Hello! It's been a little - ok, a really long while since I've written here. This is partly because I've been focusing on Ohayou Tokyo over here, partly because I've not had a great deal to say, and partly (mostly) (almost exclusively) because I'm really lazy and a bad blogger. 

But anyway, I thought I'd nip back from OT in order to fill out this fun reading Q&A, which my lovely wife at Nekomentsu tagged me in. 

I'm supposed to tag people into this too, but I don't want anyone to feel obliged. However I'd love to hear any and all responses - so consider this an open invitation! 

Here are The Rules.

1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
3. Answer the questions below
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you've tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you've taken part!

It's not just the front cover of this wonderful book
that I like, although it is good...
The back and inside of the cover too is beautiful, evocative, wintry.
I enjoyed judging this book by it's cover.

What are you reading right now?
I have two on the go right now - one fiction, and one non-fiction. I've just started reading The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is entirely not my usual kind of book - however since I came into possession of it through World Book Night, which aims to broaden people's literary horizons, this seems apt indeed.
I've also just started reading Cuckoo In The Nest by Nat Luurtsema. I'm very few pages in at the moment, as it was only delivered today and I've been at work for most of the day. But I know it's going to be good - Nat is a stand-up and sketch comedian I've been following for a while. Her stand-up is great, as is her work with sketch troupe Jigsaw, and I know from her blog that she has a wonderful turn of phrase.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
I'm torn between The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, and To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Two very different books offering interesting perspectives on American life. I hold no specific interest in Americana - or at least I didn't think I did - but it appears to be creeping in to the things I read, watch and listen to.

What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Empire Of The Sun by JG Ballard
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
Smiley vs. Karla by John Le Carré
The Stand by Stephen King

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
I only really read Olive, the cookery magazine from the BBC, as well as the occasional Private Eye. But also, thanks to my lovely wife, our house is well-stocked with copies of National Geographic, Oh Comely, Mollie Makes, BBC Wildlife and Lonely Planet

What’s the worst book you've ever read?
I found Twilight by Stephanie Meyer to be alarmingly sub-par. Considering the level of acclaim it 'earned', it's actually in my humble opinion rather badly written. Or overwritten, I should say. Each sentence is infused with superpowered adverbs and adjectives; characters never "speak", they "mutter intensely". I could go on, but I feel I'm in a minority here and don't wish to alienate anyone kind enough to read my thoughts here.

What book seems really popular but you actually hated?
Oh dear, I think I may have answered this one already. Never mind. Two birds, one stone and all that.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, by Stephen King. He gets a bad rep, but King is a staggeringly good novelist, and writes well on the subject. In my job, I meet a lot of people who want to get into writing, and whether they aspire to pen a novel or simply rattle out a few 300-word theatre reviews, I always urge everyone to read this book. It's invaluable to anyone who wants to write - or read - at any level. 

What are your 3 favourite poems?
If by Rudyard Kipling
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

Where do you usually get your books?
I have a part-time job which pays, conveniently, in Amazon vouchers rather than cash - so plenty of my books come from there. I also love old bookshops, and charity shops - I'd say it's an even split between those, with the occasional foray into Waterstones.

Where do you usually read your books?
More often than not in bed, either before sleeping or while delaying getting up.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
I had a nasty habit of reading whatever's the most new, leaving the old one unfinished. I was impatient like that. I'm ashamed to say that I still am, to an extent.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
The last one I stayed up late reading was 11.22.63 by Stephen King, but recently I began reading The Old Man And The Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, one weekend morning. I'd woken up early, and intended to read a few pages before getting up and doing something useful. Unfortunately for the chores, it was so absorbing I just read the whole lot in one go, instead of getting up.

Have you ever “faked” reading a book?
I have never said I've read a book which I haven't, if that's what you mean. However I have, shall we say, created the impression I've been reading a book when a particularly interesting conversation was taking place on the seat next to me on a train...

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
I bought a book for my wife based on the cover - The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. The edges of the pages were dyed black, and the cover was an enticing deep red, fading to gold in the centre... It looked glorious. And it was the worst book she has ever read, even to this day (and she's read Twilight...).

What was your favourite book when you were a child?
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. LeGuin. Both me and my older brother were obsessed with the first instalment at a young age - A Wizard Of Earthsea. It's tale of light and dark, good and evil, and everything having its place or use in the world probably prepared me well for life - it's certainly made me philosophical and pragmatic. Oh, and my dad made us both staffs too.

