of ways.

PM: I’ve felt for a long time that the origin of the gay movement in the United Kingdom has been completely overshadowed by the arrival and resulting disaster of AIDS, many of the prime British movers in the vanguard of our gay liberation now long dead. I not only wanted to rectify that oversight but give young people today a glimpse of society before the word gay was even coined.

WM: Can you give a brief résumé of the OT plot, without letting the cat out of the bag?

PM: The novel can be read at various levels. The first part is set in Britain in the sixties and includes the original attempts to decriminalize male homosexuality. I have not attempted strict historical accuracy, and readers worried that I have been slightly free with dates and time will, I hope, become more understanding as the plot unfolds.

By the end of Part 1, I’ve established Oliver, Patrick, and Stephen as the main protagonists. The centerpiece of Part 2 is a Parliamentary Bye-election in which Patrick is the gay candidate. This is the sole passage that is strictly autobiographical. The shifting relationships between the three main characters are the keys that lead to Part 3, about which I shall say nothing.

WM: Yes, best to leave the surprise a surprise. But, perhaps, you could go so far as to explain the cover art. Frankly, it’s not what I’ve come to expect from a gay novel.

PM: It’s a photo of two kratongs which are floated on sea, river or lake at the autumn Thai festival of Loy Kratong. Admittedly a subtler graphic than most but explained in more detail in the Thailand section of the book.

WM: And what possessed you to publish in Thailand of all places? Quite aside from the fact that one part of the book takes place there, and that you live there a good part of every year, and that Thailand is decidedly well known for its extensive gay subculture.

PM: There is no good answer to that question, only a lot of bad ones. My UK solicitor insisted that I couldn’t self-publish in the UK, as I was a non-resident. London-based Gay Men’s Press told me it wasn’t accepting anything for two or three years. Negotiations with a publisher in the United States fell through. Then, I was informed that I could obtain the book’s ISBN in Thailand but print OT wherever I liked. (I had this confirmed by ISBN headquarters in Berlin).

I should have known that nothing is easily accomplished in Thailand, especially where it concerns a foreigner. I’d already tasted the endless Thai red tape that had required that I form a Thai company, majority owned by Thai nationals, just in order to buy a house there.

Nonetheless, I went ahead, and transferred OT copyright to my Thai company, only then to be informed that there were additional complications. As a foreigner in Thailand, I was officially forbidden to work in the country; and there was the question as to whether or not my writing was work, even if it didn’t actually deprive any Thai of employment. Requiring me to hire a local solicitor who arranged for me to see a colleague of hers whom supposedly could smooth over everything via the Thai Ministry of Culture — at a price, of course.

However, the Ministry official wanted to complicate matters even more by insisting OT be translated into Thai, additional bother and expense at which I really balked. So, more money changed hands (as it so often does in Thailand), and I thought everything was finally settled. Big mistake!

Naively, I trusted my Thai solicitor to proceed with the accurate filling out and submission of the appropriate paperwork without my over-the-shoulder supervision. And, to make short a story that is genuinely long and infuriating, I ended up committed to printing 100 copies of OT in Thailand on account of some English-to-Thai translation foul-ups. Although, I did manage a second edition simultaneously printed in England. The moral of the story is that you should never trust any solicitor until you’ve checked and double-checked everything he or she does on your behalf, and — if you want to save yourself from ulcers — don’t even try anything to do with self-publishing in Thailand.

WM: None of which, I hope, spoils any plans you may have to write another novel.

PM: The draft of an OT sequel is complete, and I’m currently looking for a publisher.

WM: And, may your publication of Book Two be far more easily accomplished than the ordeal of getting Book One to the reading public.

PM: A hearty amen and a thank-you!


comments upon and reviews
by Peter Mitchell
ISBN: 9749113856
Brownlow Company Ltd, Thailand / TBC Print Services Ltd, England

As an avid collector of hard-to-come-by classic gay pulp fiction (think: Greenleaf Classics between 1960-1980), I can tell you, from personal experience, that there’s often something as pleasurable in the means (tracking down a hard-to-find book), as there is in the end (finally having the finally-gotcha! book in hand).

Peter Mitchell’s novel, THE PECULIAR HISTORY OF OLIVER TRENT, published simultaneously in Thailand and England, in 2003, hasn’t been around long enough to achieve “cult-classic” difficult-to-find-because-it’s-long-out-of-print status, but it still isn’t all that easy to get one’s hands on.

I heard about the book while I was in Thailand promoting my own book, THAI DIED: A STUD DRAQUAL MYSTERY, and I had all intentions of picking up a copy of OT there. But, to borrow a line from a once well-known Scotsman: “The plans of mice and men do oft to glay” (or something like that). I procrastinated and reasoned that I could as easily pick up a copy in London where I was headed next. When my schedule there had me inadvertently overlook my intentions to acquire Oliver, until it was too late, I consoled myself into thinking I could just as easily shop the Internet in the U.S. and/or pick up a copy of the book in the foreign-imprint section of my favorite U.S. bookstore. However, in U.S.- (and, as it turns out, in U.K.-) retail outlets and on-line, copies of OT remain seldom found, even to this day.

Mitchell, a Brit ex-patriot, who has horror stories to tell about getting his book self-published in the first place, ended up, in the second place, with distribution problems that resulted from his having official residents in Thailand and Spain but none in Britain. Internet sites (like amazon.co.uk) require a legal British address, for contact, before adding any book to their lists. As for Mitchell selling OT on his web site (www.elcastillon.com), his web-master, distrustful of security, balked at anything to do with sales by credit card.

Soooooooo ….

Anyone, outside of Thailand, who wants a copy of OT has to go to a local bank, ask for an International Money Order (made out to: PCB Mitchell) in the amount of ten (10) British pounds sterling, which includes shipping, handling, and postage for one copy of OT, or fifteen (15) British pounds sterling, which includes postage, shipping, handling for 2 copies of OT). Then mail IMO, along with name and return address to: “Oliver Trent”, 5 Poplar Court, Richmond Road, East Twickenham TW1 2DJ, ENGLAND. And, only then, sooner or later (in my case, it took less than three weeks), does OT turn up on your doorstep.

All of that effort worth it? Well …I don’t particularly care for OT’s cover (Thai kratongs set afloat, as happens during each autumn in the Thai Kratong Festival, as they’re explained within the book text) … I would have preferred more sex (some readers may consider so little “action” a reading bonus). BUT, that said … the plot line certainly gets well-deserved kudos for being like no other I’ve come across. Particularly interesting, from this Yank’s perspective, is Mitchell’s insights into: (1) Britain in the sixties when attempts were finally being made to decriminalize homosexuality; (2) British politics as one character runs for Parliamentary Bye-election; (3) the British gay liberation movement about which most Americans haven’t a clue, and (4) the precariousness of loving and living as an ex-patriot Brit in exotic Thailand.

There’s also a surreal plot twist in the book that makes OT genuinely unique. I’d clue you to think PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (by Mitchell’s fellow Brit author Oscar Wilde), but Oliver Trent’s fate isn’t to stay forever young while his picture ages in some dark and hidden closet. Rather, it’s to…. But, why spoil the surprise and fun?!  Far better for you to follow the maze, including the one  to an OT purchase, and enjoy this decidedly strange “little” book (168 pages, actually) as much as I did.


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