May 2018


Got one of these for free (see 2. below)


Let me tell you a little (true) story that brought an unironic tear to my eye.

This time last year, I received a bunch of cheques in the post (really) from Amazon for proceeds from my best-selling (really) series of books, which I was actually a little ashamed of. These were the “Zen of xxxxx” adult colouring books where “xxxx” was a well-supported English Premier League football club. I’ve stopped selling them, largely because I was getting pretty poor reviews for the (admittedly shoddy) sketches of famous players. True fans of the clubs didn’t appreciate my tongue-in-cheek mockery of the adult colouring book genre and saw my efforts as taking the mick out of their beloved teams, and I didn’t have the heart (or wallet) to defend the books should they continue to sell well and attract the attention of football club trademark lawyers… so I quietly stopped selling them, although you can still see the titles on my Amazon author page.

Anyway, I cashed the cheques (eventually — have you ever tried cashing a foreign currency cheque in Japan?) and chalked the episode up to experience, vowing to focus on more productive uses of my time, like watching the paint dry on my watercolours, when I got a message from the UK from a damsel in distress.

She was desperate to get her hands on a copy of “The Zen of Everton” and had tracked me down on Twitter. I said that the book was no longer for sale, but I offered to send her a PDF of the manuscript for free if she really wanted it, and I apologised for the poor quality of my sketches.

I received this email last month:

Dear Patrick,

Last year you kindly sent me a pdf of The Zen of Everton. It was for my uncle who was suffering from dementia. He passed away peacefully in his sleep mid- February. I printed and enlarged it for him. I thought I’d drop you a line to thank you once again. Regardless of the accuracy of your renderings, it afforded us another means to coax some lucid moments of conversation from him which are cherished particularly by his wife. I just want you to know your kindness was appreciated, thank you.

With warm regards,


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  1. My latest project was to get some pro author pics done of myself. English Tokyo-based photo journalist Damon Coulter obliged and you can see what he took of me on my About page where they will stay until I make a proper media page.
  2. I don’t think I’ve ever given away my second novel, but for the next five days, “The Year of the Talking Dog,” a Hana Walker mystery, is free to download from any Amazon site. Just click here and then click on any of the links in the the post to download the book immediately. Then tell a pal. Bonus points if you review it on Amazon or Goodreads (please do, I’ll remember your kindness).
  3. It took three months to complete, but here it is, my interview with Japan folklore writing queen Thersa Matsuura. And I feature quite a bit too.
  4. Hurry, you have only eight days to listen to this great audio from BBC Radio 4 of Alberto Manguel’s essay on dismantling his 35,000-volume library.
  5. I really want to write a new police procedural crime series like this but set it in Abiko. I will start on it after I’ve done the next Hana Walker novel.
  6. Here’s what I plan to read this Golden Week and the rest of the month.
  7. They’re all talking about wabi sabi now.
  8. But I talk about my pictures, Shakespeare and competing with cram schools.
  9. Looking for an English translation of another Keigo Higashino mystery? You’ll have to wait until November
  10. Question of the month: WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO READ THIS SUMMER?

    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: Who is your favourite sleuth? And I got two expert testimonies worthy of your time:

    MATTHEW DONS: The greatest fictional detective of all time must be George Smiley. Although John Le Carre’s Smiley is usually thought of as a spy master, the first two Smiley novels are straight detective stories. 

    In “Call for the Dead,” Smiley investigates the apparent suicide of a suspected communist, believing it to be murder. And in “A Murder of Quality,” Smiley finds himself trying to solve the murder of the thoroughly unpleasant Stella Rode.

    Smiley is a slow, methodical detective, and a very likeable character. In “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” he uses his skills to uncover a traitor in SIS. (MI6) As he interviews suspects and witnesses, Smiley follows the trail to a Soviet mole, and expertly lays a trap to reveal his identity. In “Smiley’s People,” George Smiley is once more investigating a murder, this time the assassination of a retired Estonian general, shot in the face on Hampstead Heath.

    Smiley has such an impressive mind and is able to manipulate seemingly minor clues until they form a pattern, revealing mysteries within mysteries, such as how Moscow Centre is able to run a double agent who has burrowed deep into the British intelligence service.

    Smiley comes across as gentle in most of his dealings, and we are constantly reminded of his weakness: his affection for his nasty, childish wife, Ann. Having said that, he’s extremely determined, almost ruthless, and is very cunning.

    In George Smiley, Le Carre has created a complex character who the reader naturally sides with, but whose foibles are just frustrating enough to be completely believable.

