One year at The Nation

Well, last month saw an occasion that I never ever thought would happen – one year of working as a columnist for The Nation newspaper. Even if you don’t give a hoot, I’d like to take the chance today, to sit down, pick my brains and type up some of the ‘behind the scenes’ goings-on and thoughts of writing columns – well especially for me anyway – no idea about any other columnists.

It all started after I posted a blog about Thailand to Get 10 New Provinces; just a witty idea derived from the government and its habitual quacking on over the years about founding loadsa new provinces. I mean for a country just this size, I think that LOS certainly has more than enough provinces as it is. The feedback was pretty good and my buddy Mr Noel, who is a sub-editor at The Nation (and the co-author of a hilarious book The Man Who Scared A Shark To Death) called to say that he enjoyed it so much that he was gonna propose the blog as an article to the newspaper. Then, before I knew it, I had the Editorial Boss calling me asking for it. It all started there and after I emailed him about bank details or something, he asked me whether I wanted a regular fortnight job. Alas…

Of course very few folk even spotted (not even my wife did) of a few missing columns over the past year. Well, don’t blame me. I had sent my column through on time but unfortunately because of a new/replacement sub-editor not knowing who the heck I was, and so not realizing that my email was due to be opened and the attachment inside to be edited and submitted, my column was put on hold to either the next day or next week. So, that said, I can be real thankful to my sub-editing friend Noel at The Nation who has made darned well sure, that every article he edited got published the following day. By the way, he did some fantastic editing jobs sometimes. On one mega occasion, he really helped me out after, due to technical error, I almost completely cocked-up. Now, an article in the printed edition would usually turn out at around 1,150 words, but I would send through around 1,250-300 and let the sub-editor, edit out the weakest part he judged so.
(**Recently, both The Nation and BKK Post have down-sized just a wee-bit)

Well, there was one Friday morning/afternoon (deadline is Friday evening) when on writing about the Thai monk-hood my Microsoft Word Windows word-count did, for some loony reason, completely muff-up and tell me repeatedly that I was 500 words behind target. So, I just kept on writing and writing until I realized. “What the heck, I’ve friggin written up more than 1,600 words!” Now, I guess you may not know, but one of the hardest jobs is the actual editing itself. An article which should have only taken 4 hours at most, ended up at half a day and I was finally sweating to get it complete (and looking good) on time. Now, I really thought I had ballsed it up, but with help from my editing friend, it ended up as a bit of a popular (or infamous) hit. It managed to get tonnes of feedback from angry foreigners on a couple of Internet Forums. They obviously thought that it was inappropriate for a foreign writer to take the pish about some of the land’s dodgy monks (but all right I got a lotta decent feedback too).

Like I just said, since the articles are published online, there are times when others, especially Forums, post the thing on their site and let folk discuss it. Sure, I’ve had my fans, kind emails but also my foes (even here at thai-blogs). One of the biggest complaints I’ve had from groaners is this one “Well, it’s the same (problem) as in the West”. Well, come on…. give me a darned break like, I have to write about Thailand, not bleedin Europe or The States. If I did that, then I would probably be booted out the paper’s backdoor.

What’s another common moan from the past? “Well, if this Cleary geezer wants to moan about Thailand, then he ought to pack his bags and go elsewhere”. What a classic comment! Could you imagine the locals in Europe saying that about a foreign writer there, he would probably be condemned as a racist. Again, a columnist has to be rather critical, not write darned Lonely Planet style raving reviews about all things Thai!

On those lines, that is where I have upset at least a couple of readers of mine. Fed-up with reading Farangs moaning about Thailand on the Internet, they’ve taken a breath of fresh air and been thrilled at an actual Farang writer ie.. me, when I’ve posted some rants about some Farangs and their incompetence. Delighted to read such full-on critical analysis of some ex-pats, the Thai-lovers are in shock and horror two weeks later, when instead of picking up my column again complaining of Farangs, they find me telling them how corrupt some Thai mothers are and that real Thai culture hardly exists. Now, I said ‘some’ (just like the monks etc..) I didn’t say all or every! Nevermind, some one will be pished-off and claim that I’ve stereotyped everyone in the same boat.

Now, one manic commenteer i have had at thai-blogs, had nowt to say but that I was a brainwashed anti-Thaksin supporter, being paid by the Junta to write anti-Thaksin propaganda. ( I wish like…. would make lots more money!) Quite obviously, some folk out there are rather critical of some other Columnists and so when they have disagreed with one of my points, they have been the ones to put me in the same ‘bias?’ corner as them. I think, for any of you know who my style however, realize that I am not one to get serious about politics! Anyway, there are lots more other writers to do that instead. Instead of readers expecting to read about the latest General Sonthi/Surayud saga on my Column, they are surprised to find writings about milky-skinned actresses in their skin-whitening commercials or some pick-pocketing ladyboy and her gigantic pair of watermelons. Personally anyway, i think those topics are just slightly more interesting….and appetizing.

Over the year, my writing skills have improved but like a few friends have advised “Just don’t change your style”. So, that is what I try to do, sit down to concentrate on the content and not the actual language structure/vocabulary (that can wait til the self-editing bit at the end). As in my opinion, that is where too many budding writers fail themselves, they attempt to pull off some perfectly written piece, 100% grammatically correct and use long fancy words as if he had just swallowed a dictionary. As for the final piece – mediocre.

In case you’d like to know my own favourite articles over the year, I would definitely say the ones which have included 10 new provinces, 10 new crackdowns, 10 new Asian sports and 8 new political parties. Perhaps my favourite of all is the one called ‘A-sing-a-song at thai-blogs’ which I actually wrote up with the idea of a Thai friend.

Thanks for reading!

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