The British author’s new novel The Ballad of a Small Player was released last month to high acclaim. It follows The Wet and the Dry, a drinking memoir, which was named one of the New York Times’ best books of 2013, and The Forgiven, a novel set in Morocco, which The Economist called one of the best of 2012. Osborne lives in Bangkok.
As a writer you could presumably live anywhere in the world. Why do you choose to live in Bangkok?
I think it’s an ideal city for a writer. You can be alone without being alone. You can live very well without going broke and you can live in a decent apartment as God intended us to live. You can eat gung ob woonsen (prawns and glass noodles baked in a clay pot) every day and watch incredible sunsets from your balcony.
What neighbourhood do you live in here? What do you like about the area?
I live at the very end of Sukhumvit Soi 31 Sawatdee behind the university. It’s like a jungly village. It’s very quiet, a little spooky even. I am surrounded by jungle and abandoned warehouses. No farang in cargo shorts and bad tattoos.
Your book The Wet and the Dry is an ode to drinking. What is your favourite bar in Bangkok?
Hailiang off Sukhumvit Soi 33. It’s the best Japanese whisky bar in Bangkok.
Where are some of your favourite places to eat in the city?
I go to The Local on Sukhumvit Soi 23 because, well, it’s local. I love Sorntong on Rama IV for my gung pao (grilled prawn) and pla kapong neung manao (steamed sea bass in lime sauce).Sorntong on Rama IV for my gung pao (grilled prawn) and pla kapong neung manao (steamed sea bass in lime sauce).
I like Bo.lan and Nahm, like everyone else, I guess. I like going to Issaya Siamese Club and sitting in the garden. I am a great fan of Xuan Mai, Meyung Robson’s Vietnamese place on Thong Lor, near Soi 17. My favourite Japanese by far is Ten-Sui on Sukhumvit Soi 16. It breaks the bank but I go there every month.
I like Appia, because Paolo Vitaletti and Jarrett Wrisley (the owners) are friends and because they do it well. I like Opposite on Sukhumvit Soi 51 because Chris Wise and Som (Somrak Sila) are also old friends and they do it right as well. I give a shout-out to Paste on Sukhumvit Soi 49 for Thai food and to Scala at the Sukhothai. Not many people know it, but they have the best chocolate in Bangkok and some decent grappa. I often go there to partake of both and sit alone by the pool.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in Bangkok?
Watching old Mizoguchi movies at home and making my jasmine bloom.
Your travel memoir Bangkok Days remains popular. Have you thought of setting a novel here?
I am currently writing a novel that is set here.
In what ways does living in Bangkok inspire your writing in general?
It’s a very sensual, physical city – I think that does percolate through my skin in some way. I like the sense of the supernatural, the looseness and ease. It makes me feel relaxed and speculative. I love driving around the city aimlessly at night.
What other Bangkok-based writers do you enjoy reading?
I don’t know much of their work, honestly. I think John Burdett is a very good writer of English prose. I like Philip Cornwel-Smith, a lovely guy. Christopher Moore is smart and knows the city amazingly well.
Where do you go when you want to escape the city for a weekend?
I take a plane to Luang Prabang.
What is the best and worst thing about Bangkok’s turbo-charged growth of recent years?
The best: the improvement in the dining scene. The worst: the massacre of our trees.