Interview with Richard Arthur, author of I of the Sun

Richard Arthur

Book I of the SunFront Cover low-res

I of the SunA young man travels on a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia to find out, in search of freedom and everything that comes with it. Free from responsibility, free from others, free from himself. He discovers paradise islands and electric cities, and gets hooked on crazy liquor, cheap pills, loose women and easy living. Navigating through a jungle of butterflies and ladyboys, socio-narcotic minefields, hustlers, mafia, mad men and mystics, he surfs the line between reality and imagination, sanity and madness, and life and death itself. Stay tuned for future updates.

1.) Introduce yourself, tell us a few things about who you are and where you come from.Author and Book

I’m from England and first went out to Southeast Asia about 10 years ago on a one-way ticket without a plan. Spent my first year travelling around the region and working in a massive bar on Ko Phi Phi in Thailand for free alcohol. I later settled in Bangkok and have lived there most of the time since, teaching in university and other odd jobs. Eventually turned my old diaries into my book “I of the Sun”, which I hope captures a first timer’s travels in Thailand and Southeast Asia pretty honestly and realistically.

2.) Your recent book “I of the Sun”, is a book about your travels through Southeast Asia. Why Southeast Asia?

I didn’t know a great deal about the region before going there. Asia appealed for its sheer foreignness, and Southeast Asia had the hot climate and a range of countries near each other to explore. I had vague notions of the geography and culture and that was about it. Back then I had a few friends that also planned to visit the region before flying on to Australia and around the world, so I thought it would be nice to have friends coming and going too.

3.) When in your journey did you decide to write a book? Was it something you envisioned before, or did it come to you during your trip?

I always planned to write something about being on the road since I was a teenager and dreamed of such things. So I kept a diary of that first year travelling the region, (with a few gaps during the more hectic parts!) Then I eventually wrote them up into a first draft and molded that into a book, which took 3.5 years.

4.) How did you come up with the title?

It symbolically captures the feeling of travelling in the tropics and more importantly what I was trying to say with the humanist philosophy in the book. It relates to my discussion of truth and causality in the early parts of the book. You’ll have to read the book in its entirety to get a better idea of the title’s meaning, and I’d love to hear other people’s interpretations. The Bangkok Post review thought that “the sun is more symbolic of empowerment.” The book actually had a different working title, but the URL was taken unlike this one! Check out the website:

5.) What was your favorite recollection or memory of your journey that you enjoyed writing about in your book?

Going over my old diaries, looking at photos and sometimes revisiting places can vividly bring back a lot of forgotten memories and emotions. As a result I still remember that year more than any since. Some painful ones but happy ones too, such as discovering some of Thailand’s best beaches and islands in Krabi province for the first time and having my mind blown as a result. Walking the jungle and riding motorbikes around the mountains of Chiang Mai and experiencing the Songkran water festival for the first time. All the new friends, freedom and madness of travelling at 22 I guess.

6.) What was something that stands out the most as being different between the countries you visited and where you come from?20130309_143431

Pretty much everything at a surface level, going from UK to Southeast Asia – geography, people, food, lifestyle … But after spending time with locals you soon see the similarities between all people too. However there are still contrasts in the way people think particularly going from a Western to Buddhist mind-set.

7.) What is the most life-changing lesson that you think you picked up while traveling on this particular journey. If there is not one in particular, then what are some take-aways.

It was my first big solo trip, so it definitely took a while to get used to that. Being alone for long periods, being outside your comfort zone 24 hours a day, forcing yourself into new situations, learning who to hang out with and who to avoid, not doing dumb things, especially when drunk. These skills took a while to improve through lots of trial and error!

8.) Was there ever a moment when you felt scared, uncomfortable, or wanted to go home? Feel free to share a crazy story with us.

Constant drinking for weeks and months at a time, waking up in wasted in strange places and sticky situations, hospitalized with dengue fever, falling in love, heart-break, motorbike crashes, stuck in caves, lost at sea, mafia run-ins, paranoia, madness … and plenty more! It’s all in the book in extreme detail. I definitely enjoy covering the lows as well as the highs of travelling and partying on the road.

9.) What makes your book stand out from other books that people have written?

My answer to the last question! I like to explore the physical and emotional ups and downs of travel in a lot of detail , so it’s quite a psychological book in places, and there’s a lot more action and adventure than more observational travel books. The narrator likes to get involved. And then there is the philosophical side of the book which explores the nature of free will and human consciousness, which is fairly unique to travel literature.

10.) If there were one photo that you could show us here that described your trip, or has special meaning for you, which would it be and why?Author

I was using a film camera back then, and I’ve never scanned them. I have some overlapping shots my friend Peter Holm made during a shoot we did of me in red in Hanoi.

11.) Obviously your book will cover a lot on this topic, but do you have any particular advice for someone who wants to travel to Southeast Asia?

Pack light, take care of yourself but don’t worry about every little detail too much, just enjoy the moment. It’s pretty easy to get around, just have your wits about you. Chat to people, spend time with the locals, try to get off the beaten track as well as seeing the sights. It can revelatory just going to a small, non-descript town to see how normal people really live. And try to sober once in a while, especially heading into all-night bus trips.

12.) Out of the countries and cities that you visited do you have one that remains with you more than others? I.e. a favorite or city that you’d really want to return to.

I’ve lived in Bangkok, Thailand for years so I must love it there, even though it’s a far from perfect city to live in. I like spending time in Chiang Mai and Krabi too. They feel quite homely to me, being both beautiful and exotic yet quite cosmopolitan and varied. I’ve been to neighboring Laos and Cambodia many times on visa runs and trips, and they both have a distinctive atmosphere and charm.

13.) What are your future plans? Do you have any upcoming trips? New books coming out?

Having spent so long focused on the book, it’s a bit disorientating to have finally finished it. I’ve spent this summer working in London but I’m heading back to Bangkok this winter. I’ll keep promoting “I of the Sun” online, and start working on my next two books which will be partly based on my earlier travels. There are hints about where in the book. And I’d like to get another career going with writing and marketing too. Even considering a move to another region of the world later next year.

14.) Closing remarks. Any final thoughts or questions that you’d like to add?20121117_184752

Thanks for the interview Andy.  I hope everyone gets a chance to get out there and travel Southeast Asia soon, and if you have already, you can reminisce with “I of the Sun” in paperback or e-book. Here’s a list of links to Amazon and other retailers to read a preview of the book:

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  1. I like to read the book. “he surfs the line between reality and imagination, sanity and madness, and life and death itself.”

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