    GUY YATES: So, from a short list of twenty I decided to pick one from each country so that should make things a little easier. It didn’t. How can I pick between George Smiley (John le Carre), Aector  McAvoy (David Mark), Sean Duffy (Adrian McKinty), Peter Grant (Ben Aaronovitch) and two ‘No Name’ detectives supplied by Derek Raymond and Len Deighton (his Bernard Samson series also made the cut)? That’s not even the full list of UK sleuths as Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May and James Oswald’s Inspector McLean loom large in that list too. All of the foregoing I have read and met on more than one occasion so the lure of following them on their travails keeps me coming back and seeing how they are getting on with their lives.

    Perhaps I need to limit myself to non-UK sleuths then? Not much easier. Many Scandinavian ‘suspects’ to wade through there too: Inspector Van Veeteren (Hakan Nesser), Inspector Sejer (Karin Fossum) and Carl Mørck (Jussi Adler-Olsen) three that sprint readily to mind. There are also many I have met only once and am just trying to find the time to go back and develop a friendship with. In wider Europe I have Italy’s Inspector Montalbano (Andrea Camilleri), the French trio of Commissaire Adamsberg (Fred Vargas), Aimee Leduc (Cara Black) and ‘Bruno’ Courrèges (Martin Walker) and Germany’s Bernard Gunther (Philip Kerr) and Gerhard Self (Bernhard Schlink).

    Sad to admit, but in Asia I don’t have many from Japan to list. I read wide in Japan so though I have read many Japan sleuth-based novels I have met their sleuths typically only once so they didn’t make the shortlist. But in passing, my introduction to Japan-based detective novels was through Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series. I enjoyed following Rei and still have her final one to get through. Hana Walker is also still waiting for me to read her a second time! Wider in Asia I have Dr. Siri (Colin Cotterill), Inspector O (James Church) and Inspector Chen (Qiu Xiaolong). The wider Asian ones win not only on strong characters but delightfully described settings.

    So from all the foregoing who’s the favourite? That really is tough. Gun against the head I think it will go to Bernie Gunther but only by the thinnest of cigarette papers from Dr. Siri and Bryant & May tied for joint second. Why? Simply, when a new book of their exploits is published I’m quick to obtain and read it. (In passing, I still have a backlog of Montalbano to get through that he’d have won it if I was up to speed on his series). It was sad to read earlier this month that Philip Kerr had passed away. There is a ‘final’ Bernie novel to be published next year. I try not to think too hard whilst reading but Kerr has forced me a little more than others to push that thinking a little harder of what he is writing. He is also teaching me a history of Europe during the 1920s to 50s. A fascinating time and rich in lessons to be learnt with respect to how some of the world is behaving these days. Bernie also has a good line in sarcasm and blunt talk. Highly recommended to those that have yet to meet him. Start with the first in the series – March Violets – and treat yourself to one a month. You’ll be finished just in time for his fourteenth outing.

* * *

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 have no interviews lined up, if you know of a likely candidate, or have a good book to recommend for me to review, drop me a line.

All the best,



April 2018


I rattled off this in Japanese calligraphy ink as my 6th painting of 2018.


I hope you have more left in the tank than me today…

The last week of March saw me in the UK with my wife as we drove 11 Japanese kids around the country, which turned out to be equal parts challenging, exhausting, lucrative and fun. Which meant my reading, interviewing, painting and writing had to take a backseat. But not so much that I don’t have a few sights worth pointing out to you*…

  1. I’ve been busy editing and uploading EFL textbooks these last couple of months. Here’s my latest project: Three books for a nearby international school that wanted their own kindergarten textbooks. I was happy to oblige, writing and illustrating them myself. Check them out on Amazon, here. And if you know of any other schools interested in getting their own bespoke textbooks, I’ll do them for free** too. Just reply by email.
  2. I found this article by Philip Brasor on murder and embezzlement at Japanese shrines to be great fodder for a future Hana Walker crime yarn or two.
  3. For the next five days, my book The Short Goodbye, is available for free from all Amazon stores. Just click on any of the links at the bottom of this post. And, as always, I’d appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you liked it.
  4. Trying to read 10 books last month that I’d downloaded for free onto my kindle proved to be quite difficult. Mainly because most of them weren’t worth finishing, let alone reviewing. But this one was the best of the lot 
  5. I don’t know much about ex-pat financial advice, but I do know sheds.
  6. Next month, I’m going to sink my reading teeth into this lot
  7. I was chuffed to get a review in Japanese on one of my 100-English-Phrases books. It only got 3 out of 5 stars, but the actual review is glowing.
  8. What’s behind brand Japan? Buggered if I know, but Roland Kelts does and he’ll be happy to fill you in on Tuesday, April 24th in Roppongi. Also for the diary, if you find yourself free in Shinjuku this Friday evening, Brit poet Paul Rossiter has organised a talk on a chap who translated a leading Italian poet. Details here.
  9. It was my privilege to meet fellow avid reader, reviewer and newsletter subscriber Matt Dons last month. He’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer. There is no stage 5, but there is still hope to lengthen his life and more, just not much money left in the kitty for his treatments in Fukushima. You can help him here.

