Tag Archives: Abiko Free Press

Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46 by Our Man in Abiko

I consider myself lucky to know Our Man in Abiko and was proud to be part of the team he assembled to put #Quakebook together, containing stories of the Great East Japan Earthquake, before signing up again for light editing duties on the Abiko Free Press’s attempt to assess what had changed for Japan since those catastrophic events: Reconstructing 3/11. As the Man mentioned in his review of my own book about Japan and earthquakes, The Teas That Bind, it is incredibly difficult to be honest about a friend’s work. So why trust anything I write about his latest book, Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46?

I may be a slight bit biased but to miss out on this fantastic story because of such fears would be a shame. By Chapter 4, as our hero Hana hurtled towards the seventh dirtiest lake in Japan, trapped inside a Mercedes with a lecherous hoodlum, I was hooked. Reading the book on my phone for the final seconds before work, or burning the candle late into the night to finish the last few chapters, testifies to the gripping nature of Hana’s quest. It takes her far from her Abiko home to find schoolgirl Emi Blackmore, missing in Ishinomaki in the North of Japan, on behalf of Emi’s estranged and distraught father, while getting some disgruntled gangsters off her back and trying to come to terms with her own chequered family history.

Hana’s mission is realistically located in the Japan residents will recognise as the one they sometimes love to loathe, peopled by less-than-helpful bureaucrats, crabby ramen shop grandmas and inept English teachers, bedevilled by mama-charus, noisy pachinko parlours and daytime cooking shows. Tatami mats, onsen, 100 yen stores and ‘nihongo jouzu’: it’s all here. American tourists wear cowboy hats, the yakuza exude menace, and so life for the characters is proceeding in its almost-usual channels as the clock ticks around to 2:46pm on 11 March 2011.

The recreations of that day are note-perfect and will be recognisable to everyone who was in Japan. Interspersing tweets with the story shows characters reacting to real news events and sharing darkly humorous catalogues of exactly what in the kitchen had smashed, just as we did. Half Life has plenty to say about the nature of belonging and nationality, about Japan and her relations with the world, in parallel with the occasionally thorny paths of father-daughter relationships, both real and surrogate. There is more to learn here – about conventions on punctuality, how blood type determines personality, that wallets can be left anywhere to be handed in later with cash intact, Japan’s unique and distinct four seasons and what always happens to the nail that sticks up – than from any etiquette guide. The cosy government, yakuza and TEPCO culture that contributed to the disaster at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant is likewise illuminated.

Yet all this is covered without once detracting from the fast-paced tale of Hana’s attempts to find Emi, escape the police and the bad guys, while avoiding getting framed for murder or eaten by kittens (yes, really). And the serious moments never detract from the humour of what is at times a real caper – the bicycle scenes providing exactly the right mix of comedy and suspense – because our Hana is no suave detective, perhaps with more of Philip Marlowe about her than Lisbeth Salander.

In The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler writes, ‘down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’ Abiko’s streets may be less mean than the City of Angels’, but in desperate times, Ms Walker displays those same qualities. Hints have been dropped regarding a sequel, which is fortunate, as with Hana around Japan is sure to remain what Chandler called ‘a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in’.

3 Comments

Filed under Japan

Stirring the pot

Abiko is an often unloved and unremarked upon corner of Chiba Prefecture in Japan. Proud owner of what until recently was the dirtiest lake in Japan, at times it must have appeared as if this ‘Kamakura of the North’ (are you SURE about this? – ed.) was missing out on distinguishing features, even to those of us lucky enough to have experienced its charms.

No longer.

Now it has the Abiko Free Press, the great minds behind Reconstructing 3/11, aiming to put quality fiction and non-fiction writing about Japan in your hands by whatever means they can. If you haven’t already, you should get a copy of their latest, containing expert reflections on the 12 months since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

And also head over to their website, where I was interviewed recently about everything to do with writing, publishing  and promoting The Teas That Bind. If you like what you read there, its available now on Lulu, Amazon and Smashwords.

Perfect reading for your Friday tea-break!

Leave a comment

Filed under The Golden Country

‘ebooks are democracy in action’

Creative force behind Quakebook, Reconstructing 3/11 and the Abiko Free Press, Our Man in Abiko is interviewed here about his thoughts on ebooks, publishing, crowdsourced journalism and, er… cats. All very Haruki Murakami.

In amongst the cat jokes though, there are serious points made about that thorniest of questions for all who love books – both writing and reading them – where do we go from here? It is perhaps too soon to say what this bold new publishing dawn will herald, but if you are interested in the kind of quality insight that newspapers once used to provide, this interview will provoke some intriguing thoughts.

My recommendation for a well-spent Sunday would be to check out the interview and then be sure to grab your copy of whichever of these cracking reads you are yet to buy.

1 Comment

Filed under Japan

No Kindle required

Recently, I have been plugging the heck out of three great ebooks:

  1. Quakebook
  2. Reconstructing 3/11
  3. The Teas that Bind

Image

Since the launch of my own ebook last weekend, it seems that the question that has been on everyone’s lips is ‘when’s the print version coming out?’ It may be that the love of having pages to turn will win out over the new technology. If that is the case – well, I can understand. A little piece of my heart will always prefer the scratch of nib and smell of ink to tapping things out on a keyboard or smartphone.

But if you think you might like this whole ebook thing, you’re just not sure as you don’t own a Kindle, rest assured, there is no need to buy one. Amazon has a free app that you can download for PC or Mac, which will allow you to read ebooks on any computer. The type is large, there is no need to scroll down the page and it looks rather lovely. Although initially resistant to the idea of anything not involving actual paper, I downloaded mine to view Quakebook and have been pleasantly surprised by how much I have enjoyed using it since.There are some useful functions, especially for non-fiction books like these three – such as highlighting text and using hyperlinks – that make life a little easier than pencil margin notes.

So, as it’s a rainy weekend, I can recommend downloading the application and charging it up with these three cracking reads.

Don’t delay!

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

Reconstructing 3/11

Reconstructing 3/11 is live.

But what is Reconstructing 3/11 all about, you might ask?

The team that brought you #quakebook has come together to launch a new type of journalism. Nine contributors with special insight into areas of Japanese life crucial to the reconstruction efforts following the triple disasters of 11 March – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident – have written in-depth articles sharing their knowledge.

This is not a charity effort. This is not about fundraising. This is not #quakebook 2.0.

Yet it is a great read, available for download here, an essential purchase for anyone curious about the challenges Japan is facing and keen to support quality writing. If #quakebook is the future of fundraising, could this be the future of publishing? Buy a copy today and find out…

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan