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Suspense at Olympic Stadium: Thai writer stirred by ‘mystery’

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Phnom Penh streets at night, as seen in the cover image from short story collection Phnom Penh Noir. Photograph supplied

When Thai fiction and screenwriter Prabda Yoon was asked to try his hand at a mystery noir piece set in the Kingdom’s capital, he immediately thought of a visit he made to the imposing white walls of the Olympic Stadium.

In his story Darkness is Faster Than the Speed of Light, for this month’s anthology Phnom Penh Noir, he revisits the site for a short and dangerous tale of murder and redemption.

The 39-year-old says he likes to inject mystery into his stories, and as well as six novels and short story collections, he has translated cult classics like A Clockwork Orange and The Catcher in the Rye. This year he co-founded a Thai-language online bookstore: Bookmoby.

Why did you chose Olympic Stadium as the setting for your noir tale?

I was taken to the Olympic Stadium by my tuk-tuk driver without knowing it, much like the scenario in the story. When I arrived I was very surprised and confused, but at the same time I was also impressed with its architecture and the mysterious atmosphere.

It felt strange to be taken there but I was glad the driver had taken me. If he’d asked beforehand whether I would want to visit the Olympic Stadium I would’ve said no. So the whole experience to me was quite surreal. It felt like a scene in a noir tale or film.

I can’t say that I know Phnom Penh well. I’ve been to Siem Reap a few times but to Phnom Penh only once. Yet that one visit left a lasting impression. The city was much more developed than I’d thought.

You have a graphic art background and have written screenplays, how is your writing influenced by the visual?

I’m fascinated with words and images equally. I see images of my scenes and actions when I write, but I’m also very concerned with the poetic quality of the prose. To write only to convey scenes would be too boring for me. My artwork is also usually abstract, and I think my writing is to a certain extent.

What writers influenced you most – and how?

Too many names to list here. But while a student in college I took a course on James Joyce and that experience was pivotal. Kafka and Nabokov are always good to turn to for inspiration. I also grew up reading genre fiction, especially science fiction. I absorbed many stories by Philip K Dick and I still want to read him from time to time.

Why did you decide to start Bookmoby.com?

Because I’m also interested in creating new platforms for the reading and writing communities. I’m excited by new possibilities and I want to find out about them myself. I love physical books, but I’m also open to change and new forms of communication. I am a storyteller, and it seems a natural curiosity to want to know how else I could tell stories or seek other people’s stories through new technology.

How does it feel to translate a novel like the Catcher in the Rye – and introduce a whole new Thai readership to JD Salinger?

The Catcher in the Rye was the first English novel I finished reading in one night. It was also the one novel my father told me to read when I was very young, but I kept putting it off because who does what his parent tells him to do? When I finally read it, he became one of my heroes. I never dreamt that one day I would be the one to translate him to Thai.

It was an exciting, nerve-wrecking, experience. I was very tense  because I wanted it to be great. I think I kind of messed up here and there. I would like to redo it all one day. However, the book of his that influenced me the most was Nine Stories, the short story collection, and I’m happy to say I got to translate that one as well.

Phnom Penh Noir is published via Heavenlake Press. The official launch will be on November 30 at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The authors and publishers will contribute 20 per cent of their earnings to selected charity organisations in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post is a media sponsor.

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