By John Redmond
Hard-drinking Scottish photojournalist Alec Brodie is the wrong man caught up in the wrong city amid a capitalist-venture conspiracy with designs on raking in the cash in communist North Korea.
The embittered Asia hand is the all-too-pliable fall guy for a South Korean-led money-making scam, with a former work colleague and past lover threaded among the web of lies to which he has become a party in Seoul.
For some with experience of this curious part of the Asian continent, they are a set of circumstances that could easily be the hard-luck story of any hometown boy gone wrong.
But for Paisley-born author Ron McMillan, it is the culmination of 27 years experience, which started out as an effort to immerse in the Korean indigenous martial art taekwondo.
The 52-year-old Bangkok resident recently toasted the publication of his first novel, “Yin Yang Tattoo, “ by Dingwall, Scotland-based Sandstone Press. Alec Brodie is the central character and hero modelled on his own experience as a photojournalist across Asia.
He tells anyone who asks about the book that it is about a middle-aged Scottish photographer who once taught English in Korea while learning taekwondo but that it has nothing to do with his life whatsoever ... “and if you believe that then you’ll believe anything,” he adds sardonically.
Already achieving success with brisk sales on Amazon and with bookstores in the U.K., Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea either already stocking the title or about to do so, there are some early signs of success for the first-time author.
Yet “Yin Yang Tattoo”may never have seen the light of day had it not been for his hometown library and a local writing group.
“It is a typical story of a book that takes forever to print,” explains McMillan, “one signature away from a publishing contract.
“More than 10 years ago, I was in Paisley for a few years. I went back with my 10-year-old daughter because I wanted her to go to school in the U.K.
“When I was functioning I joined in the writers group – one of the things I miss in Britain is the library system. Ajay Close oversaw the group. I had stumbled across her book and I was gobsmacked to find a really good writer running the group in Paisley.
“The vast majority of us were unpublished but burning with enthusiasm. I thought I had a book completed, but I quickly realized it was un-publishable. So I followed the old cliché about writing what I know.”
There began a seedy crawl through the underbelly of Seoul, the South Korean capital where he first landed in 1983. Then, of course, the country was still run by a military dictatorship and tensions with blood brother and political foe North Korea led to some of the deadliest moments in the history of the fratricidal conflict.
After the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, McMillan got his big break in photojournalism and proceeded to cover Asia for a host of top magazines and newspapers including Time, Newsweek, the New York Times and L’Express for the next 10 years.
Aligned to his years of experiences in South Korea, his work took him on dozens of trips to China, across a vast swathe of the rest of the Far East, and, perhaps most interestingly, to North Korea.
And it is the long suffering people of North Korea who will inform the follow-up to Yin Yang Tattoo.
“I have taken five trips to the North,” he muses. “There are things about that place people have absolutely no idea about. You talk to educated people [in the West] and you still get some who say, ‘Which one is the communist half?’
“I think that the complete alienation is something that next to no-one knows outside of Asia hands. I do feel for the Koreans. We in the West have no idea how dramatic it has been to be cut in half for 50-odd years.
“The sequel is going to take place mostly in Bangkok because Bangkok is a great city location and the intention was always to make a series.
“It will involve the large population of North Koreans who live completely underground in Bangkok, which is one of the places that has an embassy that processes asylum requests. It will be to do with one particular refugee and her vulnerability to criminals and scumbags who prey on refugees.”
Hoping to have the sequel completed by next summer, his indomitable sense of humour still awaits one thing from “Yin Yang Tattoo.”
“I am still waiting for someone to tell me it's s*** because there are people out there who will,” he says without skipping a beat. “It was never meant to be a piece of literature but entertainment.”