Substack, Baby, Substack

To the tune of Love Shack by the B52s.

Yes, after months of pondering and the odd Twitter poll, I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie, Chuck Palahnuik and many others and see what this Substack thing is all about. My reasoning, and my plan, can be summarised thusly:

Publishing as we know it may be irretrievably broken. Even before the plague times and Brexit, the system was failing. This is the fault of nobody in particular and I won’t be on here ranting. Systemic failures are everyone’s fault. Publishing is full of wonderful creative people who come together over a love of books, stories and words. The fault lies with capitalism, and changing that takes time.

But like the music industry before it, something has to give. The music industry has gone through – and is still undergoing – turmoil, from home taping through Napster and file-sharing to Spotify. Through all these contortions, at the end of the day it’s always been the musicians who lose out.

I save my music buying for Bandcamp Friday or live shows (remember those). I want to make sure my money goes directly to the people who make the music – not just the musicians, but the studio engineers, the design artists, the people who need to be paid before a song ever hits the internet. Each month I find myself Tweeting some variation of “Why isn’t there something like this for writers?”

I don’t know if Substack is it, but I’m impressed enough to find out. I’ll still be using my social media outlets, YouTube channel and my website. I will also still be publishing through traditional channels. The motivation for this move is that I write a lot of things that are neither commercial nor in any of the standard forms the current iteration of the publishing industry favours. Until now many of these pieces found outlets in literary journals, but that leaves the work disparate, autumn leaves blown across the world. Some are no longer available to all but archivists. Other things just languish on my hard drive, taunting me like the tell-tale heart. At root, I am a collector, yet I’ve given up hope of ever having a traditional Collected Writings bringing my short fiction, my poetry, my creative non-fiction pieces together.

So that is what I imagine Substack will become. It will undoubtedly evolve over time but my plan, as of December 2021, is to begin with a bi-monthly newsletter – somewhere between an update and an epistle from the lonely writer’s desk – and to bring you my work, new and old, unpublished and long forgotten. I will also be posting reviews of books I’m reading, films I’ve seen, music I’ve encountered.

If that all goes well, then I will move to a mixed-method model – continue the free content but introduce paid subscription. I have unpublished novels and non-fiction books that I plan to serialise. Drawing on my work as an editor I plan to write a series of articles on aspects of the novel, on memoir, on writing in general. At some point, there may even be a podcast. All under this forest canopy.

For now, let’s ease into things gently. Start slowly so it sounds like a loch, to steal a phrase from the Pastels and the Tenniscoats. If any of this piques your interest, please subscribe for free by clicking the button, and on December 1st, let the first snowflake fall.

As I say, this website will continue to exist but mainly as an archive with links to everything I publish and everything published about me. A scrapbook, if you will. Updates will now come from Substack so if you want to keep up to date, please head over there and subscribe for free. See ya soon!

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Good Day Sunshine

Good morning, good morning, as the Beatles famously said. It’s Saturday and I’m at my desk preparing to go live to a potential audience of 7 billion. Potential. Japan Writer’s Conference has kicked off and sadly we’re online again. Still, that means potentially 7 billion of you could attend (could Zoom handle that? Wanna find out?). The schedule is here, I’m on from 1-2pm Japan time talking about my writing process, autocomposting and why writer’s block isn’t a thing. It’s free. I think you have to register or something to get the link, it’s all on the website.

Reviews of Life is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags are starting to come in. Earlier this week Taylor on A Basket of Words said some frankly lovely things about the book while over on Instagram ScotLitDaily’s Sarah said it is “an emotive powerhouse of a novella” in which “the scope is huge and the effect is a rich, detailed slice of life story.” Simply put, it is “gorgeous.” So now you don’t have to just take my word for it.

The Scots Whay Hae podcast dropped the other day. You can watch on YouTube or listen on all the usual places. My anxiety would appreciate you sticking to audio only as I had no idea the video would be released (my fault, not Ali’s!) so I don’t look my best. Either way, we had a great chat, Ali, Angela, Paul and I, about indie publishing, the book, and the pandemic.

Talking of the pandemic, despite all the supply chain problems, Kinokuniya in Japan have got physical copies of the book at last. The Shinjuku branch (the one with the massive foreign language section) has a bunch on the shelves (unsigned as yet, but as soon as I can get on the shinkansen that will be sorted). You will soon also be able to order through their online store or via your local branch (once their website has been updated).

I think that’s all for now, but since I’ve spent this entire post upping myself, here’s some creative things others have done that I’m currently enjoying: The Flicker Against the Light by Jane Alexander (beautiful writing, speculative short stories), Duck Feet by Ely Percy (high school in Scotland, painful and hilarious in equal measures for those of us who were there), and The Chernobyl Protocol by Alex Lockwood (survivor of Chernobyl working with nuclear subs in Scotland). Three great books if you’re looking for that sort of thing. Musically, Laura-Mary Carter of out of Blood Red Shoes is releasing a solo record and the first single hit this week. Carter is simply one of the best and most overlooked guitarists out there, and this single is a perfect slice of low-fi rock. Windows down, volume up.