    For me, it’s a toss-up between Kurt Wallander, whose Weltschmerz-smattered idealism matches my own, or Easy Rawlins, who has great insights from the wrong side of the American colour divide.  

    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: HAVE YOU HEARD ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

    Nancy Curdts: I love to listen to audiobooks. I love all of Terry Pratchett, but those read by Stephen Briggs are by far my favourite. Lately, I’m enjoying Ann Cleeves’s mystery series, both of them (Shetland and Vera Stanhope). I just finished Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver read by the author. It was a bit preachy, but I loved her voice and was caught up in the various storylines. I do love print and audiobooks, too. I’m a true bibliomaniac. I’ll read in any format. I just need to have a book with me always.

    Guy Yates: I have never been able to do audiobooks. My mind seems to wander off whilst listening and thus I lose the plot. I’m slightly better with podcasts on my walk to and from work, but again, something interesting in the street and I’m off thinking about other things. When I read my mind stays a little more focused. I can see the benefits of audiobooks if doing something else at the same time. Via Spotify there are a few classics that you can listen to as well as most of the Sherlock Holmes (there’s probably many others too). Once I’ve cleared my podcast backlog – I don’t subscribe to that many – I may give a classic audio book a try but no promises I’ll like it! Tips on keeping the aural focus happily taken.

    Maria Godebska: Whenever someone mentions audiobooks, I get a visual image of one shelf of one of my bookcases, which is filled with audiobooks on cassette. Back in the ’90s, the big Maruzen in Nagoya had regular sales, and at one of these sales I bought a big bagful of audiobook cassettes, which I still have. My most treasured among them are four of Dirk Bogarde’s seven volumes of autobiographies. He read them himself, and I listened to them all, many times over, because I found his voice perfect for sleeping. But that was then…. Nowadays, I don’t drive, and I don’t have a long commute ( I would spend most of it fiddling with the cords and buttons), and anyway I don’t like using earphones when walking or travelling, for reasons of safety. For work, I need music in order to help me concentrate, and for sleep, I have Radio 4 or 4+ . Audible isn’t worth it for me, then. I did listen to an Audible freebie for a while at work last year, because I had previously enjoyed the book. I used it more as white noise than for entertainment though. But maybe I ought to dig out my cassette player, and dust off dear old Dirk?

    NB. The choice of narrator is very important. With Japanese books in translation, or books about Japan, I wonder if the narrators try to do accents? I hope not, but fear they do. A Radio 4 adaptation of Jake Adelstein’s book made me cringe every time a new accent struggled past my ears.

Thanks for reading, have a good cherry-blossom-sake-swilling 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 hope to get my interview with Thersa Matsuura all done, dusted and typed up.  We’ll see, 

All the best,


* You may have noticed the return of the typewriter font. You may find it annoying or primitive or just plain silly, and I hear you. But I like it. It harks back to an annoyingly primitive, sillier age.
** But I keep the copyright, oh, and the royalties too.


March 2018


A boarded up house in Midori, Abiko. Would make a great secret base for an underground newspaper or moonshine distillery. My 4th sketch of 2018.

Hello, hope you are well.

I could bore you with a lengthy discussion of the jip I’ve been having with my back, but the bottom line is: I’m on the mend. The plus side too of slipping a disc is if I need to set a murder in an Abikan massage parlour or while our hero is strapped to an MRI table, I’ll be able to get the details spot on.

