Good Reading : October 2010
34 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2010 Everything about books www.goodreadingmagazine.com ONLINE word of mouth up close When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Was there a moment in your life when you knew that was what you wanted to be? It was clear from my childhood reading that there was every chance I would become a writer, like Anne of Green Gables or Jo March, but I knew it was something I would do later. I felt I had to learn about life first, and I had to learn how to write. I started making up stories and composing poems almost as soon as I could talk, and I read voraciously, swallowing books whole. At 15 I decided I wanted to write plays. Have you always been a writer? If not, what other work have you done? Like many writers I worked at various jobs, ending up in my late 20s as a film critic and freelance jour nalist. After I mar ried and emigrated to Australia I stayed at home with our three children, doing part-time work: cleaning, baking and child minding. As soon as my youngest child started school I wrote six hours a day for three months -- the result was my first novel, Space Demons, written under the name of Gillian Rubinstein. Your bestselling 'Tales of the Otori' series is set in a fantastical feudal Japan. What is it about Japanese culture that inspired you? Japan appealed to me because it was so different, and yet when I went there for the first time it felt inexplicably familiar. I thought, 'I have been here before.' I like the Japanese aesthetic in art and architecture, the appreciation of nature and the juxtaposition of violence and beauty, light and shade. Japanese as a written language is visually very attractive, and I wanted to learn to read it. What sort of challenges did you face when writing about a culture so vastly different from your own? The greatest danger is that you simply perpetuate stereotypes because of a lack of knowledge. Any country or culture is quite different viewed from the inside rather than the outside. I tried to immerse myself in Japanese culture, mainly by learning to speak and read Japanese so I could converse with my friends in Japan, and read Japanese history in Japanese. Of course, writers can write about anything; it all depends on the power of the imagination, but I felt if I was writing about a different culture, then the first requirement was to understand its language. Blossoms and Shadows is a historical novel set in revolutionary Japan. Why did you change to this period and genre? The genre is just one step away from the historical fantasy of 'Tales of the Otori', and those books were really more history than fantasy. So I was already experimenting with researching and recreating a past world. When I was in Japan in 1999 researching 'Tales of the Otori', I spent some time in Yamaguchi prefecture, where the upheavals of the 1860s that led to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 took place. Most of those who took part were young men in their 20s. Many traces of their lives remain -- the houses they were born in, the schools they attended, the shrines they visited as children. I was immediately gripped by their stories and over the next few years I read all I could about them, becoming totally caught up by the complex and fascinating events of that period. What sort of research did you do before writing Blossoms and Shadows? I've had this book in my mind for over 10 years. In that time I read widely in English, and Japanese. I spent three months in 2002 in a small village in Japan, between Yamaguchi and Hagi, and walked through the landscape where my characters lived. I was living in a for mer doctor's house and I think it was there that the characters of Tsuru and her family began to take shape in my mind. What inspired you to write about the conflict that saw the rise of Imperial Japan? I was interested in the personalities of the historical figures, their dramatic (and often very short) lives, their ambivalent attitudes towards Western ideas, technology and progress. I was surprised that this major event of Asian history was so little known in Australia and England. The seeds of 20th century history, with all the horrors of the Pacific War, were sown in the Meiji Restoration. Japan's modernisation after 1868 came at an extraordinary pace, and not without huge pyschological costs. The cusp between a traditional way of life and modernity is a fascinating time, and Tsuru, a young woman from a doctor's family, embodies these changes through the trauma in her life. Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn is published by Hachette, r rp $34.99. oriental odyssey LIAN HEARN discusses her deep fascination with Japanese history and her new book, Blossoms and Shadows.