‘When did you start writing?’ is a question often posed to authors. I, like many others, started writing in childhood, building on from the stories written for school projects. In my case, I recall writing about girls leaving home; travelling to foreign towns, or countries. The protagonists were always by themselves, managing with little money but finding extraordinary rewards by navigating their journeys alone.
From adulthood I wrote letters and kept journals, even plotted a few lines of poetry but never tried fiction. That came about in an odd fashion when I found myself without work after moving towns. Try as I might the jobs eluded me. My husband suggested I might try teaching overseas. With his encouragement I applied for an English teaching position in Japan and found myself in Kyushu a few months later. I was the protagonist from my childhood tales, albeit older: alone, fending for myself in a foreign land. Little did I know the rewards I would find on this journey, which saw me living in Japan for one and a half years.
I knew I possessed application and diligence when it came to my own education and I loved learning about different cultures. It was a good start. What I had never done however, was immerse myself in one place, by myself, for so long. It was a challenge but one I desired. And I wasn’t disappointed. Friendship came early, when shopping in the supermarket near my apartment in Nakatsu, Oita prefecture. A Japanese woman, near my age, Mizuyo-san, began speaking to me, eager to try her English. Which was fortunate, as the only Japanese I knew were the rudimentary phrases I had studied on the train trip down from Osaka. I had bought cold juice and to cut the longer story short, I invited her to share it with me in my apartment. The friendship grew from there.
Being a woman alone helped me. I gained strength from my actions. I learned more Japanese phrases. I travelled to other towns on day’s off to explore. I made new friendships with Japanese women, met their families, stayed in their homes – even attended their art classes. The more I did the more I felt I could do. I discovered what it was to feel fully autonomous; it was a new and special feeling. My older Japanese female students were fascinated with my courage to break from the norm. Plus, the fact that my husband was in New Zealand, and my children in England, America and Australia.
I moved to a school in Ikoma, Nara, several months later, to enable me to visit places like Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo before I went home. It was here that I started writing. It was a surprise, truly. I had been thinking about the various people I had been meeting, teachers from Canada, England, Australia, USA, and wondered what reason (outside teaching) might bring such a disparate group of people to a certain town in a foreign country. It was a puzzle I set for myself to sort out.
I bought a notebook and began to create a main character and others followed. By the end of a week I had the beginnings of a novel. And no, I wasn’t the main protagonist and the narrative bore no resemblance to my own life. I wrote whenever I had a few moments, on train trips, sitting on my futon before sleep. When I returned home I had a fair chunk written. A few weeks later I applied for a Masters in Creative Writing, sending off the first thirty pages of my novel in progress. These pages, crafted in Japan, were the beginning of the first draft of a full-length novel. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop writing.