Also this month, I’ve been busy designing three textbooks for a neighbouring eikaiwa language school and have another fiction-related project on the horizon that may bring in some yen. And Hana Walker will make an appearance in a new novel and eight short stories later in the year.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. By way of remembering the folk who died in the Tohoku tsunami seven years ago this month, I’ve made my memoir of a trip through the tsunami zone, Children of the Tsunami, free to download over the next five days. Find it on Amazon or just click on any of the links to Amazon at the bottom of this blog post between now and March 5th, and the sweatshop bots will send you a free copy.
  2. Within telephoto lens distance of Kamakura and at a loose end on Saturday night, March 3rd? Alexander O. Smith (remember my interview with him of Keigo Higashino translation fame?) is holding a photo exhibition at a swanky coffee shop. Get off Instagram and get on the Yokosuka Line, pronto. Details here.
  3. Think the Tokyo Olympics 2020 mascots are a bit odd? Meet Spaboon, half medicine spoon, half baboon, in my interview with Little in Japan comic artist Chris Carlier.
  4. This was the best book I read last month.
  5. I found these Japanese woodblock warship prints from the turn of the century stunning.
  6. I meant to post Kanho Yakushiji doing his heart sutra with acoustic guitar to mark the New Year, but forgot. Now is as good a moment as any though.
  7. Catch my video review of the eight books I read in February, from the sublime to the pie-chucking ridiculous.
  8. Next month, I’m going to try to read this lot.
  9. Crime writer Mark Billingham goes through the BBC archives in search of the perfect sleuth. I haven’t listened to all three hours yet, but I (and you) have a fortnight before the rerun goes back in the vault.
  10. QOTM: Have you heard any good books lately? (Are you into audiobooks? Why or why not?) I only ask as I’ve been listening for a year or so and I find them great for when you’re doing the washing up, and a cheaper way to get newly published trad books, but there’s a dearth of Japan-related books, especially mysteries. But I may be doing it wrong.

    To answer, just hit return 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: Which do you enjoy reading more, physical or e-books?

    Linda Lombardi: My experience with ebooks vs print lately: I’ve started borrowing print books from the library to economize instead of automatically hitting the buy button on Amazon. After reading ebooks for so long, I am finding that going back to print can be inconvenient in funny ways. First of all, print doesn’t have its own light! I keep settling in with a library book in one of my favorite spots and finding that I can’t see to read. Second, you have to hold a print book open with your hands, how are you supposed to eat a sandwich at the same time?

    However – for manga/comics I still prefer print. This is foolish, because you can zoom in on the ebook and if I’m trying to read Japanese I need those tiny furigana. But I can’t get comfortable reading comics as ebooks. I’ll do it sometimes when it’s a lot cheaper but I’m always sorry. Not sure why – it’s partly because my devices are too small, but even when I’ve borrowed a larger one, the experience is not as good.

    David Rudlin: I sell 10x+ more in Kindle than in paperback. That may overstate the degree of preference, as Kindle pricing is lower and I only do promotions on the e-version (can’t afford to in paper!). And I probably have an atypical readership. But it does indicate which way the wind is blowing I prefer to read on Kindle. The only problem is, since I’m not reminded of the title every time I pick up the book, I rarely know what it is I’m reading!

    Maria Godebska: Which do I enjoy reading more? Overall, it’s much of a muchness. Drop either one in the bath and you’ll be cursing your clumsiness. I love reading, so whatever form it takes, I’m happy. That said…
    *I can read a backlit e-book in a dark place, which is less easy to do with a physical book, so that’s good. **I giggle inside to think that I am carrying hundreds of books on my e-reader with me everywhere I go.  I previously had to carry two paperbacks with me every day (it had to be two, in case I finished one), or at least one book and a couple of decent magazines.
    ***The ease of hearing about a book, looking it up online, deciding to buy it, and receiving it, all within ten minutes, is fabulous (also bank-breaking).
    On the other hand…
    X The massive drawback to an e-book over a physical book is the inability to flip back and forth within pages, to check on something I have already read. I find it frustrating, especially when chapter titles show how much time has passed, or when books have a lot of characters who I find it hard to keep track of.
    XX I live in fear of the e-reader battery running flat.
    XXX  Illustrations and photos are generally rubbish on a standard e-reader. I recently bought a collection of graphic stories on Story Bundles, and cannot read them on my portable e-reader. I have had to download them again onto my PC, where they will no doubt sit and collect e-dust as their pages fade and turn e-llow.
    In conclusion…erm…?

    Guy Yates: I’ve had an eReader since late 2010. I’ve been through three Sony readers and currently on a Kobo. Really liking the Kobo as it is the first eReader I’ve had with back-lighting or in Kobo-speak ‘Glo’. Through this choice of technology I have been epub all the way and never got on the Amazon bandwagon. I certainly read more with electronic format and I’m not missing the touch or feel of holding a real book in my hands. I rarely read anything longer than a blog post or newspaper article on my smartphone. Too many distractions on the phone does not make for a conducive reading environment methinks. The foregoing all holds fine for fiction. With factual then my preference is for paper – albeit I do have a few paper fiction books on my reading list (including the one you signed and donated to me). Unlikely to convert back completely to paper but as a break from a job which revolves heavily around screen work, the lure of paper becomes a little more each day. Either that, or I change jobs. I’d agree with your thinking that paper is long from dead and I really should do a little more myself to help keep it that way.

Thanks for reading, have a good month. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review 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 on social media, or buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice!



