Welcome to our weekly feature,
Our guest this week is Tony James Slater, the author of “That Bear Ate My Pants! Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad” — the story of his adventures as a volunteer in an exotic animal refuge in Ecuador, South America. Tony travelled to the Santa Martha Centre for Animal Rescue determined to become a man. He never considered that ‘or die trying’ might be an option. If you’ve ever thought that books about travel were boring, Tony’s about to change your mind! So, grab a cup of coffee or pour yourself a cold brew — beverages are always on the house — pull up a chair, and enjoy!
Tony, you’re a Brit, by birth. Where do you hang your hat these days? Well, I’d like to say ‘all over’ – being a travelly type I generally try to make as much out of my adventures as possible! But actually I emigrated to Australia just before Christmas and am now living in Perth. Where it is unbearably hot and populated by suicidal kangaroos, making me wonder if I’ve made the right decision…
Do you think e-books have gained as much popularity overseas as they have in the States? I don’t think so. The US is the biggest (and usually the first) market for most new innovations. We always say in England that we get what the States are done with – ‘hit’ US shows that have already aired the first season over there, hand-me-down fashions and trends… and of course, the US is where it’s at in terms of consumerism and keeping up with the Jones’s! Once other countries have better support and distribution for both e-Readers and e-Books, their markets will grow – but of course, there’s a bit language barrier in a lot of places. A million self published books in English aren’t going to entice a lot of Italians or Chinese to pursue the promise of cheap e-readership!
You made a go at being an actor, even got a degree in acting, then decided the stage wasn’t for you – or you weren’t for it. Then, as rumors have it, you bummed around for about six years before writing “That Bear Ate My Pants.” At what age did you first realize you wanted to write books and how/when did you first share this ambition with “the world”? Ha ha! The stage wasn’t for me… no, the stage hated me. Alas! I have all the acting ability of a cardboard fish. Traveling was my second chance – I always wanted to be ‘different’ (I got picked on enough at school, so I might as well make it worthwhile!). When I realized I wouldn’t become a famous actor, I needed something else – I guess I had kind of an identity crisis. I went to Ecuador to prove to myself, more than anyone, that I could do something cool with my life.I never planned on writing a book until my last day there (in Ecuador) when it suddenly occurred to me just how ridiculous my adventures had been. But I’m not substantially more talented as a writer than as an actor – which is why it took me the next six years to write the book! And two years of querying agents, before I turned to self publishing (based on advice I got at a writers conference in York, England). I’m SO glad I did!
Who in your life and what authors you read had the most influence over your decision to write? An author called Patrick Tilley was one of my earliest favourites. His Amtrak Wars series characters got under my skin to such a degree that I still find myself comparing me against them! In real life, I mean! This is what made me understand just how powerful an effect good writing can have on people – it can infect their fantasies, make them remember something for years afterwards – and that’s when I first wished I could write! But I couldn’t, because I was ten. My teachers always loved my stories, and my Mum did of course – but I don’t think my abilities as a writer developed beyond that stage. Well, not until very recently of course :0)
My parents are supportive to a fault – they even paid for me to go to university to study acting! Poor buggers. They ain’t getting that money back… And then, my sister did a degree in Script Writing, and hasn’t written a thing since. We’re so similar in other ways, it made me think maybe that if she could write, maybe I could too. She can’t act either.
Finally, I’d like to thank the majority of unsung travel writers. You know, the ones with their books in all the major bookshops. Because if they weren’t so rubbish, I’d never have considered what I had to say worthy of writing down. But they are; I’ve read so many travel books (all ‘hilarious’ according to various prestigious newspapers of the world) – and hated almost all of them. I find them boring, repetitive, and about as funny as standing in poo. So I thought, ‘Well, I can’t really do much worse, can I…?’
Hm. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. My mouth does tend to get me in trouble.
So, do you now consider writing your career? I do! Absolutely. I’d like ‘travel’ to be my career – in an ‘I roam the world and do crazy shit, and get paid for it’ kind of way. Like the way professional athletes get sponsored to do their thing – I need Red Bull to offer me a contract to go and do something stupid. Like hike the Himalayas to find out what brand of cat food nine-out-of-ten wild tigers prefer! Realistically though, if I can make enough money out of writing about these adventures to fund more adventures – well, that can’t be a bad way to live, eh?
“That Bear” definitely is in the humor genre. Or, humorous travel-writing (if there is such a genre). Is there another genre you’d like to try and what attracts you about that genre? I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write fantasy and/or sci-fi. They’re the genres I read (because most travel writing, humorous or otherwise, I find incredibly boring). I constantly have ideas for stories, but I’m all mouth and no trousers – my descriptive writing sucks bottom, which is why I kept it to a bare minimum in ‘That Bear’. (Interesting aside – most people liked that about the book!). I have three main work-in-progress fiction stories, but I’m hyper critical and can’t stand the way I write fiction. So who knows? I have at least three books in the newly invented ‘Travel Comedy’ genre to write first though! Maybe that will be enough practice.