What book changed your life?
Hard to narrow this down to just one, so I'll indulge myself and mention three - for three very different reasons.
Practically speaking, the aforementioned On Writing by Stephen King has given me the tools I need to be able to string a sentence together - which has earned me a job as a features writer. 
Emotionally, 11.22.63, again by Stephen King, somehow fills me with confidence when I remember certain scenes. If I'm facing a challenge I think back to that book, and it seems less daunting. I'm not altogether sure that this is normal... 
Finally, for a very different reason, The Dark Winter by my friend and colleague David Mark has had a big effect. Not only is it an excellent novel (I was privileged to read an early bound proof), but since it was picked up by Quercus last year, and released this month, it's shown me that these great successes do happen to real people. Plus, I'm covering his work while he swans off on book signings and whatnot for the next few months, which is an added bonus!

What is your favourite passage from a book?
There are many, but the one which springs to mind is from The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker (the book that became the movie Hellraiser):
     The seasons long for each other, like men and women, in order that they may be cured of 
their excesses. 
     Spring, if it lingers more than a week beyond its span, starts to hunger for summer to end 
the days of perpetual promise. Summer in its turn soon begins to sweat for something to quench its 
heat, and the mellowest of autumns will tire of gentility at last, and ache for a quick sharp frost to 
kill its fruitfulness. 
     Even winter-the hardest season, the most implacable-dreams, as February creeps on, of the 
flame that will presently melt it away. Everything tires with time, and starts to seek some 
opposition, to save it from itself. 
     So August gave way to September and there were few complaints. 

What are your top five favourite authors?
Stephen King
Ursula K. LeGuin
Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Raymond Chandler
Tsugumi Ohba

What book has no one heard about but should read?
The Dark Winter, By David Mark. I wouldn't say no one's heard of it, but if you haven't - acquaint yourself!

What 3 books are you an “evangelist” for?
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. A wonderful manga series: dark; twisted; well-plotted - and a fascinating morality tale.
The Elements Of Style by William Strunk Jr - Almost 100 years old now, this style manual is just as - if not more - relevant than ever. And it's remarkably witty in a dry, knowing way. 
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - The film was a wonderful blockbuster, but the book was a lot more thoughtful, considered and - yes - realistic. 

What is your favourite book by a first-time author?
The Dark Winter by David Mark (and no, I'm not just saying that - it really is superb!)

What is your favourite classic book?
Rashomon And Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

5 other notable mentions?

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson - it's more than just a nice cover!
The Great Teacher Onizuka series by Tohru Fujisawa
The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger (I know, I know - but it really is good)
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui
I'm excited to unveil the project I've been working on with the lovely Louise at Nekomentsu ... :

As the name suggests it's all about Tokyo, with a mix of articles that draw both from our own experiences and (hopefully) from an objective, informative point of view. We're hoping to get each page linking to several others so what we'd like to create is less a linear, journal-style blog (although there is also that aspect to it), and more a network of interconnected articles.

I won't go on about it too long, but I'm really pleased with how it's shaping up... Do go have a look, and I'd love to hear what you think!
Dear My Blog,

I realise I've been ignoring you a lot lately. And I'm sorry - that was not my intention. But I have been preparing for some exciting news: very soon, you're going to have a new little blog-brother or blog-sister!

I've been busy working with Catface over at Nekomentsu on a new project that's all about Japan. More details will follow when I have more details to give, but for now suffice it to say I'm really excited.

And of course, little blog o' mine, I promise you'll stay just as important to me in the future so there's no need to be jealous!

All best,


In a complete deviation from my usual content, I'd like to share some incredible pictures of Russia from 100 years ago which I just stumbled upon over at The Boston Globe.

Between 1909 and 1912, a photographer by the name of Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii used a revolutionary new system in which three monochrome photos were taken in quick succession, each with a red, green or blue filter. Putting the three (glass) plates on top of one another created these stunning pictures.

It's impossible to judge the age of these pictures from their quality. And it completely boggles my mind to think that the people featured, even the children, may have grown up to have children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren and so on.

It's worth viewing the full article here, as it's completely fascinating. But here's a few of the 36 pictures featured.

I wonder who he grew up to be...

Even history had its history...

If you look really closely, you can see the ripples in the water are different colours, due to their movement between the stages of process mentioned above...

I love this picture. The water looks so smooth, almost as if it's ice. Probably a byproduct of the photography technique again.

The detail in this image is staggering.

