Recently crowned a National Artist and once voted Thailand's favourite novelist, Tomyantee is a recognisable name even to those who don't read novels. The recognition from the Ministry of Culture came with cheers but probably without surprise; it was only a matter of time before Tomyantee, a grand dame of letters who's been in poor health lately, was awarded the country's most prestigious artistic honour.
Tawiphob (Two Worlds), Nai Fun (In Dreams), and Lued Khattiya (The Blue Blood) are just a few of Tomyantee's dozens of novels in all genres. But in her vast repertoire, Khoo Kam (An Ill-Fated Couple) is her most famous _ the story of a tragic love set during the chaos of World War II between a dignified Thai woman and a romantic Japanese soldier is a classic in the historical as well as popular sense _ and probably has the country's most film and TV remakes.
The story, translated into several foreign languages, is so real and emotional that even a Japanese television station once sent a production team to cover the story of fictitious Japanese hero Kobori and search for his yukata and samurai sword. The novel is being adapted for television again _ its first episode will air today, and next month another film version will be released.
"Perhaps, I have influence upon readers for trying to tell them that human beings must put their duties and dignity first and matters of the heart second," Tomyantee said. "The key to writing is knowing about what we write. I read all kinds of books and consult experts."
According to her, books are everywhere in her house and she has read them all. She has even read books such as Sam Kok (The Romance Of Three Kingdoms) thrice. She loves the classic epic Ramakien and likes devil antagonist Thotsakan (Ravana) who finally died after having used people with his sweet words.
Her writing icons are conservative scholar and author Luang Vichit Vadakan, who wrote numerous patriotic books, poems and songs, and female author Ror Chanthapimpa, whose works reflect post-war hardship, inflation, corruption and fraud, and also proposed equality for women.
Tomyantee is known for her conservative ideologies, both in the world of literature and politics. Her nationalistic pride is well-documented, and she was criticised during the military regime for her alleged role among a group of military and police officers' housewives who reportedly verbally slandered the student movement that demanded democracy around Oct 6, 1976.
Tomyantee was not available for comment on this issue due to her recent frail health, which has kept her from seeing guests.
Her real name is Khunying Vimol Siripaiboon. She was born in 1937 in Bangkok's Bang Sue district to a navy officer father and a Royal Court mother. Her closeness to her literature-loving and religious grandmother led to her passion for reading and writing.
"I love my mother, Khunnai Khaimook. She was the most influential person in my life apart from my grandmother, Khao, who educated me by citing poems and literature," she recalled.
Meanwhile, her tomboy childhood shaped her self-confidence and strength.
"I have two siblings. I am a Wednesday's child who was really wild. I was a buddy of my big brother and played like a boy while my little sister was very girly."
She graduated from Khemasiri Anusorn girl's school. While studying at Thammasat University's Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, she was a public speaker in the same debate team as former prime minister Samak Sundaravej.
"I was a wild woman who acted like a man when I was at university. I was outspoken and keen on public speaking," she recalled.
Tomayantee started writing at the age of 14 when her first short story, Tukkata Yodrak (My Beloved Doll), was published in Sri Sapda magazine. Over the next 11 years she wrote short stories professionally. At the age of 19, using the pseudonym Rosalaren, she penned her first novel, Nai Fun.
"When I was getting old, I realised my first novel, Nai Fun, is irrational. How could the hero and heroine be in love after meeting only once? It is actually a political story, inspired by the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Trianon. The hero, Prince Orissa, was Prince Otto von Bismarck, whose words were respected by the whole of Europe," she said.
Most of her novels were inspired by true stories. Another book, Lued Khattiya, was penned due to her impression of Anne Boleyn, who sacrificed her own life to pave way for her daughter to become England's Queen Elizabeth I.
''Most of my novels teach people to give importance to duties and dignity as well as matters of the heart,'' Tomyantee said.
All of her pseudonyms have history behind them. Her first pen name, Rosalaren, was derived from the name of an opera singer and inspired by her love for roses. It is mainly used for romantic fantasy novels. Another pseudonym, Tomyantee, came from ancient literature _ Phra Nonda. It is for either romantic or contemporary themes. Another one, Laksanavadee, came from the ancient tragedy epic Phra Lor and is mostly used for periodical themes, while the pen name Kanokrekha, inspired by Thailand's Kanok Nakhon, is reserved for comedies.
''My earlier works are about love and ecstatic beauty, while my later works focus on religious values, especially love and kindness for all,'' she said.
Tomyantee has declined to pick a favourites among her novels. Her reason is that authors are supposed to like all of their works and, after finishing them, let it go and move on to new ones.
In the past, Tomyantee wrote two novels a year and would spend a few months gathering information for her next work. So far, she has penned 110 novels, mostly based on true stories or partly inspired by her happy and peaceful childhood. Among the most popular are Thawipop (Two Worlds), Kasattriya (Queens And Princesses), Kha Khong Khon (Human Value) and Khoo Kam.
''Khoo Kam is based on the real story of World War II, while the main characters Kobori and Angsumalin, are fictitious. Kobori was not a professional soldier, but an artist forced by his military father to serve the Japanese army. The name Kobori came from the name of a Japanese man mentioned in an old travel book sold for 10 baht along the Laud Canal,'' she said.
Tomyantee is renowned for writing romantic or period stories while addressing social issues, including women's issues, through her works. A good example is her crime-thriller novel, La (Hunts), about a mother who hunts down men who gang-raped her young daughter and drove her to insanity.
Among her novels that promote women's dignity and status are Kha Khong Khon, Khunying Nok Thamniab (Unrecognised Dames), Nayok Ying (Female Prime Minister) and Roi Monthin (Stained Life).
''My novels teach women to realise that they have value, not prices. Even ex-sex workers can get through bad times, like the heroine in my novel Roi Monthin,'' said the single mother of three successful grown-up sons.
''As a single mother, I saved all my money for my sons' education. I taught my sons to be men spiritually, not just physically. I taught them to be gentlemen,'' Tomyantee said. ''There were times I was hopeless and suicidal, but I got through those terrible times by saying a prayer, 'Yod, Kaew, Den' _ my sons' names. The ultimate power is the power of love.''
Her hobbies are reading, gardening and raising animals. Apart from her pet dogs, she consider birds and squirrels who regularly visit her home in Lat Phrao her pets.
Currently, she is attempting to achieve her ultimate goal _ finishing an important novel, Jom Sassada, aimed at helping the young generation to interpret symbolic details of the Lord Buddha's life rationally.
''If I ever had influence, it came from the Buddha, my parents and grandmother's teachings. All my works say love is to give and forgive, not take,'' she said.
''The message, not me, is influential. I am just a messenger. I try to sow good seeds for readers to pay it forward,'' Tomyantee added proudly.
Despite many successes she has, however, concluded that she is not a good person, but a human being who tries to be a good person.
About the author
- Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer