Expert Author Tom Vater:  Sak Yant, Sharks, and Epic Crime


Author Tom Vater

Tom Vater is a prolific writer and has published many novels. His articles about politics, the environment, minorities, etc., have been published in many publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Mekong Review, and others.

He writes for the German travel publisher Reise-Know-How and is the destination expert for the Daily Telegraph. Tom also contributes regularly to the Nikkei Asian Review.

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Tom Vater has also published four novels and several non-fiction books. Cambodia: A Journey through the Land of the Khmer became Cambodia’s best-selling illustrated book during 2018/2019.

I reviewed Tom’s book Kolkata Noir for his Blackthorn Book Tour in November 2021, and I am honoured that Tom agreed to this interview.

Hi Tom. Welcome, and thank you for your willingness to answer a few questions.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

I don’t need any. Writing is what I do. I’ve never had writer’s block (touch wood) and try not to procrastinate. I’m not precious about writing. I just get on with it. 

2. What risks have you taken with your writing that has paid off?

The risk I took was not to pursue a more regular and structured job/career and to go for freelance writing as a profession instead. Not every one of my books and stories is a success, but enough of them are – I have been able to write full time for the past 25 years. 

3. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

None. I do like sharks though. Love looking at them, swimming with them….

Sharks! There is no way I will shim with sharks…

4. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have just finished an eco-terrorist thriller – think Greta Thunberg versus James Bond – which is with my agent, trying to find a publisher. 

5. If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Marseille, a great, very beautiful multi-cultural city with an edge, or Kolkata, where I have already written a short novel, Kolkata Noir

6. Share a darling that you edited out of Kolkata Noir?

I wrote the first draft of Kolkata Noir in just eight weeks during my Indo-European Art Residency in Kolkata in 2019. I don’t recall editing anything much out of the book. 

7. You have published many books already. What is your favourite cover out of all your books? Why is it your favourite?

My favourite cover is the cover of Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos (2011). Which I co-wrote with Aroon Thaewchatturat, who took the amazing cover portrait (and all the images in the book) of a young man covered in sak yant (sacred tattoos).

From Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos by Tom Vater

While British illustrator Austin Cowdall designed the cover (and the book). The book was an international bestseller, received a three-page review in TIME Magazine and was the subject of two documentaries. I think the cover really does the content great justice.

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I’ve researched the Sak Yant (sacred tattoos) and discovered that it dates back over 1000 years and are done with a needle and bamboo stick. What makes them unique is the ceremony during which the person talks to the Arjarn (or retired monk). Based on this conversation, the Arjarn will choose a meaningful tattoo and a location on the body where it will be placed. 

8. If you think back to the first book, you have ever published. Please tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like?

My first published book was a non-fiction, Beyond the Pancake Trench, Road Tales from the Wild East, published in 2004 by Orchid Press in Hong Kong. A collection of essays about travels in South and Southeast Asia with a particular focus on the marginal and bizarre.

Some of the texts still hold up well and have been republished since, particularly my accounts of the lives of Thailand’s sea gypsies, the Moken and my encounters with indigenous minorities in the Andaman Islands. 

In this collection of short stories, Tom Vater shares his experiences of the places less-travelled in South and Southeast Asia – telling it as it really is, instead of the glorified versions we often encounter.

9. Talking about Kolkata Noir. What is the significance of the title? 

The title succinctly suggests that my book is about the wonderful, fabulous city of Kolkata and, thanks to the Noir add-on, that my novel is dark and gritty.

Yes, Kolkata is a city of contrasts, and I’ve especially enjoyed how you have described Kolkata in various times – 1999, 2019, and 2039.

10. How would you describe the ideal reader of Kolkota Noir?

Crime fiction fans, especially female readers, as one of my main protagonists is a female cop. Anyone interested in Asia/India/history and a great whodunit will love my story. 

Interesting titbits

Do you prefer:

1. Summer or winter?

I live in the tropics – we have hot, rainy and cool. I am best with rainy or cool. 

2. Coffee or tea?

Black tea, Earl Grey

3. Dog or cat?


4. Morning person or night owl?

Night owl

5. Beach Holiday or camping?

I sometimes do both at the same time, beach camping 

6. Movie or book?

Book, naturally, comes with the job, but I do watch a lot of movies

7. Meat lover or vegetarian?

Reluctant carnivore, part-time vegetarian

8. Introvert or extrovert?


9. Travel locally or internationally?

I am an Asia based correspondent as well as a writer. Hence I travel 7 months out of the year – for the past 30 years, definitely internationally. Covid slowed me down a tad, but now I am getting back up to speed.

10. Text message or call? 


One last question: Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers?

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As I mentioned above, I have completed a thriller with an ecological theme. If a publisher picks it up, I will write a sequel. 

I’d like to thank you for this interview. 

To your readers: I have five crime novels set in Asia, all out with Next Chapter. Buy my books.

If you enjoy any of them, please leave Tom Vater a review on your favourite platform.

There you have it! Tom Vater is an author that doesn’t suffer from writers’ block, as we can see from the number of books he has already published. You can choose from his novels, or enjoy the beautiful photos in his non-fiction books.

We wish you much success with the eco-thriller and hope it will be published soon!

Hi! I am Susan

Welcome to my adventure

Why Read or Rot?

I have started reading at the age of four. I can remember how I often read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to sleep.

During my early school years, we visited the library once a week. I couldn’t pick out my new book fast enough! By the end of the period, I would have finished it already, leaving me with nothing to read for the rest of the week!

Growing up, Fridays was the highlight of my week. Dad would pack the whole family into the car, and off we go! You guessed right – to the library! We were a family of readers.

In my adult years, I’ve developed a variety of interests like technology, photography, gardening and even writing. But reading was and will always be a part of my life!

Reading for me is like breathing. If I cannot read, my soul will quietly rot away

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