Look closely - some of the people in the background moved between the three pictures being taken. Little imperfections like this show just how precise the process was in order to have taken such crystal-clear clarity in the rest of the picture.

(All images are out of copyright, but reproduced here with thanks to The Boston Globe and the LOC)


I was thinking. Sometimes, when you distill the big decisions or themes in your life down to their very very beginnings, they can seem quite ridiculously trivial. I thought I'd share today the specific circumstances that actually started me out on my fascination with Japan...

A good few years ago, me and Louise had just started getting into martial arts films after watching a few good ones (House Of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger, Hero). When we came across an Amazon voucher, we thought we'd use it on another, similar DVD.

My job involves making TV listings magazines and film guides, so I tend to be fairly clued-up on movies, and one which I'd heard about and was hoping to see soon was Ong-Bak - the Thai film starring Tony Jaa. For some bizarre reason, instead we elected to go for an animation called Spirited Away - something we'd both only vaguely heard about but heard it was kinda quirky and very good. A quick *click* and it's ours - I remember hoping I don't regret it...

It arrived on a Friday, and we watched it that night. It was nothing like anything either of us had - ever - seen before. It's sheer unaldulturated genius. I got in touch with our (work's) film critic and asked him for similar titles, and he informed me that Spirited Away was made by a company called Studio Ghibli, and he provided me with a list of some of their other highlights. Christmas came, and I tracked some of them down for Louise's stocking. By the next Christmas, I think we'd got just about all of them! We're complete addicts.

Funnily enough, Studio Ghibli, through its fantastical, magical worlds, actually gave us a reason to delve further into the very real aspects of Japan and other Japanese films, cartoons, manga, culture, food, etc.

We joked about going to the Ghibli Museum. We didn't know that just a short while later, we'd actually be going...

It's interesting to consider that if we had gone for Ong-Bak instead (I subsequently saw it: it was ok; good, not great) I may not have ever gone to Tokyo or eaten ramen or listened to Macdonald Duck Eclair or read GTO or anything fun like that!

I've got a new Blogger client for my phone, so I'm hoping this post comes out okay.

Last night being Bonfire Night, we went to a fireworks display put on by a local charitable organisation called the Beverley Lions. They do it every year on the Westwood, a historic common pasture on the edge of town, and every year I'm surprised by how good they are (and how busy it is!).

The bonfire was lit by the time we got there, and we just had enough time to queue for some chips (which were really good) before the display starts with a BIG bang.

They were stunning, so naturally i tried to take some pictures, and naturally they came out really badly. But don't take my word for it, judge for yourself!

A recent trip to York saw me in a craft shop. Nothing unusual about that - Catface is a very crafty lass, so we spend ages picking up supplies for her business - but this time, I thought I'd treat myself to something. I've never really had any ability with art whatsoever (my hands are the hand-equivalent of tone deaf, as to which my atrocious handwriting will attest) but I do enjoy calligraphy, even though I don't count myself as any good.

The shop in which we found ourselves had a large selection of Chinese and Japanese brushes of all shapes and sizes, so I selected a small-ish squirrel-hair brush that seemed to feel right and speak to me. I know that may sound strange, but there's a great quote from trueart.info about brush selection, which I hope they don't mind me copying here:
"In the west, a brush is considered simply a tool for self-expression; it needs little character of its own ... In the East, however, there is a tradition of treating artists' materials as friends, rather than as slaves to artistic expression. Artwork is a cooperative process that involves the unique characteristics of the tool as well as those of the artist."
Certainly, I have no truck with Western art, so maybe this approach will suit me better. It definitely makes a change to hold an artistic implement that feels natural and comfortable, so already I'm ahead of where I've been before.

In the past I've used my calligraphy set to write kana characters, but that's not really all that it's made for. This time, I decided to be more ambitious, and try kanji (which I can't really read yet), in cursive style (which is possibly silly of me since I definitely can't read cursive!). I had a think about what to try, and I settled on the phrase "water's sound", which is the last line from a Basho poem I like.

I really enjoyed making it in the end. Although this is just a rough draft (I'd quite like to put it on three canvas blocks once I'm confident enough), I think it's come out looking quite cool. Although since I can't really read Japanese, I'm probably not the best judge... Anyway, this - I hope - is Mizu no Oto:

I'd really love to hear some opinions. I'm genuinely not fishing for compliments or anything - if you happen to be able to read Japanese and could tell me where I'm going right/wrong, I'd very much appreciate it!