September 2018


Big Mac-beth… (click on the photo for more pictures from my language school’s production of Macbeth)


My old man has been encouraging me to write a memoir of my four years spent working at small town newspapers in Arkansas back when Bill Clinton was president and scalpels and hot wax machines were how we cut and pasted news stories together.

So, I’ve been gathering anecdotes that might make for fun reading. There was the time I accidentally ran off with a police shooting victims’ Marlboros (he was in a hospital ward but would only grant me an interview if I wheeled him outside for a smoke); the time I caused mass confusion in the Conway Log Cabin Democrat newsroom when I was on a breaking story and informed the editor that I tried to give a source a ring, but she was engaged (telephone terminology is quite different between British and American usage), and accidental hilarity when I wrote in a local community leader’s obituary “she was given an award in 1986 for beating off a would-be rapist.”

There’s much to pick from. And as a title I think I might go with “Out the Wazoo” from a real-life conversation I had in a red-neck bar in Little Rock when a drunk lunged along the counter towards me and slurred: “I love you English. You got culture coming out the wazoo.”

We’ll see.

  1. I’ve been making a little headway in a long-term project to develop an editing sideline to my writing, publishing and teaching business. In the short-term it is focussing my mind on how to write good fiction. Here, I explain how to edit a novel, as best I know.
  2. I’m quite chuffed that I created probably the only pages in English on the internet about Japanese fine artist Tatsuo Shimizu.
  3. It has been an honour to get to know Tokyo-based British marketing consultant Matthew Dons, he kindly gave a 4,000-word interview to me and spelled out more wisdom on book marketing than I’ve heard in years of listening to self-publishing podcasts. If you get some value from the interview, please consider donating to his cancer treatment fund. 
  4. This was hands down the best thing I saw on Twitter last month — a moving letter a man wrote his grandson answering questions about his experiences in the postwar occupation of Japan. Hat tip to Our Man in Saitama, loyal subscriber Daniel Fath. 
  5. The best book I read last month was this one. I quite fancy reading this Belgian mystery set in Hiroshima.If anyone gets to it before me, let me know what you think of it, please. 
  6. What I’m reading this month.
  7. Click on the picture below to see me talk about three lessons I learnt about writing from adapting Macbeth for Japanese schoolchildren.

  8. I didn’t mention in that video that Yokohama Theatre Group’s Andrew Woolner popped over to Abiko and gave the kids (and me) a fantastic lesson in how to do Shakespeare. He’s putting on an original show all about migration with performances from September 15th to 17th in Kawasaki which I plan to attend. Details here.
  9. Rest in peace Chibi-Maruko-chan manga artist Momoka Sakura. And Tokyo Weekender journalist James Bailey.

    Is it a silly blurb? A poor cover? A bad review? A description of the weather in the first paragraph? Speaking as a self-publisher, your answer would be most valuable to me.

    To answer, just hit reply on your email and I’ll piece the bits together and post them next month for all subscribers to see.

    Last month’s question was: How did you hear about the last book you read?

    MAIREBeing a librarian, I may not be able to provide much help. Book Riot’s All the Books weekly podcast is how I stay on top of new releases outside the “big” authors. I also subscribe to Book Riot’s RSS feed. I don’t read though all of it, but I will notice when a title keeps popping up.
    I also get a lot of review copies through Edelweiss+. Those are selected by the provided blurbs or if it’s an author that I already know.
    Oh, and a friend of mine pointed me towards Bustle Magazine’s books page. He uses it to select book club titles for his ladies book club at his library.

    LARRY PIPER: I was reading a book, and there was a reference in it to someone voraciously reading the Betsy-Tacy books, so I thought to check them out. I find a lot of books that way, for example a reference in “The Grapes of Wrath” led me to reading “The Winning of Barbara Worth” (which turns out to sort of a prequel to “Grapes of Wrath”). Whatever, back to Betsy-Tacy, I thought, perhaps I’d gotten on to that series from reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, but that book was published about the same time as the first volumes in the Betsy-Tacy series, so it doesn’t seem all that likely. On the other hand, I can’t figure out anything else from my recent reading. The next closest match would have been “Peyton Place”, but I’m almost certain I put Betsy-Tacy on hold at the library long before I downloaded a copy of “Peyton Place”. Are you as confused as I am now?

    JK: I usually find out about books via the New York Times book section.

    MARIA GODEBSKA: I belong to a book group on Facebook, where all manner of wonderful books are recommended. However, foolishly, I have been avoiding those in favour of free ebooks from a site called Instafreebie. You can get as many downloads as you like, of full novels or sample chapters, by self-published authors.
    So, all I have to go on when selecting a book, is the genre, the cover, and the brief bumpf I click on. The quality has been hit-and-miss – you get what you pay for, and sometimes not even that since you had to spend time if not money.  If I like the free one, I go and see what else they have written, and hand over some honest cash.
    The last two books I read were both books I bought for a couple of dollars after reading an Instafreebie work by that author.
    Hit: “A Beginner’s Guide to Invading Earth – Book 2” by Gerhard Gehrke. I enjoyed the first, and I enjoyed the second. i wish there was a third, but it doesn’t exist yet.
    Miss: “April Fools Humor Box Set”  by Lee J. Isserow. Bought after enjoying a short story called “Testing Ground” by Lee Isserow.  The writing style is so vastly different, I have to wonder if the authors are as well – is that initial J. more significant than I had imagined?
    Anyway, I am dabbling in unrecommended works of unfamiliar genres by unheard-of authors far more than I ever have before, and the hits are (mostly) worth the misses.

    LINDA LOMBARDII heard about the book I’m currently reading, as well as the last two that come to mind, on Twitter.

    GUY YATES: I’m currently reading le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man (nearly through my summer reading list). I would have heard about this book from reading his earlier novels. How I got on to le Carré in the first place is more difficult to pin down. I guess from my mother as she was always happy to provide suggested reading to me (she got me on to Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri series). Outside of family recommendations I resort to a couple of RSS feeds: Crime Fiction Lover and Euro Crime. Mainly scour those for new authors who look to have an interesting story to tell. More recently I’ve tried to make more of Twitter (I removed myself from Facebook a while back and this is my last link to social media). I follow author’s of interest (including your good self), reviewers of interest and more recently translators. Through them I am getting wind of other interesting books, authors and podcasts. The latter is a window into the authors through their own voice which is most interesting. Only yesterday I picked up on a new (to me) podcast: Partners in Crime ( This seems on first blush a good one to be subscribed to.

Thanks for reading, have a good month. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your own blog, or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. If you appreciate this newsletter feel free to forward to a friend, post it on social media, or, perish the thought, buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice.

Next month, I’m going back to college… I’m interviewing the brains behind Manga University.

All the best,



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