Tag Archives: Our Man in Abiko

Thought Crimes

Today, Wednesday 25 June, was George Orwell’s birthday. While always unlikely that someone with a love of such strong tobacco would make it to the age of 100 – never mind 111 – we at ten minutes hate see no reason not to mark the occasion.

Make an incredibly intense pot of tea, or pour out a dram or three of Jura and join us in saying, ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. Orwell!’

TokyoRich:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I feel the same way about George Orwell as I do about Tony Benn. Both are posh gits done well. They really set an example for anyone that has a conscience. A lot of the time, class conflict, north vs south, developed world vs. emerging economies and the like are painted as issues that have rigid boundaries, which creates unnecessary prejudices. Going back to Marx, one of the cheapest shots at him is that he was funded by Engels who enjoyed the fruits of capitalism because of his businesses. What Orwell, Benn and Engels show though, is that if you have the right attitude — a conscience about global injustices — and are willing to take the time to create a critical framework through which to view the world, your background doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

In nonfiction, Homage to Catalonia really tore away the romanticism of the Spanish Civil War for me, which was important.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying was a great piece of fiction. Perhaps it isn’t a masterpiece, but the way it deals with armchair socialism is entertaining and still makes me feel guilty.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

No favourite image.

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

My desk at work.

public relations

Our Man in Abiko:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I can’t remember now whether it was Orwell or Mark Twain that turned me on to the possibilities of writing, I often confuse the two. Both were at heart journalists, both armed with a keen eye for hypocrisy and a matter-of-fact style that targeted pretension as much as injustice. When I read Orwell, I think “I want to write like this.” And yet I can’t, at least not as well. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

I like his essays the most. Why I Write should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the written word and adding a few of their own.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

He wasn’t the most photogenic. When I try to picture his face, all I can see are the tea-ring stained white and orange covers of the ’60s Penguin paperback editions on my Dad’s shelf. That’s what he looks like to me.

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” (The opening line of The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius.)

John Maguire:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I admire the fact that Orwell was a master craftsman who loved his work. He wrote with conviction, passion and authenticity. His writing questions, provokes and encourages the reader to think.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a socially critical exploration of opting out of the system. I think this really resonated with me because at the time I was working in a bookstore and writing poetry like the main protagonist Gordon Comstock. I also had a somewhat romantic vision of the writing life, I still have rose-tinted glasses but prefer contact lenses these days.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

A photograph taken in 1946 by Veina Richards. I love the way he is looking at his son with such pride.

George Orwell

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

J. C. Greenway:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

I think, following on from what Rich said above, it is the way he broke free of his upbringing. Men of Orwell’s class weren’t meant to speak out about the injustices of the world and give the unheard a voice, they were bred to do a job and to keep quiet about any unsavory aspects of it. He recalls in his essays being quite taken with Kipling’s tales of Empire-building as a child and in The Lion and The Unicorn muses that in more peaceful times he might have been a vicar.

Yet he was transformed by Burma, Wigan and Spain into something far beyond the imaginings of the average Old Etonian. He actively sought out situations and people that he wasn’t familiar or comfortable with to broaden his view of the world and to inform his writing. I think that is why he has remained so relevant today.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

The Road to Wigan Pier. Although they were a few miles up the road from Wigan, the book echoes the stories my family told of the ‘Hungry Thirties’: terrified of the sack, hiding from the rent man, unable to afford the doctor for anything that wasn’t imminently life-threatening. My own grandfather and his brother walked from Liverpool to London and the South Coast to find work. And yet theirs was a world unknown to most outside the Northern industrial centres.

Orwell’s gift is to take the myths created to keep the system running – miners keeping coal in their baths, the Dole being so high it encouraged the poor to marry – and destroy them with calm analysis and journalistic style, while never losing his compassion for those trapped within.

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

Having attempted to make tea according to the steps laid down in ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, it has to be this one.

george-orwell-drinking-tea

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Mark Woff:

1. What do you admire about George Orwell?

Orwell taking a bullet in the neck for anti-fascism is a source of inspiration. I also admire his understated, dry humour.

For balance,  I am not so keen on the ex-policeman’s liking for lists of wrongdoers. I suppose I can understand where he was coming from, but still.

2. What is your favourite Orwell book?

Inside the Whale and other essays… tied with 1984, of course!

