Wayne McCallum arrives and briskly enlists venue proprietor Lynley to help hang a banner outside the newly hip’n’stylish .9 Café (yes, that’s its name), then steps inside, expertly gives an introductory talk, dispenses introductions, and it’s on –another Howl happening (number two, series one) is underway.
Howl happenings are new to Siem Reap. They kicked off in June to “celebrate the word”. They’re a series of pop-up gatherings that celebrate artists, writers, readers, dreamers and poets.
Howl happens because of the energy of the Howl man himself, Dr. Wayne McCallum, a dedicated conservationist, Kiwi expat, resident of Cambodia since 2003, resident of Siem Reap for just a year, and a man of many talents and numerous initiatives whose full-time gig is site manager for the Song Saa Collective company’s Banteay Srey Bio-Reserve resort, and whose part- time gig is writing and authoring, and organising events around writing and authoring.
When it comes to words, McCallum talks the talk as he is the author of two books, his latest being ‘A River and a Valley Far Away – A year in the Cambodian Wilderness’ (Kampot City Books), billed as being, “With the humour of Bill Bryson, the soul of George Orwell and the spirit of Indiana Jones.”
Explaining the genesis of Howl, McCallum says, “I was a co-founder of Kampot Writers and Readers Festival back in 2015, and enjoyed the environment of bringing writers together to celebrate the “word” in all its forms.
“The festival has not really kicked on from the possibilities of its first year, so I was looking for something better, which accommodated flexibility and spontaneity while also being transparent and truly collaborative.
“I moved to Siem Reap at the end of the last wet season and the idea of Howl was in my head then, but I wanted to get to know the town, build my networks and generally get the lie of the land.
“I should emphasise that Howl is many people and not just me. Without the input of people like Robert Starkweather in Phnom Penh and Adam Rodwell of the Little Red Fox crew (in Siem Reap), as well as many others, it would not work. So a ‘howl-out’ to them.”
Earlier this year McCallum was waiting for the right person to surface to launch the first Howl happening.
“That person, Captain Pete Bethune, came along in May and we were off,” he says.
The infamous anti-whaling Captain Bethune is a ship’s captain, who in 2008 created a round-the-world record in the bio-fuelled Earthrace trimaran. In 2010 he spent four months in jail in Tokyo over numerous offenses relating to his anti-whaling activity in the Antarctic.
He is also an author, public speaker, producer of ‘The Operatives’ TV show, founder of Earthrace Conservation, and a great person to kick off Howl.
On June 6, ‘An Audience with Captain Pete Bethune’ at the Garage Society co-working space and conference hall was packed out.
Howl’s second happening last Saturday was a smaller affair, a sort-of literary salon featuring Marco Ferrarese, an Italian expat, metal punk guitarist, travel writer and author whose sharp take on edgy matters is starting to make waves in publishing circles and has incurred the wrath of his elders in Malaysia, where he now lives and where his pulp novel ‘Nazie Goreng’ – a coming-of-age story of a young Muslim skinhead (of all things) – sold well before being banned.
He was in Temple Town with his Malaysian partner Kit Yeng Chan to promote his latest book , ‘The Travels of Marco Yolo: Blazing Trails where Marco Polo Feared to Go’, that, according to fellow travel writer Joe Cummings, features “28 hair-raising trails through the darkest, less-trodden fringes of Asia.”
Ferrarese gave an interesting account of his adventures that featured in the book and how he functions as a writer.
And now, with Howl number two successfully under his belt, McCallum outlines plans for future talks, saying so far two are in the wings.
“We are organising a Kosal Khiev ‘extravaganza’ in late October,” he says, “Featuring a screening of the excellent biopic about him, ‘Cambodia’s Son’, as well as a performance by Kosal himself, an exhibition of his painting, and a ‘Word Slam’ event.”
Kosal Khiev is, of course, the Cambodian refugee who spent 14 years in prison in the US for attempted murder, before being deported back to Cambodia in 2011 and transforming himself into an internationally-recognised poet.
In November, Howl will host the Mekong Review anniversary party, and next year will hopefully host award-winning correspondent and author Elizabeth Becker, a member of the last group of Western journalists and writers to visit Cambodia in December 1978, following the Khmer Rouge takeover in April 1975.
But McCallum stresses that now, with Howl “humming along nicely”, he wants others to be involved in the organising.
“What I would like is for other people – writers, publishers, sellers etc. – to come forward and say they would like to organise their own Howl event.
“I do not think that an ‘idea’ can be owned by one person – I’m not trying to build an empire here – I really want to see others join in and curate their own Howl happenings in Siem Reap, Kratie, Mozambique, or wherever,” he says.
“Let’s carry the word out there.”