What inspired you to write this book?
A group of my older students had asked me to teach them how to
write, as opposed to speaking, in English, and I sense that this was my answer
to them. Walking through the central section of a golf course on the top of the
Mt. Rokko mountain range behind Kobe, where I live, my ears were exposed to an
extremely hard whacking sound - which proved to be a golfer teeing off from
behind a clump of trees. However, this I imagined as the sound of a father
whacking his son across the cheek- the question becoming why and to what
Then, on subsequent walks, or in quieter periods at home, I
would find fully-composed sentences coming up into my brain (quickly written
down), each of which allowed me to expand upon already conceived situations or
to create a new character or scene, and the story gradually evolved.
What exactly is it about and who is
it written for?
The story: A young man, Eric, dies and then enters an interim
(neither heaven nor hell) existence ¾ with initially no memory of his
previous life ¾ before being reborn. (This is very loosely based on
reincarnation as presented in Buddhism with the afterlife described being
purely one of my imagination.) The story is centered on the interim period,
with flashbacks to his life as a child and the period he is growing up, until
the point where he discovers how and why he actually died. In addition to being
a journey of discovery and learning, the story is also one of an accounting for
past transgressions (the taking of responsibility for hurts inflicted), and the
relationship between Eric and Stella is intended as a rather different type of
love story of the nature described in “The Pool of Time,” - a fairy tale told
to Eric and his younger brother Clive by their Uncle Duncan - and one that
would extend through an untold number of reincarnations. The poem “Child”:
This covers as much as possible all aspects of what we are as
human beings, and everything that is being said is intended to complement what
is being expressed in other words and forms throughout the story. Though much
that is noted is, upon reading, quite obvious, the aim here is also to some
degree to provoke the reader to thought, and possibly for younger people to
enable them to develop a truer grasp of who they are, or rather (life being no
more or less than what you choose to settle for) their potential or
possibilities. Although the poem appears
at the end of “The Way We Are,” it was initially written to be included in the
novel, and for that reason has been left here intact. The intended audience; Younger people in their late
teens, twenties, early thirties, or anyone who is still in even the slightest
manner interested in the so-called “mysteries of life.” I would note that the
presentation in the afterlife is being made based on all I have learned whilst
living here in Japan, a country with a very different culture, flora and fauna
and set of philosophies, and in that sense, it should be of interest to anyone
of any age.
What do you hope readers will get out of reading your
A certain degree of pleasure, which I feel all books should
give, and perhaps a peep in at a very different kind of world. Although the
book is fiction, it is very much based on a set of personally-experienced
realities. The book is also illustrating how the simplest of comments or
incidents can set an individual on a certain course in life – equally true for
both Eric and his father. And if this is so, a reader may at some point take
time out to consider a little as to how they got into their own personal regimen
– and if they decide they don’t really like it, how they might get out. “Fate
is not always as kind as you might wish it to be.”
How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?
The title; The bowl and Erics experiences inside it being
central to the flow of the narrative, it seemed a reasonable choice. The cover;
This is a section taken from a (considerably larger) photograph of the late
afternoon sun shining down through a tunnel of tall cedars (the dark parts at
the edges) onto a small and somewhat aging shrine building. The original
photograph was labeled seimei (life) by my Japanese partner and I gave it the
name “Metamorphosis” in English; The body at the bottom of the photograph is
diving into the ether and encountering a series of “life changes” as they cross
What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow
writers – other than run!?
Starting young, hone your observation skills, and whenever you
come across a situation, scene or dialogue that you find more
unusual/interesting, make notes (/if possible, including short descriptive
sentences). The descriptions may never be used as such, but if returned to
later, such notes can become a source of inspiration or a means to work around
Read as many book reviews as possible and note
points that reviewers find problematic – that is, points to be avoided. They
almost always pick up on something, even in a well-written book. This can also
help provide ideas or a theme to develop.
6. What trends in the book world do you see - and
where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
Living in Japan, with limited input on the situation in the US,
I would hesitate to comment on this in any manner. My only recent intake in
this area would be a one-off comment from a young Japanese student to the
effect that she wanted to read “real stories,” not fiction.