3. Do you have a favourite image of Orwell?

orwellcigtea

4. What is your favourite quote from Orwell?

“Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” (Politics and the English Language)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Golden Country

A year in reading

It seems that ‘inspired by’ is the term to use when one is shamelessly borrowing another’s good idea. With that in mind, this post is inspired by/pinched from Sean Lotman’s wonderful post of the same name. You are encouraged to take a look at the original as well as this weak derivative.

An earlier post on ten minutes hate details my early designation as the family bookworm and the part that public libraries have played in creating my reading habits. There are times when a ‘to read’ list is put into use, but more often it is the joy of discovering something unintended that makes a trip to the library worthwhile. So it was around the time that borrowing took over from buying books that, realising that some gems would no doubt be forgotten along the way, I started making a note of titles and authors as I travelled.

Engrossed in a book, Singapore, Christmas 2010

The writer, engrossed in a book, Singapore, Christmas 2010

Looking at my list, the first failure to note is that it doesn’t come close to Mr Lotman’s staggering 42 books. Shamefully, mine is barely half that. It is interesting that in the comments to the original post, the balance between reading and writing is mentioned and it is true that, for the first half of the year at least, writing took up almost every available moment of my free time. Then there was the temptation of reading long-form journalism on my phone instead of carrying physical books on commutes and journeys. Although some of the listed books were read on a Kindle app (being too lazy to buy yet another gadget) the majority of them were paper and ink and, however much technology adds to other areas of my life, I foresee that continuing.

Another notable trend is that, while reading will always be something done primarily for pleasure, there are words here that I took a more professional interest in. Mr Lotman talks about the joy of reading, saying that often, too many readers see it:

as a way to pass the time rather than an action worthwhile for its own sake.

Usually I would be in complete agreement, however other motivations for reading have intruded this year. My list contains a few books that were of interest for research purposes, or read in draft stage and edited, or – in perhaps the biggest leap of personal development – read in order to develop a hopefully interesting and stimulating literature curriculum. Teaching classes based on loved books, having hated everything school forced me to read in English class, was at times tough, although ultimately enjoyable. Still, it is rare for a book that you feel you ought to be reading to become as much of a favourite as one you are free to delight in.

This joy of discovery shows in the publication dates of many of these titles, few are contemporary, perhaps only a couple would have been marked ‘the book of the moment’ or reviewed by a Sunday newspaper. That is due to distance: picking up books via second-hand bookshops and swapping with fellow expats tends to rule out hardbacks and new releases. Many of my list were gifts or recommendations and there is something lovely about hearing ‘I think you will enjoy this book’ from a friend before finding that to be true.

Here then is my list of books read in 2012, in chronological order, with links to reviews I wrote along the way and some further thoughts following:

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Let’s Start Again, ABCTales short story compilation
  3. Hana Walker’s Half-Life 2:46, Our Man in Abiko
  4. Babylon Revisited, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Musings of a Monkey, Steven Baxter
  6. Hunger, Knut Hamsun
  7. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. Moonraker, Ian Fleming
  10. Manituana, Wu Ming
  11. Never Come Morning, Nelson Algren
  12. In Pursuit of the English, Doris Lessing
  13. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
  14. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  15. A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch
  16. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  17. From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming
  18. Dr No, Ian Fleming
  19. Mourning Ruby, Helen Dunmore
  20. The Mammy, Brendan O’Carroll
  21. Bon Voyage, Mr President, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  22. A View from the Chuo Line, Donald Richie
  23. The Maginot Line, Fiction Desk short story compilation
  24. Care of Wooden Floors, Will Wiles

I managed 24 books, two for each month. Four were re-reads, six were ebooks, eight were purchased by me and the rest were passed on by friends.

Impossible to choose one favourite, but the books by Doris Lessing, Wu Ming and Knut Hamsun were particularly enjoyable, for wildly different reasons. With Lessing taking her ‘pursuit’ into a post-War London suburb, the Wu Ming viewing the American Revolution from an unconventional perspective and Hamsun’s anti-hero lurching around late 19th century Kristiania (Oslo), my love of stories set outside my own time is clearly demonstrated. Despite their differing subject matter, all three were lively, gripping tales, fascinating and relevant.

