Live at the FCCJ

So this was a thing! On Wednesday last, as I type, I did an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Japan. Hosted by Swiss journalist Christoph Neidhart, I did some readings from The Only Gaijin in the Village, and then we did a Q&A. The FCCJ is a pretty big deal and just getting invited sent my heart a-flutter – this is where the prime minister goes to hold press conferences with overseas media, and previous speakers include the Dalai Lama, Stan Lee and Donald Trump (who is listed as a casino owner, which made me laugh). They do an event called Book Bag, and previous guests include Kawakami Mieko and David Peace. Exalted company to be in.

The photo in the bottom right is Oe Kenzaburo, one of my absolute favourite writers.

It being the beginning of the fourth wave in Japan, and this being a long-delayed event, I figured there’d be a small crowd and it would be held in a side room somewhere, so I was pretty shocked on arrival to realise they were using the press conference room, that I’d be using the same stage as all those prime ministers (except Abe, who refused to come) and cultural deities. I’m not sure if it’s clear in the video above, but I am absolutely shitting it.

But it went well, everyone was really nice and supportive, and we sold some books which is, after all, the point of all of this!

Speaking of selling books, earlier in the day I stopped by Kinokuniya in Shinjuku where they have a massive English language section. We did a little signing of books, made a wee video for Instagram and I even sold a book then and there to a curious customer. It’s been over a year since I’ve been in a bookshop or been able to do anything to promote the book in the real world, so it was such a buzz being amongst the shelves again. So much so that I blew 15000 yen on books for myself and would have spent more if I didn’t have to head for the FCCJ.

It was all too short. I had to be back on the shinkansen by half eight and back at work the next morning. I could have done with a few days in Tokyo – the restaurants looked inviting, the people I met were interesting and I’d have loved to spend more time chatting. Christoph Neidhart turned me on to Per-Olov Enquist, the Swedish writer who died last year and who I had shamefully never heard of. I’ve missed experiences like that so much. Lockdown has been necessary but when you get a sniff of the things you’ve been deprived, it makes the loss all the more visceral. One day, hopefully soon, let’s all meet up and talk about the books we’ve read during the plague times.

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Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

It’s been a while since I last posted here, mainly because there’s been nothing to say. This area of Japan was in a state of emergency for a while (a state of emergency is like a lockdown but enforced by peer pressure rather than punishments) so like most people around the world we’ve gone nowhere, done little, and eaten lots. However, things seem to be loosening up and much-delayed IRL events are being rescheduled.

First up is the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. This is a real honour: the FCCJ is an institution with a long and important history, so to be invited to speak there is a thrill. It’ll take place on April 14th from 17:30-20:00 and will be streamed online as well. More information here.

There are a few things in the works, including one really exciting project that I can’t reveal quite yet, so watch this space, as they used to say, and I’ll be back soon with updates.

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Black Voices Matter

Sorry for the radio silence in the last few weeks but a combination of being back teaching full-time, suffering Zoom-related back pain and the world going to hell less in a handcart and more in one of those massive modified trucks complete with superfluous guitar player they have in Mad Max has left me with little of worth to contribute. I planned an update on book events and other writing-related things but as I started typing I was overcome with a sense of how meaningless it was to say “hey I wrote a book review” while people are on the streets. So, I stick my head above the parapet to say only this:

Black Lives Matter. We need to clear the stage so voices regularly silenced can be heard. Blackout Tuesday was a start, but one day and some changed profile pictures isn’t enough. I’ve been retweeting some of these voices as they cross my path and will continue to do so. The video above strikes me as too important to share only once. I urge you to do the same, to share as many silenced voices as you can, as often as you can. People like me have had the microphone for too long; it’s time to listen. Black Voices Matter. Black Lives Matter.

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Zooming On

Hi folks, I hope you’re all doing well and coping with the various stresses the plague times have brought us. Out here in the countryside life is much the same except they’ve closed the mountains, so that’s my main source of exercise gone. Ho hum.

Anyway, a few updates if you’re looking for ways of filling the day. The Sunday Times in the UK asked me to write a piece about lockdown in Japan, which you can find here, although it is behind a paywall.

The Only Gaijin in the Village has been selected in a couple of lists of travel books – 7 Japan Travel Books to Inspire Future Trips on Savvy Tokyo and Books To Inspire Travel on The Wise Traveller. Escape, figurative if not literal.

Some good reviews have also been posted, including in Geographical Magazine and by The Japan Society. Much thanks to those reviewers.

