Tag Archives: autobiography

Garry Kilworth: an extract from On My Way To Samarkand – memoirs of a travelling writer

On my way to Samarkand - memoirs of a travelling writer, by Garry Douglas KilworthHere’s a traveller’s tale set in Thailand. We wanted to journey by train from Bangkok to Chang Mai on an overnight sleeper train. Just obtaining the ticket turned the clock back to a time when Rudyard Kipling was in his youth. First we obtained a number at a kiosk. We took that number, just a simple figure like 8 or 9, to an office where a man wrote our names in a great ledger. We then went to another office where we were assigned seats and canvas bunk beds that unrolled from the side of the carriage. Finally, we went to the last office, where we were issued with tickets for the 6 pm train to Chang Mai.

We were excited. This was our first long rail trip in the Far East.

At quarter-to-six that evening we boarded a train which said ‘Bangkok to Chang Mai’ on the side in big letters. The platform from which it was leaving was registered on both our tickets. We stowed our luggage, sat in our seats and were delighted to be served curry from a man who had a portable paraffin stove set up in the linked bit between the next carriage and ours. We had especially opted for no air conditioning, because we like the climate of Thailand and don’t like to freeze.

The train pulled out at precisely 6 pm.

Once out in the countryside we would stop only at the odd station, but on the edge of Bangkok there were a number of suburban halts where people could board. At about 7 pm a Thai family entered our carriage. There was dad, mum and two children. The mild-looking man confronted us, inspected his own tickets, and said politely, ‘Madam and sir, you are in our seats.’

I took out our tickets, looked at the seat numbers, checked the carriage number, and shook my head.

‘I’m sorry, you’ve made a mistake. These are our seats.’

He shrugged and showed me his tickets. I showed him mine. They were identical. Damn railway clerks, I thought. They’ve either sold the seats twice, or made a stupid error. All those ledgers too! You would think the system infallible with so much bureaucracy.

‘I must fetch the ticket inspector,’ said the Thai gentleman. ‘He’ll know what to do.’

‘Good idea,’ I replied, safe in the knowledge that possession was nine tenths of the law. ‘He’ll sort it out.’

In the meantime I offered my seat to the man’s wife and Annette chatted to the two children.

The ticket inspector turned out to be a corpulent official covered in gold lanyards, medals and scrambled egg. He looked like an amiable general in Thailand’s army. However, he was accompanied by a lean narrow-eyed lieutenant who wore a gun at his hip. This one looked like an officer in the Vietcong, the one from the movie The Deerhunter who keeps yelling, ‘Wai! Wai! Wai!’ or some such word into the ear of Robert de Niro. This man’s hand never left his gun butt as he stared at me from beneath the slanted peak of his immaculate cap.

Neither of these rail officials spoke English.

The ticket inspector studied all the tickets on show and then spoke softly to the gentleman with the nice family.

‘He wants to know,’ said the gentleman, turning to me, ‘why you are on the wrong train?’

We were nonplussed. Stunned.

‘What wrong train?’ I argued. ‘This is the 6 pm from Bangkok to Chang Mai, isn’t it?’

‘No,’ came the calm reply, ‘this is the 3 pm from Bangkok to Chang Mai, running late as usual.’

‘What? You mean…’

‘All trains run late here, sir. The 6 pm will still be standing in the station. The ticket inspector says you will have to get off at the next station and wait for your right train.’

Annette and I stared out of the window at the blackness rushing by. The jungle stations we swept through had no lights whatsoever. They were deep pits of darkness in a world of slightly lesser darkness. I had visions of standing on one of those rickety wooden platforms trying to flag down an express. It was scary. Too scary to contemplate. I’m sure the people who lived near those stations were perfectly respectable citizens, but the night-time jungle does things with the imagination. There was no way we were going to get off our train, now that we were rattling towards Chang Mai.

Through our gentleman translator we managed to persuade the inspector to let us stay on the train. At first he wanted to sell us first class tickets to the air conditioned compartments. When that didn’t work – Annette digging in her heels – he found us similar seats to the ones we already had. It occurred to me he could have done that in the first place, but since all was well that ended well, I really didn’t care.

There is a post script to this short tale.

