INTERVIEWS MITCHELL |
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].
What inspired you to write a first novel so late in life?
PETER MITCHELL: I
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
create a novel.
WM: But you
didn’t want to write any
old novel did you? OT truly unusual in a number of ways.
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
WM: Can you give a
résumé of the OT plot, without letting the cat
out of the
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
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.
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
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
that had required that I form a Thai company, majority owned by Thai
nationals, just in order to buy a house there.
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.
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
don’t even try anything to do with self-publishing in
WM: None of which, I
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
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
PECULIAR HISTORY OF OLIVER TRENT
by Peter Mitchell
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
a hard-to-find book), as there is in the end (finally having the
finally-gotcha! book in hand).
novel, THE PECULIAR
OLIVER TRENT, published simultaneously in Thailand and
in 2003, hasn’t been around long enough to achieve
difficult-to-find-because-it’s-long-out-of-print status, but
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
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.
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:
Trent”, 5 Poplar Court, Richmond Road, East Twickenham TW1
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
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
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.
you to think PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (by Mitchell’s fellow
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
why spoil the surprise and fun?! Far better for you to follow
maze, including the one to an OT purchase, and enjoy this
decidedly strange “little” book (168 pages,
actually) as much as I did.