Author of The Tokyo Express
I am a former journalist and mum of two, based in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex. I grew up in an Irish family in London and my only holidays as a child were to Ireland so it was perhaps that which prompted me when I left school to study languages and see a bit more of the world. I graduated in French and Russian but then on a whim (after seeing the dismal pay of a junior journalist!) accepted a job in Japan.
I worked for two years in Tokyo as a personal assistant to the president of a sporting federation and it was there I began to notice the similarities between the unique culture of Japan with that of my own heritage. Both Japan and Ireland are island nations with strong attachments to traditions and culture. They share a love of poetry and storytelling, most socialising is done in bars and they have each evolved unique forms of music and dance. It also rains a lot in Japan and Ireland making their countrysides very lush and naturally beautiful. But living in Japan is a very strange experience for a westerner (or gaijin), as all the social etiquette you were brought up on are reversed in Japan. For instance, blowing your nose in Japan is very ill-mannered, and where as making an noise eating is considered rude in Europe, it is a sign of enjoying the meal in Japan.
This clash of cultures is something I wanted to explore more of and I began writing down a storyline for the book. It was many years later when I began to do some research into the history of Japan that I discovered facts I never heard about during my time in Tokyo, such as how in 1945 the city was almost obliterated in just a couple of nights after the fearsome bombing campaigns of the Allies in an attempt to end the war in Asia. It was a fascinating period in Japanese history as the people, who were malnourished from rationing and harvest failure and exhausted by war, embraced the enemy with open arms.
This was especially true with the women who realised the Americans were going to transform their closed feudal society and the role of women. I have tried to be as accurate as possible in describing that time, as it is a little told story. When the victorious Americans arrived in Tokyo, for example, the Imperial Government had coerced young naive and mostly virgin girls to be ready in government brothels to “service” the soldiers. It was a concept so alien to the Allies and they were closed down almost immediately. Mariko is a fictional character who symbolises how in just a few years, Japanese women went from being little more than servants in the home to workers, voters and equal rights pioneers for future generations. The system of government and the economy was transformed by the American-run interim government of General MacArthur, freeing companies to be more innovative and free to trade with the world.
What fascinated me most during my time researching, was that is was as if the Japanese had buried that memory of their post-war transformation and the sacrifices they would have had to make to fit in with the rest of the world. To this day, Japan is not allowed to have any external military services, only a home guard. Many of their old traditions and customs were lost in the post 1945 era and although they cherish the memory (in films and in some sports such as Sumo), and although they are widely criticised for not appologising for all the atrocities they caused in Asia in their campaign for Imperial colonialism of the region, they have simply got on with creating a modern country.
I felt it was a story worth telling, as this reveals much about the human spirit – of people facing destruction in the face and getting on with living. We are witnessing the same in modern times, following the recent natural disasters across the world, including the tsunami in Japan a couple of years ago.
The Tokyo Express is my début novel. It explores many issues of human nature, such as prejudice and abuse of power, as well as the force of love surviving against all the odds. It is about our strong attachments to culture and social rules, and how the greatest gift we can give someone is our forgiveness.
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