Jayne Joso is the author of Japan Stories, published by Seren on 17 May 2021.
She kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Japan Stories.
Japan Stories is a collection of short fiction that allowed me to explore a variety of intimate settings with very particular characters in contemporary Japan, and in my own spare style. So for example, we have a demented museum curator, a man who thinks he is David Bowie and is a victim of domestic violence, and a woman building a tower to observe the planets and stars, and a homeless man who cleans your home with lemons.
2. What inspired the book?
I am always observing behaviour. I am the silent cat in the corner of the room. Japan has fascinated me since childhood, and I am always curious about different ways of living, what can I learn? How does that work? And it forces me to reflect on my own life, and so, I would say it is Japanese people themselves who inspired this book. And through their generosity and trust, I have always been allowed inside, inside the home, in private spaces, inside people’s lives and thoughts.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
When I have an idea for a book, I like to see what thought and time and daydreaming bring to it. I can’t force anything. I have no idea really what a plot is. Does life have a plot? I don’t think so. I wait until I find the ending of the book, and then I begin. I write notes, I listen to my narrator and to the characters. I write, re-write, and cut and cut and cut.
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?
It surprises me that I never get used to it. It’s always a little more complex than I would like – but that’s because so many people are involved at the end stages and they are working hard to get it right for you, to make it read and look good and come into the world as well as it can. I’m always grateful for that, but it does almost take me by surprise.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I used to swim a lot, but recently have become very lazy about that. Instead, I have taken up two things, one old, and one new to me. I have started painting again after many years, abstract works influenced by the sea and by the weather. I started in lockdown as a way to throw out some anger and I’ve carried on. And the new adventure is having joined a choir. I can’t sing for toffee, or coffee, or even a vodka, but I love it. I absolutely love it. Once a week and it completely lifts my spirit.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines – the rawness and honesty of Hines’ prose and story have always spoken to my own intense experiences of childhood and pain. And the love of a fellow creature, the kestrel, touches my heart. It’s a novel about resilience, cruelty, creative thinking, and mischief.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I wish I had been asked if I thought Japan Stories would make a good mini-series on Netflix similar but different to Midnight Diner, perhaps more surreal, darker in places, and I would answer, well yes, I think it would.
About the Book
Japan Stories – a spellbinding collection of short fiction set in Japan. Each centres on a particular character – a sinister museum curator, a son caring for his dementia-struck father, a young woman who returns to haunt her killer, and a curious homeless man intent on cleaning your home with lemons! This work also includes Joso’s stories, ‘I’m not David Bowie’ and ‘Maru-chan’ an homage to Yayoi Kusama. Together, these compelling narratives become a mosaic of life in contemporary Japan, its people, its society, its thinking, its character. Illustrated by Manga artist Namiko, Japan Stories provides a window into a country we would all love to know more deeply.
About the Author
Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. She is the author of four novels, From Seven to the Sea, My Falling Down House – a work described by Sho Konishi, Professor of Japanese Studies, Oxford as ‘a remarkable achievement’, and by Richard Lloyd-Parry, The Times, Asia Correspondent as ‘a novel I’ve been waiting for all my life.’- , Perfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray Cats. Her journalism has been published in various Japanese architectural magazines and in the UK’s Architecture Today magazine. She has also ghost written on Japanese architects for the German publisher, Prestel Art.
Her literary works are largely concerned with matters of human empathy, issues surrounding home, homelessness; and cultural identity. Joso is twice the recipient of Arts Council England awards to support her writing. She also received the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Most recently she gained a small grant from the DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation to continue her research in Japan.
Joso now plans to work on a variety of new Japan focussed projects that centre on exploring and discoursing contemporary life, engaging by equal measure with the banal and the sublime.