25 Aug 2012

Highs and Laos as crime writer fights to publish novels

A bestselling British author is fighting to get his novels published in the little-known Asian country where they are set.

Colin Cotterill has written a string of popular detective novels set in Laos, delighting readers across the English-speaking world and collecting an award from the Crime Writers’ Association.

But his efforts to get the books translated into the Lao language and passed by government censors belong more to the realm of comedy than crime fiction.

Cotterill, a London-born teacher and writer, lived in Laos for several years in the 1990s after being hired to redesign a university English course.

Colin Cotterill

But he arrived suffering from hepatitis and spent the first few months in hospital.

He said: “I was arriving in Laos sick and on my first day I moved to the hospital and spent the first three months having treatment in the hospital. I liked the place so much I moved in.”

Cotterill has now written eight books set in 1970s Lao starring Dr Siri Paiboun, the national coroner.

The landlocked country is a one-party Communist state like its neighbours, Vietnam and China, but has only begun to open up to tourism in recent decades.

Laotian woman

Nevertheless, the government retains tight control over publishing and the Ministry of Culture must rubber-stamp any translations that eventually make it on to the bookshelves.

It’s a situation where we’re starting almost from zero – maybe less than zero.Robert Cooper

Other hurdles include finding a translator and persuading the Christian owner of the only printing press in the country to print the books.

Even if Cotterill succeeds in getting his titles translated and published there is no guarantee that Laotian readers will fall in love with them.

This is a country with few bookshops. Fiction is not popular and few customers want to buy books of any kind in the local language.

Publisher Robert Cooper said: “It’s a situation where we’re starting almost from zero – maybe less than zero.”