February 2018


Despite a slipped disc, snowfall twice in Abiko and ever-mounting work commitments, the show will go on… here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. I’m very pleased to announce the publication of 100 English Phrases for a Trip to the UK. It’s for beginner or intermediate English language students (and their teachers). If you’d like a free paperback review copy, just reply by email and I’ll pop one in the post for you. “Cor Blimey Guv, it’s tipping it down,” isn’t one of the expressions, neither is “I’m awfully sorry old bean.”
  2. In a no-holds-barred interview with me, Baye McNeil answers my questions about writing for the Japan Times, publishing memoirs, oh and his recent campaign against blackface in Japan.
  3. This was the best book I read last month.
  4. And here I am reviewing by video all the books I read last month. Will get the studio ship-shape and properly lit in time for the newsletter next month.
  5. More amusing Japanese haiku about the mysteries of modern life.
  6. Here’s a good article on Van Gogh’s Japan fixation, if you need a primer before seeing his exhibition in Kyoto which runs until March.
  7. This take-off of a Japanese design brief for an advertising campaign could well be fake, but it amused me anyway.
  8. My 100 Phrases for Dental Assistants got a welcome shot in the gums with two new reviews, one in English and one in Japanese.
  9. Hey, what happened to the third Hana Walker mystery novel, you might be wondering? I actually worked on it every day for two straight weeks in January, but I have other deadlines pressing for English language textbooks… try one of these Japan mysteries slated for release in 2018 instead or read along with me one of these books I’ll be diving into this month.
  10. The QOTM is: Which do you enjoy reading more, physical or e-books? I’m curious as for me, the answer keeps changing. The convenience of Kindle is great, but the experience of producing a print-only phrasebook has left me thinking print is not dead by a long way. Your thoughts would be most welcome. You can answer the question just by replying to this email, and I’ll share the responses with subscribers next month.

    Last month, I asked What are your New Year’s reading resolutions?

    Craig Scanlan: I have a pattern of upping a Goodreads yearly quota, failing to make it that year, and then making it the next year. I made it halfway to 50 this past year, shooting for it again this year.  I’m totally moving away from social media to escape all the nonsense, political trash, and BS, so it’s getting easier to just dive into good books, but I also have an addiction to great long-form journalism (across nearly any sphere) that has a propensity to cut into my Goodreads “whole actual book” totals. As such, I should probably just give up on quotas and enjoy just reading, but hitting that mark is somewhat addictive and I want to get to that that 50-book mark while still reading tons of long-form articles on random things like Silicon Valley sex parties, the Olive Garden’s enduring appeal, and what it’s like being a teenage girl (and yes, a few long-form articles on all the political BS, which at least FEEL less like political trash because they’re 15,000 words and only smart, insightful people write 15,000 words, right?

    Maria Godebska: I don’t make resolutions, but the bookcase near my bed has two full, double shelves of books-in-waiting, going back several  years in many cases. Probably about fifty. Every so often I dust off their yellowing tops and sides, sort through them, and retire to the back room (filled with bookcases of read books) those which are a lost cause. The only one that preys and weighs on my mind as still unread is called “Gifts of the Crow :How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans” (when I went to check the complete title, Amazon told me “You purchased this item on September 14, 2014.”) I bought this after I had started forming a relationship with my neighbourhood crows, and I find them to be wonderful birds. This books sounds fascinating, and I would learn a lot from it. But… buying a Kindle has been a blessing in many ways, not least for my lower back. I am unable to be without something to read, so always had to carry a book with me, which added weight to my bags. No more. Kindle has opened up avenues of genres I would never have tried out except that the e-books were cheap or free, and immediately available.  But my physical books have been sorely neglected. This year I have to start carrying a paperback with me again, and I shall start with the crows. I shall learn more about them, so that when they take over the world, I shall be spared in The Final Apocawlypse.

    Anthony Fensom: Hope to read more books in 2018 too – your list looks like a good start.

    Michael Pronko: I want to read with a stronger sense of structure. I read for work, for the seminars and classes I teach, a constant flow of short stories, poetry and novels, as well as watching films. I re-read and outline all the works in detail every time. That takes a lot of time to bore down into those works and pull out a workable outline and notes of the works to prepare for classes. I think outlining is super-helpful to reading deeper, reading better. Structure outlining to me means looking for the flow and patterning of emotions, themes, symbols, images. I want to strengthen that reading/structuring ability. And just the opposite, I like to read broadly about all kinds of topics, happiness, stoicism, politics, visual art, Zen, jazz, work, love, creativity. That keeps the abstract part of my brain stretched out and flexible, I feel. It’s broadening, but also like cherry picking interesting ideas. For me, this kind of reading is very catch as catch can. I pile the books up and when one’s done, I pick the next one that strikes me as interesting. I think it’s not enough just to read to know how to write, that would be like reading about how to play basketball. You must read-then-write right away. This is more of a re-resolution.