From what I’ve read on your blog, you’ve had numerous adventures abroad, not just those in “That Bear.” Can you share another overseas adventure with us? Oh hell yeah! Lemme see… how about the time I rescued the police force of an entire Thai island from a gigantic rampaging monkey that had attacked a restaurant… those people thought I was Jesus that day! He’d smashed up the whole place and was charging the cops that had been sent to ‘deal with’ him. I just walked up to him, took him by the hand and led him calmly away. It probably helped that I was heavily sedated; you could have convinced ME I was Jesus! And Yea, I did tame the wild beast…
Or the time I climbed Ayers Rock – (a single boulder the size of a mountain in the middle of Australia) – when it was closed due to a severe weather warning. I got washed right off the side of it when the torrential rain started! It rains there less than one day a year – but it bloody well rained on me, nearly killing me in the process!
And we won’t get started on me stitching a guy’s head back together after a motorbike crash…
Yeah, I’ve been about a bit :0)
What will your next book be about? My next book is about my adventures after Ecuador. I spent a year trying to recapture that spirit of adventure by doing all sorts of crazy things – I took up sailing and sank a boat, I joined the army and went AWOL, I volunteered in homeless shelters and ended up on national TV making a documentary about my efforts to renovate a house in South Wales. Eventually I thought ‘bugger this’ and went off to do some more animal volunteering, this time in Thailand. I was there for most of the next year! The next book will feature all of that stuff – eventually…
If you could pick another author’s character and use him or her as a character in a novel, what author and character would that be and in what type of setting would you write about him or her? It has to be… Luke Skywalker! I’m a bit of a geek and Luke is the ultimate super-ninja type character – I’d love to challenge his abilities, find inescapable traps and villains that would threaten him. Perhaps I’d write it in an alternate dimension, where the laws of physics were a bit twisted, just enough to give the upper hand to whatever beasties I designed to throw at him… I know, it’s a bit of a cop out! But I love kick-ass fighting heroes, and genuine nobility and philosophy in characters. I think I could go a long way with Luke. The more ordinary the character, the more boring for me – perhaps that’s why I strive to be as un-ordinary as possible – so the more fantastical, the better! There’s just so many more possibilities when you’re writing about an intergalactic warrior-magician from a distant galaxy, compared to the cast from Coronation Street or Sex In The City.
You poll your readers and ask them to list five words that best describe your novel. What top five words do they list? ‘Hilarious’ would definitely come top, which is great as that’s what I wanted. ‘Painful’ would be another, probably because it was – I may have put a few people off the prospect of volunteering by the frequency of my injuries! ‘Inspiring’ – I’d like to see this there, and judging by the reviews it would be. Not exactly as I hoped though – I aimed to inspire people to volunteer themselves, whereas the common reaction seems to be ‘bugger volunteering! That sounds way too difficult. But I’m inspired to read his next book…!’ D’oh! ‘Heart-warming’ also gets used a lot in reviews. But my heart is steel-reinforced stone, so I don’t even know what this word means. ‘Idiot’. I guess I brought this one on myself. By being an idiot. What can I say? A man can only fight his nature for so long…
You became a newlywed around the time your book was published. How does newlywed life blend with all the marketing chores associated with being e-published? The two are mutually exclusive! My poor, suffering wife – she gets less and less attention, the more I devote myself to marketing and writing. She does her best to support me by not complaining, but every so often I have to re-prioritize and spend some quality time with her! God only knows how people manage to write with a relationship AND a full-time job; I’m lucky enough to have my wife support me while I write! Which is yet another reason to keep her feeling wanted… :0)
Are you a dog person or cat person and what kind of canine or feline assistance with your writing do you receive, if any? I’m both – I’ve had cats, but I lost both of them and was so severely attached that I’ve never dared have another one. We have a family dog at my parent’s house, a rescued border collie called Cassie – but she is a replacement of the sheepdog I grew up with, who we lost a few years ago. Ah… I get stupidly attached to animals. Probably more than humans! I cried for weeks when we lost that dog (Megan). I haven’t really let any other animals in since. My wife, though, loves hamsters – a pity as you can’t have them in Australia – so for a year we had two of them, and their contribution to my writing was to colonize my desk and drive me out of the bedroom – by the time we were done, their cage was bigger than our bed! I loved those hamsters too… aw man, I’m welling up here!
You’re admitted to heaven and you decide to throw a dinner party to celebrate your arrival. What five people are on your guest list? I always get nervous when I see the word ‘admitted’ in a question. My dubious past is always coming back to haunt me! For that reason, amongst others, I’d like to be boring and invite the family members that have receded me to the afterlife, particularly my Nan – and my Uncle Paul, who died last summer. I was literally running my launch campaign for ‘That Bear’ from his bedside as he was dying from Motor Neuron Disease. It was a singularly bittersweet experience.
To round out the group though, I’d love to get my hands on a couple of ancient Greek philosophers – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – and quiz them to find out just what they knew, that we have since lost. I’m sure they knew some truths that would be significant for the human race to take on board – including, of course, the location of Atlantis :0)
Tony James Slater Author Biography: Tony James Slater, the author of crazy travel comedy ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ is a very, very strange man. He believes himself to be indestructible, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He is often to be found making strange faces whilst pretending to be attacked by inanimate objects. And sometimes – not always, but often enough to be of concern – his testicles hang out of the holes in his trousers.
It is for this reason (amongst others) that he chooses to spend his life far from mainstream civilization, tackling ridiculous challenges and subjecting himself to constant danger. He gets hurt quite a lot.
Our thanks to Tony for a fun interview!