To avoid any repetition of this near horror story, we chose to return to Bangkok by a reliable bus. Annette and I boarded the coach to find our booked seats occupied by two young men in orange robes. Conscript monks. It seems that Thai men are expected to spend one year in the army and then one year as a Buddhist monk. During that latter year they are apparently entitled to all sorts of privileges, such as nicking booked seats with impunity. They are untouchable in that sense. These two refused even to make eye contact with us.

They wouldn’t budge. They knew their rights.

A fierce woman conductor intervened. She told Annette and me to ‘get off the bus’. We informed her we had tickets for the seats these two oranges were occupying. We were not going to leave. Other passengers began to get restless. The driver started looking panicky. Finally he came to us with his hands clasped as if in prayer and said, ‘Sir, Madam, I beseech you. I implore with you to understand my problem and leave the bus.’ We sighed, gave up and got off the vehicle. It’s a tough man who can withstand a Thai beseeching, I can tell you. Tougher than me, anyway. We collected our luggage from underneath the bus and waited for another coach. Hopefully Chang Mai had run out of monks and we could get back to Bangkok on the next one. And where do Thai bus drivers learn English words like ‘beseech’? I guarantee half the population of the English-speaking world doesn’t use that word. He had probably read Chaucer and Piers Ploughman, while all I know of the Thai language is ‘Good day’.

On My Way To Samarkand is available in ebook and print editions:

On my way to Samarkand - memoirs of a travelling writer, by Garry Douglas Kilworthebook:

New: On my Way to Samarkand – memoirs of a travelling writer, by Garry Douglas Kilworth

On my way to Samarkand - memoirs of a travelling writer by Garry Douglas KilworthGarry (Douglas) Kilworth is a varied and prolific writer who has travelled widely since childhood, living in a number of countries, especially in the Far East. His books include science fiction and fantasy, historical novels, literary novels, short story collections, children’s books and film novelisations.

This autobiography contains anecdotes about his farm worker antecedents and his rovings around the globe, as well as his experiences in the middle list of many publishing houses.

The style is chatty, the structure loose – pole vaulting time and space on occasion – and the whole saga is an entertaining ramble through a 1950s childhood, foreign climes and the genre corridors of the literary world.

Kilworth is a master of his trade. (Punch)

Garry Kilworth is arguably the finest writer of short fiction today, in any genre. (New Scientist)

Kilworth is one of the most significant writers in the English language. (Fear)

Guest review by John Grant: Shockingly Close to the Truth: Confessions of a Grave- Robbing Ufologist by James W Moseley and Karl T Pflock

(Prometheus, 371 pages, hardback, 2002)

Once upon a time — a glorious time — publishers used to release autobiographies by people who weren’t just movie celebs or ex-politicians or pop stars, but simply people who had led interesting lives and who could write about them interestingly. The autobiography — or at least a certain subgenre of it — was thus almost like a variant form of the novel, and readers tended to approach it in much the same way. You might never have heard of Fred Gluggitt, but he’d climbed Everest blindfold, slept with an Olympic belly-dancing team and subsisted for a year in the Australian Outback eating nothing but woodworms, and he could write in a way that had you bursting out in laughter every few pages. That was what you looked for in an autobiography: entertainment, a measure of education (perhaps), a window into someone else’s world, and, at the most profound level, a certain level of identification with and communication with all of one’s fellow human beings, not just with the individual who happened to be telling her or his tale.

Books like that are hardly ever published any more. Instead the tables in the remainder bookshops are piled high with the heavingly fat, probably ghosted, certainly carefully spin- doctored autobiographies of famous people whom you would run a mile rather than have in your living room, or even be stuck in a bar with.

Well, here’s an exception — an old-fashioned autobiography that captures the spirit right down to the deliciously hokey cover illustration.

Jim Moseley (one assumes Karl Pflock is a sort of fully credited ghostwriter) has been a ufologist for decades. Correction: not so much a ufologist as what he calls a “ufoologist”, observing and commenting on the field of ufology to a much greater extent than researching UFOs themselves. He certainly has done some UFO investigation — coming to the conclusion that, while every UFO case he has personally examined is almost certainly unmysterious, nevertheless UFOs taken en masse probably do represent a mystery — but essentially he has been, as dubbed a while back, ufology’s Court Jester. He has published the long-running muckraker-sheet-cum-investigative- journal Saucer News (now called Saucer Smear) — a sort of ufological Private Eye — and he has met and/or interviewed virtually all of the principal protagonists in a certain segment of ufology: what one could call the mainstream of US ufology in the second half of the 20th century.