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A Flurry of Activity

Hey there folks of world, I’ve been meaning to do an update for a while but life got in the way. I needed a moment of procrastination on something else to kick my arse into updating the site and here it is!

So the book is out in the world and is being well received (the fear never goes away). Units are selling, as the suits say, and people are saying nice things on social media, Goodreads and Amazon, and beyond it being made into a film staring Andrew Scott and Kawakami Mieko (I know she’s an author but she’d be perfect as Eri and this is my dream casting not yours) there’s not much more I could ask for.

On October 3rd there was a physical – physical! In person! – launch at the Imaike Library Club in Nagoya which saw me perform in front of a full and socially distanced crowd for the first time in more than a year. It was live streamed and the video is here for your watching. A huge thanks to the library for hosting me in what I hope will be the first of many events there now that we are apparently exiting the end times.

I also recorded a podcast with Deep in Japan, a ramble chat (sorry Adam Buxton but it’s the perfect phrase) about the book, lockdown, Japan, vaccine side effects and a bunch of other stuff. It’s here or wherever you get your podcasts.

This weekend (Saturday 16th October) I will be appearing as part of the Japan Writers Conference. It’s an online affair (sadly for us, as Saturday night at the JWC is one of my highlights of the year, happily for people who wouldn’t have been able to travel to Kanagawa for it). I’ll be talking about the new book but in a more academic and less “buy my book it’s awesome” kind of way. I’ll be talking about writerly advice, drafting, editing, and a new term I learned last year and has fascinated me ever since, autocomposting. There are a bunch of other great writers on over the weekend, including Suzanne Kamata, Karen Hill Anton and a plethora of Isobar poets. Link as and when I have it.

I recorded another podcast, this time Scots Whay Hey alongside my publishers. It should be out any day now and I’m a little worried – it’s audio and video (recording online) and I didn’t realise there was a video component until halfway through so I made no effort to look good or to have appropriate lighting. Probably best to listen to this one, or watch with your eyes closed.

Finally thanks to everyone who has bought a copy of the book, particularly those who went through indie bookshops to do so. It’s a small book from a new press and making elbow room is difficult, so thank you all for your efforts.

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Unboxing (my favourite sport)

After a few days of camping and hiking in northern Gifu, I returned to three boxes waiting patiently in my garage. Better than Christmas morning, you can see my reaction to clapping eyes for the first time on the amazing work Liminal Ink has done putting this book together.

The book is out on September 16th and is available for pre-order here with free postage in the UK and Japan (sorry rest of world, you have to pay a little more). Orders in Japan will be signed (unless you specifically don’t want that, in which case say) but shipping books from the printers in Scotland to me in Japan to have them signed, and then shipping them back to the UK/Elsewhere is exactly the kind of thing that would make Greta very disappointed in us, so we won’t be doing that.

For those in or near Nagoya, I will be doing an in-person launch (State of Emergency permitting) at the Imaike Library Club, Nagoya, on September 26th at 3pm. In order to keep it safe and socially distanced we are asking people to register in advance and if we get a lot of responses, we might split into two groups. Physical copies of the book will be on sale there.

There will be an online event at some point but currently a number of factors are precluding settling on a date, so stay tuned.

Once you have a copy, please share a photo of it out in the wild, I’d love to see that. And as always, reviews are what drives sales, so Goodreads, Amazon, social media, anywhere you can say something positive about Life is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags would be hugely appreciated.

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Cover and Quotes

This is my sixth book and the excitement never lessens. If anything it increases with each book as the anxiety about “what comes next” decreases with experience. Not that there’s no anxiety, just that it’s tempered with understanding.

The cover was designed by Paul Docherty, one of the founders of Liminal Ink, and I absolutely love it. Simple lines, colours that stand out, one image capturing multiple meanings from the novella. I’ve been blessed in my career with cover designers who just get the book. As very non-visual artist, I tend to have no idea what I want in a cover other than a few strong disinclinations (I know it’s set in Japan but please, no cherry blossoms, no samurai, no geisha) and I know some writers have had hideous covers foisted upon them (the writer generally has no say in the process) but so far I’ve loved every single one.

We also have do gorgeous, generous quotes from two writers I admire greatly, Kirstin Innes and J. David Simons.

Kirstin, the author of Scabby Queen and Fishnet (another Freight survivor) said: “A beautiful, brutal meditation on love and death and the death of love. With these two compelling, tense, gorgeously-drawn and perfectly-paced character accounts, giving each side of an unhappy marriage, Iain Maloney has come into his own as a writer. From a Japanese mountainside, to the forced bonhomie between ex-pats in an Irish bar, to the angry intensity of feminist teenage punks in Tokyo in the late 80s, this seemingly slight novella travels worlds and light years in a few thousand words. Eri and Cormac, and all the things they say and leave unsaid, will stay with you for a long time.”

While David, whose brilliant novel The Responsibility of Love is coming out very soon said: “Maloney hits his stride here as he explores the tensions in a bicultural relationship straining under marital irritations and life’s disappointments, all while the tedium of the pandemic presses down on them like a long-suffering migraine. Follow Maloney’s experienced and knowing eye as he takes his readers back into a world that other writers about Japan don’t normally frequent – that of punk-rock Tokyo in the late 1980s – where drugged-up young women with electric blue hair and yellow Gibson guitars rant and rage against the system. A raw yet compassionate take on a couple trying to deal with their fears and frustrations, both with themselves and with each other, in the time of Covid.”