Publishers will tell you that compilations of short stories never sell, however a busy year meant this format was far easier to dip into and out of than a 900-page novel. From the Fiction Desk compilation, The Maginot Line, Benjamin Johncock’s The Rocket Man was a haunting tale of a small girl grappling with an uncertain future, soundtracked by Bowie. My first reading of a Helen Dunmore novel also provoked the first negative review I have ever been bothered to write, while Haruki Murakami demonstrated more flaws than claims to greatness and Will Wiles’ first book sadly did not make me long for another from him.

Finally, it is with a sense of guilt that I note that there are five downloaded but yet to be either started or finished books lurking on my Kindle app. This is something that I hope to address very shortly, as an extended holiday break in England with typically wintry weather offers little incentive to venture outdoors. With a little luck, 2013’s list will offer even more gems than this one.

87 Comments

Filed under The Golden Country

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

Tsuki magazine out now!

After last week’s sneak preview, here comes the main event. Tsuki magazine is out now to download, priced at 2.99 USD (around 1.80 of your GBP and 23o JPY or so).

So what is Tsuki and why would you want to splash your hard-earned cash on it? Editor Caroline Josephine sets out in her opening letter that it is about:

Creation, evolution, forward motion, movement; it all leads to the future.

Showcasing creators from and based in Japan, with photography from Joanne Yu and Yuuki Honda, darkly comic fiction from Made in DNA and a chilling story by Amanda Taylor, alongside an interview with Baye McNeil – Loco in Yokohama – about his latest book Hi! My Name Is Loco and I Am A Racist.

There is also space for the ‘Self-Publisher’s Declaration of Independence’ by Our Man in Abiko, expanding on his assertion in a recent interview that ‘ebooks are democracy in action’ with a rallying cry for the ebook revolution.

And I have also contributed ‘The Place of Lost Things’, which recalls my last trip to Tohoku, volunteering with It’s Not Just Mud and International Disaster Relief Organization Japan.

More than enough to keep you entertained and well worth the cover price. Get yours today!

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

Tsuki magazine

When talented Tokyo wordsmith Caroline Josephine asked me to contribute to her new venture, I was delighted to accept. Tsuki is an online literary magazine featuring writing, art, photography, music and more from Japan.

Publication moved a step closer this week with the release of a free sample, which you can download to read on the screen or print here. The magazine’s website is coming soon, so be sure to follow the editorial team on Twitter here, or friend them up on Facebook here.

And of course, updates will follow on ten minutes hate as soon as the finished version is released. I am very keen to see the results of all Caroline’s hard work as well as the other contributors, who include Our Man in Abiko, Baye McNeil and Amanda Taylor.

Watch this space!

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

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

‘The most photographed anonymous man in the world’

I got a really lovely thank you from the #quakebook team, despite only doing something very simple to help with the publication of an interview with Our Man in Abiko in the Embassy of Japan in the UK’s newsletter.  Take a look at the link for some additional information about how it all came together.

Let me also take the opportunity to gently nudge you towards the fact that this gorgeous book is now available in an array of snazzy electronic versions, as well as a pretty delectable bilingual Japanese and English print edition.  That’s right, a real book that you can hold in your hands and turn the pages of, just like in the old days.

And in case it needs saying again, 100% of your money goes to the Japanese Red Cross Society, to be added to that which has already been donated.  With winter drawing in across the north of Japan there is still a real need for assistance in the areas affected by March’s quake and tsunami.  So please, if you haven’t already, grab a copy of #quakebook today.

Arigatou gozaimashita!

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan

ten minutes love

Haven’t got the heart for a rant this weekend.  Looking forward to fun times with good people, the sun is shining and – in spite of the usual piss-artists and their attempts to spread misery around – life is good.  So here are a few things I’ve been feeling the love for, watched over by my favourite Tokyo Metro poster of the moment.  The caption reads: ‘Please be careful not to lean against the person sitting next to you should you fall asleep’.  Valuable life advice for us all.

  1. Ben Six on when censorship is a Good Thing
  2. Mark of the Mortal Bath is enjoying his new commute to work
  3. Our Man in Abiko went above and beyond the call of duty in answering my call for help. Great novel-writing assistance is over here.

May you all enjoy the weekend like I’m going to!

4 Comments

Filed under The Golden Country