The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Clive Lawton

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Clive Lawton

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Summary: Jill really enjoyed Flowers From Fukushima by Clive Lawton, a haunting story of two survivors in a Japanese post-disaster wasteland. She and Clive ha a lot to talk about when he popped in to see us.
Date: 10 May 2013
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jill really enjoyed Flowers From Fukushima by Clive Lawton, a haunting story of two survivors in a Japanese post-disaster wasteland. She and Clive ha a lot to talk about when he popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Clive Lawton: When I was writing Flowers From Fukushima I never had an audience in mind. It was simply a novel I desperatly wanted to write. Partly to collect the pieces of the events together in my own mind, but mostly I wanted to make a small representation of the positivity and resourcefulness of the Japanese people. Now when I close my eyes I like to imagine my readers being from diverse cultures and backgrounds, not just reading a story about Japan, but a story about humankind.

  • BB: We can only imagine what it must have been like to have been in Japan on 11 March 2011. Can you tell us a bit about that day?

CL: One of the first words I can remember using to describe that day to friends and family is not necessarily one commonly associated with disasters on a mass scale: Awesome. Of course I meant that in the literal sense of the word, in that I was completely in awe of the power and indiscrimination of nature.

I was sitting in my ground floor apartment in central Tokyo at the time of the earthquake, which began not unlike most of the others you feel from time to time – slowly until it reaches a point when you stop what you're doing and wait for it to stop. Except this time it didn't stop. By the time I'd got to the front entrance, the other buildings across the road were visibly swaying and the ground was vibrating so violently it was difficult to remain in one place without gripping the frame of the doorway. One of my Japanese neighbours came out of her apartment and held onto my arm as we watched everything shake. I only remember one word that she said: 'Kowai', which means scary.

What is perhaps a little more difficult to convey is everything that followed. Once the earthquake stopped, everything seemed normal except you knew that something on a monumental scale had just occurred. Friends who had been working nearby came over to stay because all public transport had stopped. We watched the national news and the pictures of the tsunami sweeping across the eastern coastline. There were also strong aftershocks every day for many weeks afterwards that served as a constant reminder of the tragedies taking place in areas less fortunate than the city.

After that I travelled north to Ibaraki where for a time there was no tap water or gas, and all the shops and petrol stations were empty. But that's a long story...

  • BB: We thought Flowers from Fukushima was a beautiful way to write about what happened. What made you choose fiction as a way to discuss it?

CL: Thank you very much. Really it was the only way to get across much of my personal experience of events. Also the problem with writing a factual account on Fukushima is that there was so much contradictory information getting filtered through the media, both locally and internationally. The Japanese government had their official stance, Tepco had another, and then there was the constant stream of reports and statistics about the radiation coming from various sources. I think there will be a lot more non-fiction accounts written on this, especially as more of the politics and health issues come to light. I doubt another inconclusive look at these issues written by someone with no scientific or political expertise is something many people would want to read.

  • BB: Do Ryo and Makoto have a future together? Will you ever write about them again?

CL: I would certainly like to think they had a future together as in the end that's what they both needed. Life doesn't always work out as you hope or expect, though, and already I've had a couple of people tell me they saw the ending in a very different light to how it appears on the surface; so I think I will leave the future of Ryo and Makoto to the interpretation of the reader.

  • BB: London or Tokyo?

CL: They are two completely different cities in every way, and as much as I love London, for me Tokyo beats it for sheer entertainment value. But then, I also prefer apples to oranges.

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

CL: Difficult one. A lot of people go for escapism here, but I probably wouldn't choose my favourite fiction book. It would have to be something like Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet to keep me sane and not without meaning.

  • BB: What and who influences your writing?

CL: I think I've been influenced by a lot of Twentieth Century American writers such as Kerouac, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Their style perfectly reflected their subjects and I find that marriage extremely inspiring.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

CL: I write at home in a very dull and conventional way – at a desk with (hopefully) no distractions at all. I go through different processes when writing at length, some creative and some very meticulous and craftsmanlike. I much prefer the creative stages.

  • BB: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

CL: Convey only what you need to.

  • BB: What's next for Clive Lawton?

CL: After two years thinking about and writing Flowers From Fukushima, I initially thought I'd like to do something completely different. However I'm planning another trip to Japan soon, and Flowers is to be translated into Japanese, so it may be that I'm not done with that yet after all.

  • BB: We wish you every success with that, Clive and thank you for chatting to us.

You can read more about Clive Lawton here.

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