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Guy Singer.
Guy Singer. Sam Walker

Tales from inside the White Building

Author Guy Singer is a prolific English author who has been living in Siem Reap for three years. He wrote his first full-length novel six years ago and has published eight more since. His new book, The White Building: A Broken Utopian Dream, is set in the iconic Phnom Penh housing block and is being launched in Siem Reap on Wednesday. Sam Walker asked him all about it this week

What genre are your books?
They are various genres. The first book was – I suppose you would call it a religious science fiction book. There are four books in a trilogy and a sequel, looking at the lives of some of the young people in Cambodia. Real village life. And then for two books, I moved into fantasy fiction – swords and magic dragons set in the time of the building of Angkor under King Jayavarman VII.

How did The White Building come about?
Last year, I was talking to Jo [journalist Josephine Reynolds], and Jo did an article for Al Jazeera on residents in the White Building. They were the sort of stories that you can’t make up and this was real life. I said to Jo: “It’s the material for a novel and you really, really ought to do that”. I spent the next month thinking: Damn, why did I give the idea to Jo? I should have written it myself. Then Jo said she would never get around to writing it and I said: “Good, do you mind if I do it?”

What is the book about?
This is the story of the community inside the Building, working together to defend their precious tenement from evil and the ultimate threat – when will the developer come and tear it down? 

How long did it take you to write?
It took 22 days to write. Normally I would take six months to write a book, but this was a story screaming to get out. We [Jo and Guy] went to Phnom Penh in the middle of December and spent two days there [visiting the White Building]. I already did the background research, but we went in and walked around the building. I met some of the people that Jo had interviewed. The story was in my head and I could fit Jo’s individual character portraits together into a novel. So, very unusually for me, by the time I got back to Siem Reap, I had a complete story in my head. Twenty-two days later I went from the first finger on keyboard to putting it up online.

Did you have local help to put the book together?
Yes, my friend Sina. He is my source of all things Khmer and he holds me together when I am falling apart at the seams. When I needed to know how much is a skewer of chicken hearts or how many monks do you need for a funeral, I asked Sina. He’s been with me through all the books I’ve been writing.

Will there be a sequel?
It’s a possibility. I’m writing a story about life in the 1980s in the Yorkshire Dales and it’s slightly autobiographical. After that’s completed, I’ll see. I may go back to the White Building.

The White Building can be purchased in paperback or e-book from Amazon.com, or in Siem Reap at Black Sands Cafe or New Leaf Eatery. 

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