April Notes

Just got back from a wonderful holiday in Japan, mostly traveling by bullet-train (Shinkansen), and I’m still recovering from the jet-lag. Given the eleven-hour flight and the thirteen-hour time difference, I arrived before I left, so to speak. Still trying to process it all. Walked under the falling cherry blossoms in Tokyo and Kyoto, saw a Geisha (or, more accurately in Kyoto, a Geiko) in full kimono stepping into a house in the Gion district, stood on the edge of an active volcano’s crater at Mt. Aso National Park and looked into the seething green mass, visited the wonderful peace memorials and gardens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saw a million Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, including the Temple of the Golden Pavillion that Mishima wrote about, and the Great Buddha at Todai-ji, in Nara, and the beautiful temple Daisho-in, on the holy island of Miyajima. Spent a lot of time on Kyushu, the island to the southwest of Honshu, a place of magnificent wooded mountains, volcanoes, ocean vistas and surprising and interesting cities, such as Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Kumamoto, and the cosmopolitan Fukuoka. The people were wonderful, the language impenetrable, the beer and sake plentiful, the food excellent (if you like raw fish, rice and miso soup, which I do) and the weather gorgeous. Only two rainy days in three weeks. I even tried a new drink (for me) called shochu, made from sweet potatoes. It’s not exactly up there with Laphroaig.

The Great Buddha at Kamakura

Into the Volcano

In Tokyo, I also had drinks with Etsuko Moriyama and Hitoshi Ayaki, from my Japanese publisher, Kodansha, and an excellent dinner with my agents there, Junzo and Hamish. Kodansha plan to publish Aftermath in July, and we all hope that it will sell enough copies to persuade them to publish more.

I got back to a pile of neglected work, including the next Banks novel that I left around the 150-page mark and have to struggle back into. There were also about fifty messages from the web site waiting for me. I know I don’t always get around to answering these, especially in a timely fashion, and I do apologise. Sometimes it just gets too overwhelming, so if you haven’t had an answer, it doesn’t mean I don’t value the message. To all those who sent nice messages, thank you; to those who sent nasty ones, you’re wrong; and to those who pointed out my errors, many thanks, but read the FAQs. I do try to answer all polite questions, but it sometimes takes me a bit of time, and some of the most oft-repeated ones get lost in the backlog. Again, please check the FAQs before asking. There are some messages I just don’t know how to respond to, usually people sounding off about something but never quite asking a question, the way it sometimes happens at Q & As after readings. And I don’t need any more volunteers from Iran to do translations.

It’s raining today here in Toronto, but I know the postman is on his way with the new Bob Dylan CD. I have lately been enjoying some of Toru Takemitsu’s music and Haruki Murakami’s novels. Nothing to do with the Japanese trip, of course! (Nor was watching Memoirs of a Geisha and Lost in Translation again when I got back. It’s the real thing next: Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi.)

I have also recently enjoyed the Van Morrison’s live Astral Weeks, long one of my favourite albums, the DVD of Leonard Cohen live in London, and a new band from Bradford called Scars on 45, soon to release their first CD (and already with a fine song called “Beauty Running Wild” featuring in a CSI: NY episode). The new Marianne Faithfull duets are lovely at times, but she shouldn’t have attempted “Somewhere” with Jarvis Cocker. Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill makes wonderful melancholy late-night listening, Madeleine Peyroux demonstrates excellent song-writing skills on Bare Bones, and then there’s Emmy the Great and the new Bat for Lashes to get into next.

Lots of interesting events on the horizon, including the Beverley Folk Festival, in Yorkshire, where I’ll be reading a short story interspersed with songs by Eliza Carthy on June 21. Eliza and I will also be doing events at Richmond (North Yorkshire) and Nantwich later in the year. I am also being honoured with the Grant Allen Award at the Scene of the Crime Festival on Wolfe Island, Ontario, August 14 and 15. This year’s book, due out just about everywhere sometime in August or September, is a collection of short stories called The Price of Love. The stand-out, for me, is a Banks novella I wrote especially for the collection. It’s called “Like a Virgin” and details his last case in London before heading for Yorkshire. The U.S. edition will also include another Banks novella, “Going Back,” which was published in Not Safe After Dark in the U.K. and Canada. Soon I’ll get full details of my forthcoming itinerary posted, along with cover art for The Price of Love and perhaps a few more playlists. But for now it’s back to the new Banks book, or tax forms, or sleep.