    Martin J. Frid: Read more.

    Guy Yates: To finish reading all the le Carre’s. I have three left after I finish my current read The Russia House. Want to read more second in the series books. I have gone through many enjoyable first novels and have a long list of authors to revisit. So rather than actively search out new talent this year I will re-read enjoyable known talent. And start writing reviews. The author spent time creating something I might enjoy. I should at least spend a fraction of that time letting them know how well they did at that.

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 or Goodreads, 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 on social media, or buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice!

Next month, I hope to have Thersa Matsuura’s answers collated and ready for public perusal.



January 2018


It must be that time of year again, this was on our front door today.

Happy New Year!

I wanted to say I do hope you have a good 2018, and thank you for subscribing to this newsletter. I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t for you. This may sound trite, but it’s absolutely true. Feel free at any time to drop me a line by replying to this email and I will reply to you. Just saying, ‘preciate ya.

Anyway, on with the show. Here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two:

  1. I had a great old time being interviewed for Self-Publishing Journeys podcast, which was released on Christmas Day. You can listen to me here talking about self-publishing in Japan, the Quakebook charity project, the Zen of Manchester United and Japanese Christmas traditions involving fast food outlets.
  2. I managed to read 50 books this year. I reviewed all of them here too. Just click on a cover to read the review.
  3. The best of the lot? Probably this one.
  4. I had so much fun reading 50 books, I thought why not double the number in 2018? To keep me focussed, and let you in on what I’m reading, I thought I’d post what I plan to read every month. Here’s my reading list for January.
  5. It’s all part of the publishing plan for 2018.
  6. But enough about me. Here, former newsletter interviewee Kaori Shoji picks (in English) the best of Japanese writing of 2017.
  7. Know next to nothing about Japanese art? That was me too, but not now I have read this great roundup.
  8. I read this article about how Google’s reading voice AI is now indistinguishable from humans and thought. 1. This is the end of civilisation. 2. Can I get them to do me an audiobook of Hana Walker on the cheap?
  9. Oh, and for folks who enjoyed last month’s excellent interview with Alex O. Smith, translator of Keigo Higashino and other Japan crime greats, here he is talking about translating video games. The guy is top banana, as is loyal newsletter subscriber Guy Yates for supplying me with the link.
  10. Question of the month: What are your New Year’s reading resolutions?Last month, I asked “If you do, why do you like to read crime fiction?” Here are the top (all) four replies, as always thoughtful and much appreciated:

    “I think it fair to say that my wife and I don’t read true crime, however we read, or watch on TV, the mystery sort of crime. My wife is interested to see how the foibles of human nature, the same across all times and cultures, lead to the undoing of the baddie. The same passions that caused the crime in the first place usually lead to their discovery. For me, I enjoy matching my wits with the detective’s process. Of course the writer almost always withholds some key detail from me, the reader, while allowing that same detail to the detective, so I know I can’t solve the puzzle first. One writer observed something along the lines of how we, the readers, seek justice in these stories. Much further development along those lines is possible of course. The entire quote eludes me at the moment. Perhaps we do read because we sense that the world needs to have justice done, and the mystery novel most always ends with some kind of justice being done. It satisfies us that the innocent is justified, and the guilty condemned. In real life that is so much messier!”
    William Holiman

    “The annoying answer is escapism, pure and simple. Chewing gum, entertaining, nothing like the life I have, need, or aspire to Pick it up, put it down, come back to it and keep reading, good for a commute, and for a tired, bored, distracted, or annoyed mind.”
    Maria Godebska

    “I agree that for me it’s more about the journey and what we see on the way. There are only a limited number of ways to construct a plot, but an infinite variety of characters/settings/etc that you can hang on that plot, so it’s not the plot that’s going to be unique and interesting. If the resolution of the mystery is disappointing, that does cast a bit of a pall on what went before. But as I get older it’s gotten harder and harder to find books I like to read, so the way I try to look at it is, if I was having a good time for 95% of the book before the solution was revealed, at least I got that 95% of the time enjoying it. I think the main reason I read crime fiction is that unlike “literary” fiction, you can rely on it to have a well structured story. Although crime fiction has gotten more pretentiously literary in some cases, there’s still only so much it can get away with. You can get all the interesting stuff about fiction – character development, insights into society – that you’re supposed to get from fiction but the writer is obligated to maintain a reasonable plot structure and wrap things up coherently.  This might sound like it contradicts my first point but I don’t think it does – the plot structure IS important because it’s necessary to hang the other stuff on, but it’s the other stuff that’s what makes it interesting.”
    Linda Lombardi 