Which is just lovely of them both.

The first review has also dropped thanks to Metropolis Magazine in Tokyo. It always feels like an enormous weight has been lifted when the first review comes out and it’s a good one – and this is a good one. “Rashonomonian” is as good a description as I could have hoped for.

The book will be out on September 16th. You can either pre-order it from the publisher here or (and I’d love it if you did this) go into your local indie bookstore and order it there. Liminal Ink are a new small press and distribution is tricky in a crowded marketplace. If you go to your local indie and order it, it puts us on their radar, it gives them some money, and while they’re ordering your copy, they might add a couple more for their shelves while they’re at it. No one loses out apart from Jeff Bezos and one private rocket is one private rocket too many.

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Live(ish) at the BBC

It came around quicker than I thought, and here it is: me talking about Japanese literature on Radio 4’s Open Book. It’s also available as a podcast (under BBC Books and Authors). I haven’t listened to it yet because… well, if it’s bad I’ll have to curl up somewhere and never speak to the world again.

Also yesterday, my review of Takamura Kaoru’s Lady Joker: Volume One was in the Japan Times. I talk about it on the radio, but I had time to edit this and cut out my waffle and ums. Probably for the best.

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Lakeland Lectures & the BBC

So Thursday night was a busy one for me. At 7pm I gave a lecture/reading about me/my work as part of Lakeland University Japan’s ongoing series. It’s a great scheme they’ve got going, bringing in people of all different walks of life to talk to their students and the wider public and I was delighted to be invited.

I did a kind of overview of my writing to date, including readings from The Only Gaijin in the Village and my new book, Life is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags (pre-order here). It was a nice change because I never get to do that kind of thing – events are usually supporting a specific book and since I’ve been with a few publishers I tend to avoid cross-promoting.

After a short break, I was back online, this time to talk to the BBC. With my critic’s cap on, I joined writer Emily Itami to chat about Japanese literature on Radio 4’s Open Book. This was a huge deal for me, since I’ve listened to Radio 4 since I was a teenager. So much so that I honestly cannot remember my first couple of answers as my brain was just going RADIO 4!!!!!!! The host, Johny Pitt, was incredibly nice and the whole experience was a joy. God know how much of my noise made it into the final episode but we can all find out on Sunday afternoon, 4pm UK time, and thereafter on Sounds.

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New Book!

You may have seen a few social media posts regarding this, but here’s the full story about my new book! It’s called Life is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags, and is a novella set during the pandemic in Japan. Here’s the official blurb:

Christmas Day, 2020 and in Japan, Cormac is headed for the hills. In the midst of the pandemic the bar he runs is closed, his marriage to Eri is falling apart and a phone call from his doctor could change everything.

As a teenager in late 1980s Tokyo, Eri documented the rise of a legendary female punk band. In the wake of its explosive demise, she shed her identity and ran. Now an unexpected message forces her to exhume long-buried memories and confront her past.

Over twenty-four hours, everything they’ve been repressing erupts under the pressure of a year in lockdown. In times like these, it’s hard to hold on.

It’s being published by Liminal Ink, a new face on the Scottish publishing scene run by Angela and Paul Docherty. I couldn’t be happier – the book is seeped in the punk DIY aesthetic and so is Liminal Ink:

[We’re] about blurring the lines between author and publisher. An idea of inclusion, of collaboration. An idea based around some of the work and play we’re involved in: writing, publishing, editing, theatre adaptation, proofreading, audiobook production, book cultures research and education… We’re either independent authors who publish, or independent publishers who write. Either way, we’re all about words.

Novellas are notoriously difficult to publish – although they are enjoying something of a moment with Alan Bissett and Linda Cracknell recently publishing fantastic novellas, and some publishers now actively seeking them – but it’s a form I adore, more sprawling than a short story but requiring less commitment from the reader (not that commitment is a bad thing, but a 500-page novel can be off-putting when you’re approaching a new writer for the first time), and as a storyteller the shape of a novella really suits me, combining my love of the novel (I’m a baggy monster) and the haiku. So to be able to publish one is a big tick on the bucket list.

It will be released on the world on September 16, 2021, but you can pre-order to ensure you get a copy here. There will be a physical launch in Nagoya, Japan (TBC) assuming we ever actually get vaccinated, and some online events around the pub date, but if you can’t wait that long, I’ll be talking about this book and my writing more generally on Thursday, July 8th as part of Lakeland University’s ongoing lecture series. It’s free but you need to register to get the link. It’s 7pm Japan Time which is 3am in the UK, but the video will be available afterwards.

If you feel so inclined, you could drop by your local indie bookstore and order your copy through them – it’ll get the book on their radar, and they might order some extra copies for the shelves, and you’ll be supporting an indie bookshop during these Terrible Times. Win win win. If you do order it through an indie bookstore, let me know – I’d love to see the book’s progress through the real world.

More, as and when…

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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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