Were there experiences in your personal life or career
that came in handy when writing this book?
Descriptions related to Ikebana/flower arrangement (Eryne),
gardening in England and Japan (Mrs Rhondel), ink painting (The artist; “Seeing
clouds and painting mountains” – something I have actually done) and Hatha yoga
(Uncle Duncan talking to Eric and Clive) all come from many years of personal
experience in the respective fields.
Also, I have done a lot of walking in the mountains here (and in
Korea), and almost all the scenes of Eric walking over the mountain in the book
are describing actual situations that I found myself in on these walks. In many
cases, the words came up as I was walking.
Natural phenomena: The descriptions in the afterlife of the
buzzards (Prologue), the piled feathers, giant toad, 40-foot-high spiders’
webs, moths that vanish, the grub being sucked dry by rows of parasitic
insects, the rainbow appearing between clouds, etc., are all noting natural
phenomena actually observed in the mountains here. Also, much of the detail of
the earthquake and its after-effects come from personal experience (the 1995,
7.2, Kobe Earthquake) – including the buildings collapsing at Eric’s feet and
the loss of his eyebrows and hair (experienced at the time of fighting a
The book was actually written some time ago during a period from
my mid-forties to mid-fifties - a somewhat confusing/confused period for me, in
that I had just been inducted into a secret Japanese society, as a result of
which I was being forced to seriously consider various possibilities related to
telepathy, the source of dreams and apparitions and various other points, in
the West considered to be pseudo-scientific principles. (As one example, I
learned in stages how to project an image from within my brain onto the surface
of my eye and then onto other surfaces – that is, “how to create an
apparition.” My younger Japanese students in their twenties, when informed of
the fact, merely shrugged it off as “nothing particularly special.”) If any reader wishes to understand how the
realities of that highly complex situation and the details in the book fully
relate – I was in fact being forced to re-define the basics in my life - it
might make sense to read the relative chapters in my memoir “The Way We
Are”/TWWA – written much later in my early seventies, but published prior to
AB. My point here would be that in reality this is how we all live in our
present daily lives here on earth.
would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing
Style; “Nothing too fancy.” The whole book is intended to be an
easy read. Similarities; Before turning semi-professional with my ink-painting,
I deliberately decided to stop receiving lessons from my teacher, who I had
been with for over 15 years. The relationship, naturally, continued, but in the
subsequent exhibition that I held, the work was all strictly my own. In the
same manner, at the time I determined to write the book, I decided I did not
want the writing to be influenced in any manner – style or content – by other
writings, and again I made a conscious choice to stop reading, something that I
had done regularly all my life up to that point. One of the last novels that I
did read was “The World According to Garp,” which I suspect in terms of its
whimsy, may have some connection with my own book.
challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?
The scene where Stella dies, and the subsequent scene on the
stairs where Eric and Stella recognize the realities of their situation were by
far the most difficult to compose. My brain had come up with far too many
possible similar descriptions and deciding which to include or reject became a
people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?
Written in my prime, it is a beautiful book; at times funny,
sad, and possibly a little frightening, and even today it can still make a much
older me laugh and cry.
About The Author: Born in Rochdale on the outskirts of
Manchester, Northern England in 1946, attended St. Peter's College, Oxford,
majoring in mathematics. After failing final examinations, spent one year
teaching English to Saudi Arabian Air Force cadets before moving to Kobe,
Japan, where he has since lived for 53 years working in teaching,
interpretation and translation. Lifelong interests include Japanese
ink-painting (sold semi-professionally), “ikebana” flower arrangement and
calligraphy; photography, vegetable and flower gardening, Hatha yoga, Japanese
pottery and the tea ceremony, singing (karaoke in Japanese, English and
Korean), a considerable amount of walking in the mountains (in Japan and Korea)
and worldwide travels. Writing includes a memoir, “The Way We Are,” published
by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd (2021), and also a (as yet unpublished)
5,000-page analysis of the spoken English language in its relationship to
Japanese and similarly-grouped languages.
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