Amazon Author Interview
S. J. Clarke – Ringside Gamble
Congratulations! Your book’s available to buy on the Amazon bookstore. How did you feel to see it there for the first time?
When Edmund Hilary achieved the feat of climbing Mount Everest, he looked across the valley towards the great peak Makalu and mentally worked out a route about how it could be climbed. It showed him that even though he was standing on top of the world, it wasn’t the end of everything. He was still looking beyond to other interesting challenges. My first novel has been a five-year climb and I am thinking about what next.
Can you tell us about your book and why you wanted to write it?
To save his village from poverty, a gifted young Muay Thai boxer must win the fight of his life, but corrupt sporting officials stand in his way. Conflict arises in the form of treacherous friends, temptation, and loneliness. His world is magical yet brutally realistic. Full of kindness, courage, pain, and brave deeds. In the world of Muay Thai, things are rarely as they seem, and the final battle is earth-shattering.
My mother is one of ten children. At the age of 12 she had to leave school to earn money. She lived in a two up, two down terraced bedroom home in Hackney, East London. The bottom drawer of the sideboard served as her crib when she was a baby. I did not realise at the start of writing Ringside Gamble that the book was about her and her life. But it is. She taught myself and my siblings that when you get knocked down, you stand up. My mother’s a born fighter. Cheeky too. You don’t see this now in London, but when she was a child, she stuffed old tights to make a mannequin so she could ask, ‘A penny for the guy’. This is the request that children made when begging for money to buy fireworks for Bonfire Night celebrations. It used to be commonplace in the streets of the UK in early November in the twentieth century. Unlike most east-end London kids, my mum would prop her Guy Fawkes out in areas such as Tottenham Court Road, where tourists frequented in August. In November, she was still there. Stamping her feet in old shoes layered with newspaper innersoles. Counting every penny as she hoped to save herself a clout from her beer-bottle-swinging dad who always greeted her with a “what you earned today?” from the depths of his cigarette-reeking couch.
I have lived in Singapore for 12 years and trained in boxing camps across Thailand, visiting over 30 times. It was in Singapore that I started practising the art of Muay Thai. The fight scenes in Ringside Gamble are accurate to a heartbeat. Life for the fighters and their families is hard. It is not uncommon to see children with no shoes, like Hackney in 1950s London, there is no indoor lavatory, just an outhouse. Muay Thai boxing and the Southeast Asian fairy tales provide the structure for Ringside Gamble. The story is, however, universal.
Have you always been a writer/wanted to become an author?
Yes. I enjoy nothing more than entering a writer’s world. Over the years I have revisited the re-telling of ancient Greek mythology a myriad of times. Most recently with C. S. Lewis’ Until We Have Faces. Singapore Press Holdings and Art Republik have published my writing. In 2017, the Ministry of Oman hired me to do research in Muscat. I have been to Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan and lived in Asia and continental Europe. These experiences of living, travelling and working in different cities inform my writing.
I scribble and scratch out words on paper, writing before the tropical sun starts heating up the already humid mornings in Singapore. I enjoy entering the worlds of Kazuo Ishiguro, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is a particular source of inspiration as he builds bridges between cultures. Being a nomad, I appreciate the connections, disruptions, and historical contexts he explores. I fell in love with Languages of Truth.
What made you take that leap and publish your book?
Encouragement and love from friends.
Have you any more books in the pipeline?
A sequel to Ringside Gamble and short stories.
That’s great news. I’m sure I won’t be the only one waiting to read the sequel!
Very best of luck! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
ABOUT THE BOOK
***For readers of all ages***
Khao Lak, Southern Thailand: A young Muay Thai boxer living in poverty must find the inner strength to fight if he wants to realise his dream of competing at the world-famous boxing arena, Lumpinee in Bangkok. Conflict arises in the form of treacherous friends, temptation and loneliness. His world is magical yet brutally realistic. Full of kindness, courage, pain and brave deeds. In the world of Muay Thai, things are rarely as they seem, and the final battle reveals an earth-shattering fairy-tale ending.
REVIEWS FOR RINGSIDE GAMBLE:
“An exciting and realistic depiction of the underworld of Muay Thai and what it takes to be a Muay Thai fighter.” Aphidet Joy Chaithet, former Muay Thai Champion Thailand, National Coach Singapore and Head Trainer, BXG Boxing and Fitness
“S. J. Clarke’s Ringside Gamble is a must-read, seamlessly blending myth, magic, and the cultural significance of Muay Thai boxing.” Dr Budi Miller, Actor, Artist, Teacher and Co-Artistic Director, Theatre of Others
“The story of childhood friends Nong and Sert will stay with you for a long time.” Diana Campillo, Owner, Rawai Muay Thai, Thailand
“A well-known line reminds us that the size of the fight in the dog is more relevant than the size of the dog in the fight, and there’s plenty of fight in S. J. Clarke’s Ringside Gamble. Here is a coming-of-age story of Muay Thai boxers that never stoops to being a mere coming-of-rage story. Like many of our fights, the hero’s real battles here are those in his own uneasy heart.” Professor Darryl Whetter, author of the climate-crisis novel, Our Sands (from Penguin)
“…This gripping saga invites readers into the heart of stifling arenas and sacred temples, where the line between the natural and the mystical becomes hazy. Clarke expertly delves into the close-knit community supporting the solitary fighter in the ring, shedding light on the sacrifices and triumphs that pave the way to glory.” Adam Marple, Assistant Professor in Directing, American University Cairo
Photo Credit: Josef Hlavka, shortlisted for Sony World Photography Awards 2023