    “I enjoy crime fiction to be entertained primarily. The addition of a puzzle to be solved will always get my attention. But I typically just read the words and not try too hard to be cleverer than those on the page and reach my conclusions as to who dunnit most likely after they have told me. I do tend to stick to certain geographies: Europe and Asia mainly. So another reason for reading is the chance to travel but remain in the comfort of your own armchair. Way more fun that watching it on the idiot’s lantern as my mind can make up much more vivid pictures of the locales. It’s always fun to walk down some of the streets identified in these novels. Being in Copenhagen I’ve been down a few of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q stomping grounds. Currently reading the most recent Peter Hoeg which is also set in Copenhagen.”
    Guy Yates

Thanks for reading, have a good month and year. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on any of my books on Amazon or Goodreads, email me 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 buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice!

Next month, I’m intending to have an interview in the bag with gaijin queen of Japanese folk horror, Thersa Matsuura. Until then, all the best,



December, 2017


Tonegawa. This abstract-ish watercolour on B4-size paper was inspired by a bike ride last month along the banks of the river that forms the northern border of Abiko. I was going to chuck it away as a failed painting, but it kinda works.

Hey, it’s only just December, but  I have a few early presents for you

  1. Months in the making, this interview with Keigo Higashino translator Alexander O. Smith that I posted yesterday didn’t disappoint. Getting lots of feedback already from readers that it was really good. And it is. Read it, share it and forgive me for the headline.
  2. Loyal newsletter subscriber Maria Godebska read this article and learned pictures of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima A-bombings, not to mention photos of Japanese Americans in US internment camps in the 1940s were being sold online by Wal-Mart marketed as ideal posters for American children’s playrooms. Agent M promptly rallied her Facebook minions to join her in leaving disparaging online reviews. As far as I’m aware, the pictures have since been removed from sale. Abiko salutes Agent M’s efforts.
  3. Just as the presses were about to roll on this newsletter, author Thersa Matsuura posted this fantastic resource — a list of 100s of links to free quality university-level sources of learning. Check them out. Better than a lame excuse as to why my third Hana Walker novel is still incomplete which was going to be this bullet point. Oops, I may have said too much.
  4. I’d started listening to the 24-hour-long audio book translation of Hideo Yokoyama’s police procedural Six-Four with high hopes. Read my significantly briefer review of the book here.
  5. Fifty years after it was first published, The Master Key by Masako Togawa has been rereleased in English by translator Simon Grove. Looks interesting if you like locked-room mysteries or yarns about post-war Japan.
  6. I heard about the above book from Crime Fiction Lover, as mentioned last month, and loyal newsletter subscriber Guy Yates added that Euro Crime and Shots Mag Confidential are worth keeping tabs on too.
  7. The six arcs of all stories, as identified by AI (and Kurt Vonnegut).
  8. My Hana Walker short stories for Japanese teens got their first ever reviews in Japanese on Amazon here and here. Yay!
  9. Tis the season for middle-aged men to wear silly hats, and I’m no exception to this rule. Watch this two-minute video and learn how I’ll send to the first three folk who email me a real book as a Christmas present. I’ll even sign it for you if you want.
  10. QOTM. Last month I asked “Do you prefer your crime fiction dark or cosy, or somewhere in between?” I got a number of great responses, here are my selections, posted without attributions as I forgot to ask if folks minded being quoted:

    “I honestly feel sometimes like being really dark is a cheap trick, a cheap way to get taken more seriously. Which drives me crazy because I’m willing to bet that violence is a heck of a lot easier to write than, for example, humour.”

    “I had a book idea rattling around in my head for about 2 years. It concerns a serial killer who writes up his exploits in chapter form, and has them delivered to the police. Despite his literary gifts he’s a very sick puppy — so sick I thought he wouldn’t fit in with my usual trio of cheery detectives. But when I started writing the book I recycled those characters, largely out of laziness. The resulting manuscript was — I thought — good. But I worried whether it would be off-putting to (both of) my regular readers. So I sent it to a few friends and asked for an opinion. The widely shared response was that (a) it was the best work I’ve ever done (b) the evil character was fascinating and (c) I’d be mad to consider creating a new series just to accommodate the villain. To be fair, my psycho had a good sense of humor and wrote with tremendous wit; a less charismatic baddy might have had a less welcoming reception.”

