The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Renae Lucas-Hall

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Renae Lucas-Hall

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Summary: We felt that we were in the heart of Japan when we read Tokyo Hearts - A Japanese Love Story and it was a real pleasure to chat to Renae Lucas-Hall when she called in to see us.
Date: 13 August 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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We felt that we were in the heart of Japan when we read Tokyo Hearts - A Japanese Love Story and it was a real pleasure to chat to Renae Lucas-Hall when she called in to see us.

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

Renae Lucas-Hall: I see Westerners who have an interest in Japan reading my book as well as those who have a developing interest in Japan. I see Japanese people reading Tokyo Hearts because they love reading about how Westerners interpret their culture. I also see tourists on an aeroplane heading to Tokyo with a kindle in their hands, smiling as they read the eBook. I can see Westerners living in Japan nodding their heads as they read through each paragraph. Finally, I see students at school and university, who are learning the Japanese culture and language, developing a natural understanding of the sociology of Japan through their own interpretation of Tokyo Hearts.

R L-H: I’ve always loved reading books and writing stories about people I’d like to meet. It is a form of escapism for me and I find it very cathartic. Over the years I’ve learnt so much about the culture and the language of Japan. I was bursting at the seams to share this with others so that they too could find out how interesting Japan can be and at the same time appreciate a good story. When tragedy struck Japan in the form of earthquakes, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster in March, 2011 I really wanted to complete the novel and create a work of fiction that captures the beauty of this country.

  • BB: As I read Tokyo Hearts I sensed that you knew Japan well and had more than a little affection for the country. How did this come about?

R L-H: I always wanted to be a teacher or interpreter of languages from a very young age. I learnt French and Italian for years at school and when I went to university I picked up the Japanese language and culture as well. The first time I went to Japan, I enjoyed a homestay with a Japanese family for a few weeks. I discovered that this Japanese family had just lost their seventeen year old daughter to a terminal illness and I was deeply moved by how kind they were and the efforts they made to ensure that I felt comfortable in their home, despite their huge loss. A few years later, I returned to Tokyo several times to work as an English teacher and I loved the way the Japanese were so dedicated to learning the English language. Over the past twenty years, I’ve also visited Japan many times as a tourist or to gather research for my writing and I’ve enjoyed every one of these experiences. I continue to stay in touch with this family who lost their daughter and they are always very kind and inspirational.

  • BB: The young people in your story have a very much more reverential relationship with their parents. Is this generally true and do you think it's a good thing?

R L-H: In Japan the role of the mother is taken very seriously and women who don’t work will often classify themselves as sengyo shufu (professional housewives). Many people believe that the dedication of Japanese women to the role of motherhood is the reason why they are so well-educated and why there is a significant lack of social problems. The traditional role of the father on the other hand is to work and to provide for the family. This helps to create a respect for both parents and although there are obviously exceptions to this, Japanese people tend to have more of a “reverential relationship with their parents” compared to other nations.

  • BB: Would you like to relocate to Japan on a permanent basis?

R L-H: I’m half-British and half-Australian and I’ve been lucky enough to live in Japan, Australia and the UK for long periods of time. When I am in the UK I miss Japan and Australia and vice versa. I loved living in Tokyo when I was younger. I really enjoyed the fast-paced lifestyle and being able to immerse myself in the Japanese culture. However, I now live in Gloucestershire in the UK and this is an area renowned for its natural beauty. Every day, I’m struck by the astounding natural splendour of this area in the UK and I’m sure I’d miss seeing this lush green landscape if I moved back to Japan. Inner Tokyo is very much a concrete jungle. Ideally, I’d like to spend two months of the year in Japan and the rest of my time in the UK or Australia. I feel like I’ve come home in Gloucestershire because the area is so pretty and the people in this part of England are just so incredibly nice.

  • BB: I thought your descriptions of what it felt like to be in an earthquake - a full-blooded one rather than the jelly wobble that we sometimes experience in this country - were particularly effective. Have you ever been involved in one?

R L-H: When I spent long periods living in Japan I never experienced any earthquakes that worried me, but I did have a bad experience when I visited Tokyo for a few days on my way to the UK, nearly eight years ago. I was asleep in my room on the seventeenth floor of a 25-storey hotel and an earthquake woke me up. This was unlike any earthquake I’d ever experienced before. The room swayed and rocked and it was moving so violently that I woke up and jumped out of bed and threw my clothes on. Not knowing what to do, I called reception and they told me to stay in my room. I opened the door and there were hotel staff running about in a panic and I asked them what I should do. They told me to stay on that floor then they apologised and ran away. The earthquake stopped after a couple of minutes and I went back to sleep completely drained, but I slept in my clothes. The next morning I checked out of the hotel and took the airport limousine bus to Narita airport to catch my flight to the UK. I opened the window on the bus to get some air and a few people in the back of the bus angrily told me to shut it. No one wanted to talk about the night before but everyone’s sullen mood showed how much the earthquake had shattered them. I realised later that I needn’t have worried as the hotel I stayed in was supported by rubber plates which move the building with the earthquake, but at the time I was very frightened. My husband visited Tokyo and Kyoto with me a couple of years ago and luckily he did not have to experience this on his first visit to Japan and so he is very happy to go back to Tokyo again. I’m just hoping he never has to experience what I went through as it can leave a very negative impression in your mind for a long time.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music?

R L-H: I always write at home. I like to read a book in the sun but there are too many distractions outside for me to write properly. Sometimes I write longhand and other times I type. When I first started writing I would always write by hand but I’ve trained myself to think creatively and type as I create the scene in my mind. Occasionally I write with music in the background. If my husband is watching TV it doesn’t bother me as I’ve always been someone who can focus directly on the task at hand. However, I do believe that I have more clarity and my writing reads better if I’ve been working in perfect silence.

  • BB: Which bits of being an author do you enjoy and which bits would you rather not have to do at all?

R L-H: I love to learn. Sometimes I feel my mind is like a sponge and I have to keep it saturated with new ideas and thoughts to feel comfortable. Therefore, I love reading anything and everything whether it is a book, newspapers or magazines. I feel at peace when I’m reading and writing and that’s a nice place to find. So I obviously love doing all the research that is needed to write an interesting book and then I like to convey what I’ve learnt into my writing. I hope that my words deliver the feelings that I’m trying to put across in each paragraph. I don’t feel very comfortable talking to people about my book when they ask me what it is about. It is difficult to explain everything I’m trying to communicate in my novel in just a few words.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

R L-H: I’d love to have the ability to physically time travel. I’ve always liked reading the classics and I believe that you can mentally shift between different times and worlds simply by picking up a book. Wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall observing society just the way it is reflected in a book by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? It would also be great to meet Japanese people who lived before Japan opened up to the world in the nineteenth century and hear their views on life, before they were inundated with Western culture.

  • BB: What's next for Renae Lucas-Hall?

R L-H: I’ve started working on Tokyo Dreams – the sequel to Tokyo Hearts. There are a couple of short stories on my website and I’d like to add to these by writing more short stories set in Japan. I’d also love to visit Tokyo again next year to do so more research.

  • BB: There's lets there to look forward to, Renae. Thanks for coming in to chat to us.

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