Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill, author of the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, lives in Chumphon, Thailand, with his wife. His books have been Book Sense Picks, and he won the Dilys Award for Thirty-Three Teeth as well as a Crime Writers’ Association Library Dagger.

Cotterill's new novel is The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I always started with a title. In fact, I couldn’t start writing the story until I visualized the front cover of the book. This was one of the puzzles I set myself: no matter how ridiculous my title I enjoyed the task of making it fit. The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot came to me early in the series and it was quite a while before I typed it onto the first empty page of my last novel. Your title is the red light in front of the bordello. There are a lot of bordellos offering pretty much the same service, so your light has to be the brightest with a bit of a flash.

What's in a name? (Why did you decide to name your main character Siri?)

Well, firstly, I have to point out that I had Siri in print before he joined the corporate world with Apple. It was the name of a good friend in Laos who experienced one or two catastrophic domestic disasters during my stay in Vientiane. Naming the character after him was a gesture of support and thanks for his kindness to me. I’d like to think the newfound fame in the IT world contributed to a sales bump but it doesn’t look like it did.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage reader self wouldn’t have read the book in the first place. He was too busy playing sports and chasing girls to waste time in lockdown with a book. If we’d sat down a slightly older Colin and ordered him to at least take a stab at the latest novel, I think we might have drawn him into the plot because he was a sucker for adventure and solving mysteries and The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot is awash with thrills and secrets and hidden clues. There’s that, plus the fact he’d learn some things about the second world war that few people knew. It wasn’t a well-known fact that Japan occupied Laos for example. And young Colin liked war stories. Would he be surprised about anything? Perhaps by the fact that he became a writer. It had never been on his bucket list.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings tended to arrive as soon as I sat down with my pen and my glass of red. Endings were sometimes there waiting for me after juggling plotlines and fixing missteps for a month. If I’d been clever enough to tie up all the loose ends by the last chapter I’d charge ahead into the epilogue. If not, I’d turn around and try to find the places in the text that had tripped me up and didn’t make sense. Once they were fixed, I’d take a second or third run at the finale. You can feel it, that smooth drive to the end when all the traffic lights are green.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I’ve told people that Dr. Siri was the person I’d hope to become when I reached my seventies. He isn’t afraid to complain or criticize, not traits that sit well in a socialist state. He’s ornery and cantankerous but generous to a fault and, despite all the hardships, he’s maintained his sense of humour. He’s open about love and relationships. I’m 67 so I haven’t got much time to iron out the faults before I become Dr. Siri.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’ve always been a cartoonist/illustrator rather than a writer. I grew up with Mad Magazine and comics so my version of the world was always visual. I saw scenes. I moved on to cinema which served to hone my visual senses. So, when I started writing I was aided by the fact that I could see the stories on the wide screen of my imagination before I started to write them down. All I had to do was sit back and describe what I was witnessing. Not sure if that’s cheating or not.
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot.

--Marshal Zeringue