    “My honest and unhelpful answer is Both, if written well. I have always loved crime fiction. In the last couple of years I have read cosy cutesy “bed-and-breakfast” or “bakery in a small town” stuff, and extremely descriptive blood’n’guts stuff, and supernatural crime fiction, and historical stuff, and steampunk-based detectives. If it’s good it’s good. However, I am not a fan of books which don’t know if they are a cultural guide to a country / historical guide to a time past.”

    “You need to pen something along the lines of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There’s so much potential with Japan as a backdrop. If you do write the big one, it’s gonna be very big I think, and I hope you get film rights.”

    “I guess I like my crime fiction realistic: so at times it’s gritty and coarse and others it can be cosy. I also appreciate some humour – either dry or comic. Not averse to a little ‘ghostly’ intervention. I’m reading to be entertained and not necessarily hunting for hidden agendas and meanings. I’m also not that fussed if I solve the case before the professionals do.”

    This month’s question: If you do, why do you like to read crime fiction?I only ask as I’ve been trying to nail down what the essential element is to what makes a crime yarn one worth spinning. For me, it’s the journey and the stuff we learn along the way, rather than the mechanics of solving a crime and seeing justice done, but I’m not sure and would appreciate your thoughts, which I’ll naturally share with all subscribers next month.

Thanks for reading, I hope you survive the holidays. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review 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 buy one of my books. Abiko salutes you!

Next month,  there’s going to be a very special interview with a great Japan-based writer… it’s me! No really, I was interviewed by UK author Paul Teague for his Self-Publishing Journeys podcast and it will go out on Christmas Day. I’ll link to it on Facebook and twitter on the day and will post it in January’s newsletter for anyone who wants to hear me trying to sound like someone who knows what he’s talking about.

All the best,



November, 2017


“Nihonbashi” (Watercolour and ink on B4-size paper) Just happened to find myself looking at the famous bridge in Tokyo from the windows of a restaurant last week. The bridge was a little underwhelming since there is a whopping great motorway plonked on top of it. 


I’ve been getting my head down between typhoons and writing a little every day on the third Hana Walker novel, and every day I oscillate from thinking what I’ve written is my best stuff ever, to knowing it’s the worst thing anyone has ever strung together and called writing (outside of Twitter). Twas ever thus.

While I wrestle my self-doubt to the ground, here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. I had a very fun, free and frank discussion about writing books with thriller novelist and screenwriter Simon Lewis. He flits between Japan, China and London, but writes some seriously good stuff in between. My interview with him is here.
  2. Want a worthy (but slightly dull) list of 100 books vital to the understanding of modern Japan? There’s one here. I only have one of the books listed on my shelf, Roland Kelts’ Japanamerica about Japanese culture invading the US, and I haven’t read it yet…
  3. But I did read two stonking books on Japan: Higashi Inoue’s comical but moving Tokyo Seven Roses (as recommended by a loyal newsletter subscriber) set on the Tokyo home front in the final days of the war (my review here), and Keigo Higashino’s more formulaic (but enjoyable) contemporary whodunnit The Salvation of a Saint (my review here).
  4. I didn’t know anything about the banned Japanese feminist magazine from the 1910s, but now I do, you can too.
  5. All of Japan is talking about a gruesome case of nine mutilated bodies found yesterday in a young man’s apartment. Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein writes up the case here. I prefer my crime decidedly more fictional. True crime is just too implausible.
  6. I bought a new microphone for doing videos and took it for a spin by reading three poems by Brit-in-Japan Paul Rossiter.
  7. I try not to link to the Gomiuri, but this article on old folks in manga was interesting. And short.
  8. I always enjoy the You Are Not So Smart podcast, and this “Narrative Persuasion” episode was good on using stories to change minds.
  9. I subscribed to Crime Fiction Lover and it looks like a great review site for Brit and US crime fiction. Haven’t searched it for Japan crime, but it’s probably there.
  10. QOTM: Last month, I asked “What is your all-time favourite children’s picture book, or one that you would buy for your or your best friend’s kids?” Books I’d not heard of were recommended by Maria Godebska, who plumped for Eloise, the original, and Linda Lombardi who frequently gifts this featuring pigs. I have an asexual, easy-to-draw grumpy cat in mind who can teach English vocab to preschooler Japanese that I’m testing on kindergarteners next week. It’s a living. This week’s QOTM: Do you prefer your crime fiction dark or cosy, or somewhere in between? I only ask, as I’m thinking of developing a new crime series set in Japan and am toying with going darker, and it would be helpful to know what your take is.

Thanks for reading, if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko.

Next month, if Abiko is still here after Trump’s impending visit to Japan, I’ll post the long-delayed, but almost complete interview with Alexander O. Smith, Keigo Higashino’s translator. Have a good November.