Events are also barreling down the pipeline. The University of Glasgow Creative Conversations event that was twice cancelled is back back on, this time online. Via Zoom on Monday May 25th at 1pm (UK)/9pm (Japan), you can find the relevant links here.

The lovely people at Wigtown Book Festival have invited me to join their #WigtownWednesdays online events. Also on Zoom, Wednesday May 20th at 7pm (UK) which is 3am in Japan! Only Gaijin After Dark.

I hope to see some of you in tiny celebrity squares on my laptop soon. In the meantime, live long, prosper, and remain indoors.

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Vote Remain (Indoors)

How are you all doing? It’s not great out there and, to be honest, after four weeks at home it’s not great in here either. Still, I’ve painted the kitchen and dining room. It’s amazing what boredom and procrastination will lead to.

I have a few updates to report on in case you missed them in the wash of social media. Firstly this amazing review by Will Heath of Books and Bao hit a couple of days ago. I studied English lit, I know all about the death of the author and how every text is open to mutual readings, but as a writer there is nothing more delightful than a reader who gets exactly what you were trying to do. Will does that. It’s even more satisfying when that book is a memoir. So thanks Will, you really made my week/month/year.

Ali Braidwood of Scots Whay Hae did a follow up to his podcast interview, this time a text interview in Snack… In magazine, the new lockdown version of Snack. It’s a “what happened next” piece about the cancellation of my tour and how I fled Scotland just in time. You can read that here.

The Japan Times put together a piece on Japanese literature to read during the lockdown to which I contributed (the article, not the lockdown – none of this is my fault). So if you’re looking for something to read (other than The Only Gaijin in the Village and my three novels, all still available) then check it out here.

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Passing the Time

Photo by Robbie Boyd

Hi folks, I’m into the third day of self-isolation (nothing wrong with me, just being on the safe side after hitting five countries and taking 14 flights in the last 7 weeks). I’ve caught up with Better Call Saul and Picard, and decided not to bother with The Witcher (though I might come back to it if this goes on more than two weeks). I’m reading Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie, Killing Commendatore by Murakami Haruki and Gutter 21, and I’m learning the solo to Cherub Rock. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get back to studying Japanese but haven’t yet.

Mainly I’m waiting for my copy of Irene Sabatini’s An Act of Defiance to arrive from Indigo Press. I have a history with this book, and first read it in manuscript form four years ago. It is, quite simply, breathtaking, and I am so so so glad that the rest of the world can enjoy its brilliance. Get ordering it from your local indie and dive into it while you have all this free time.

I wrote a piece on Murakami Haruki’s Underground for the Japan Times. It’s 25 years since the Tokyo sarin attack and 20 since the English translation of this book (two books technically) was published. Read about why it is key to understanding Murakami’s later period here.

If you’ve had a chance to read The Only Gaijin in the Village perhaps I could trouble you to head over to Goodreads or Amazon to leave a (5 star) review. These things really do matter and drive sales, so be a star, go on. Ah, go on. You will. You will. You will. You will. You will. You will.

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I gave it a bloody good go but sadly the realities of Covid19 mean that the rest of my events have been cancelled and I’m at the airport hoping I can get back to Japan before borders close, flights stop or a fever starts. Thanks to everyone who came to St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh and made those events so much fun. Apologies to Manchester and Aberdeen, but I’ll be back, hopefully in August. In the meantime, you can listen to my dulcet tones on the latest Scots Whay Hae podcast here while you self-isolate. Take care, wash your hands and don’t pick at it.

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A Film by Stephen McQueen (not that one, no, not that one either).

This is it, the big week. The book is officially out everywhere (US? No idea) and there are events in St Andrews (Tues), Edinburgh (Wed), Glasgow (Thurs), as well as a couple of podcast recordings (info as and when). So to celebrate, here’s a wee film I made with mate and director Stephen McQueen (Not that one, no, not that one either).

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In the Japan Times.

And we’re off! I’m in Scotland, and the first bit of press about the book has hit the newsstands, a lovely interview Kris Kosaka did with me for the Japan Times.

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Launch Month!

It’s the last day of February, the quarter day catch up, and that means I leave Japan tomorrow for the UK to launch The Only Gaijin in the Village. The dates are above and on the side bar. The Edinburgh Central Library event has sold out but there are still tickets for Glasgow on March 12th. The other events are unticketed.

After the fun I had launching the book in Australia I can’t wait to get stuck into it in Scotland where at least the chapter about venomous snakes won’t be met with (correct) condescending derision. Updates as I go, and photos on Twitter and Instagram, but I hope to see you all very soon!

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