Oh, yes, and as a sideline he’s occasionally gone on treasure hunts to Peru, conducting a legally questionable trade in ancient artefacts.

His reminiscences of all this are constantly entertaining, and on occasion very funny. What’s especially interesting about them is that Moseley can, as it were, reach the parts that professional UFO debunkers like Phil Klass cannot. This comment applies both to his encounters with other ufologists and to his studies of particular UFO cases.

To take the latter first: Moseley is open-minded about the existence, physically or psychologically, of UFOs, and it is with this attitude that he has approached any examination of a case. This is in contrast with either the debunker or the devotee, each of whom will go into the case expecting to have preconceptions confirmed: the debunker will find plenty to ridicule, the devotee plenty to believe. Moseley, on the other hand, has a good chance of finding what is actually there. That he, as someone who’s a part of the scene, has found enough to convince him that many famous cases are tosh is much more convincing than if, say, the late Carl Sagan had found the same: Sagan (who was interested in the subject in a minor way) or any other serious scientist would have investigated only as far as the first few obvious contradictions, whereas Moseley actually went on to probe such cases in some considerable depth.

In other words, by dint of the extent of his research he’s an expert in a way that few outright debunkers can ever hope to be. And this applies also to his observations of ufology. I can’t actually name any names here, because some of these figures are astonishingly writ-happy, but various of the barmiest of the ufology superstars have opened up to Moseley — despite his known editorship of Saucer Smear (which must go to show how barmy they actually are) — in a way they’d never think to talk to someone who wasn’t One Of Us. And Moseley, gleefully, lets them show themselves as they are.

His demolitions are all the more effective for this. Here, for example — there’s a plethora of choice — is his conclusion concerning Roswell, with a conclusion also about CUFOS (one of the major organizations devoted to supposedly scientific UFO study):

Whatever the original motivation, CUFOS has long since dropped any pretense of objectivity about the case and is the one UFO group that unwaveringly stands behind it without qualification.

That single sentence tells us a lot about ufology and also a lot about the representation of ufology in the media: anyone here who hadn’t gained the impression that most UFO buffs thought Roswell was likely to be pretty kosher, please raise your hands.

As the social history of ufology the publishers claim it to be in their cover blurb, even an informal one, this book is far from adequate. As noted above, it covers only a small segment of the field; plenty of really quite important ufological figures and their ideas, sane or crackpot, get no mention at all. The index lists only people, so there is no entry for, for example, Roswell, even though there’s quite a lot about the Roswell fallacy in the book; bad indexes seem to be a Prometheus speciality. I noticed that Hugo Gernsback is called “Gernsbach”, so for all I know there may be countless other individuals — or places, or organizations, etc. — whose names are incorrectly spelled. One could go on chipping away at the text on such grounds for quite a long time.

But that’s not really what it’s about. What this constantly entertaining book is about is a very haphazard (delightfully haphazard) ramble through the life of someone who’s been in the ufology game primarily for the fun of it. He has teased; he has hoaxed (often in tandem with his friend the late Gray Barker, although Barker almost made a profession of it); he has exposed (the whole of the 1957 issue of Saucer News exposing Adamski is reproduced in the appendix); he has annoyed (too many to name, but they’re the sort of people you feel good that someone’s annoyed); he has been ufology’s gadfly. At the end of the day, he was delighted when “a certain Harry Lime” wrote from Vienna, Austria (not Greeneland?), to tell him he should be proud of, not dismayed by, the sobriquet he’d recently been given in MUFON UFO Journal: “The Reigning Court Jester of Ufology.”

Revealing and entertaining by turns, Shockingly Close to the Truth is a book you’ll love or — assuming you’re especially po-faced — hate. This reviewer devoured it, and with a grin on his face the whole time.

Warm Words and OtherwiseThis review, first published by infinity plus, is excerpted from John Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews, published on September 19 by infinity plus ebooks:

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor ofThe Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.

Warm Words & Otherwise is available from:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)

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