Investigative journalist Jake Adelstein once astutely tweeted: “Abiko is not so much a place, as a state of mind.” This is both true and false. Abiko is a place, and a damn fine one too, on the eastern edge of Tokyo.
Ever since Hana Walker came to me shortly after the triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown hit Japan on March 11th, 2011, I’ve been grappling with questions of truth, lies and trust.
What is true of Hana’s story is for the reader to decide. But there are some questions of accuracy that should be addressed. Firstly, chronology. I’ve no reason to believe that what Hana described didn’t happen, it’s just that Hana’s timekeeping seems somewhat off. A few examples (I’m sure the diligent reader can find more):
• The severity of the meltdown at Fukushima only became apparent from midnight March 12th, not March 11th as the twitter feeds that she provided indicate.
• Abiko was not a hotspot of radiation contamination in the immediate days following the earthquake. This unwelcome distinction is believed to be due to the rains that fell on March 17th or 18th, as I recall, so Hana’s claim to have overheard Sgt. Watanabe talking about the city being a hotspot on March 12th cannot be correct. Hana must have been suffering the effects of Grandpa O’s muscle relaxant to be so confused.
• The rush of flyjin (a pun on gaijin, the Japanese slang for foreigner) at Narita Airport, if it happened at all, certainly didn’t happen in the hours after the earthquake. The British Embassy did lay on an emergency flight days later to evacuate any British ex-pats to Hong Kong who wanted to leave, but I understand it was not even half full.
• Prime Minister Naoto Kan didn’t resign until Friday, August 26th, 2011, despite Hana’s recollection that he did on March 13th. This is a matter of public record. After much thought, I included an abridged version of his letter of resignation in this book because, although it happened outside the timeframe of Hana’s story, his resignation was a direct result of the events of March 11th. How Hana could have become quite so confused, I cannot begin to speculate.
• Prince Akishino is indeed the patron of the Japan National Bird Festival, president of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology and fan of the Beatles. Though the festival in Abiko is usually held in November.
• Many of the tweets included in Hana’s account bear marked similarities to those that I tweeted myself in those dark days of March, so I have no reason to doubt their veracity. If Hana’s description of Ishinomaki rings true, it may be because it bears a striking resemblance to a trip I took here in May, 2011.
There are other parallels that I would be remiss not to mention. The discussion of lucky stone foxes being used to predict stock market fluctuations sounds remarkably like an equally unlikely but true episode involving a ceramic toad in Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr. Much of Uncle Kentaro’s philosophy seems culled from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan. Max Frisch did indeed say “Truth is the best disguise,” in his play The Fire Raisers. I did not look for a source for the phrase “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” as it was a favourite of my mother’s.
My only knowledge of the ways of the yakuza comes from Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, who kindly verified the truth of the phrase Konna namaiki na busu shinjae. My only knowledge of Mormonism is from Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. My only knowledge of business English comes from Doing Business in English, a Berlitz textbook from the 1980s, still considered a key text in the use of bills of lading and fax cover sheets.
There is no record of any dumping of nuclear waste in Teganuma in the 1960s, though perhaps that is to be expected since any evidence would have died with Hana’s father, God rest his troubled soul.
I would like to thank best-selling thriller writer Barry Eisler for his early encouragement and for demonstrating what is possible in the brave new world of self-publishing.
I am indebted to the beta readers who diligently and expertly hunted down errors of fact and judgement from an earlier draft of Half Life, and encouraged me to soldier on. An aspiring author could ask for no better beta readers than Sandra Barron, Lynwen Davison, Dan Elvins, William Farr, Pierre-Yves Genot, Good and Bad Japan, J.C. Greenway, Nancy Reed Imai, Jesse Johnson, Bill Jokela, Brian Lynn, Michael Gillan Peckitt and Mary Raikes.
And a special thanks goes to Chief Editorial Lackey (1st Class) Dan Ryan who baby-sat this project with me and is one of only two people on Earth, outside the intelligence community, obviously, who knows just how awful the first draft really was. Any errors that have slipped through to the book you see before you now are entirely my fault.
Some final points before you nip off…
At the time of writing, Japan had still not joined the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, making the premise for this book still all too real for children caught in the middle of international marriages that break down.
If you would like to learn more about the disasters of March 11th, 2011, a good place to start is 2:46 Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, also known as Quakebook.
And thank you for reading. If you have any comments, please feel free to do so or sign up for a newsletter to find out when the next Hana Walker mystery will be available.
The final thanks go to my wife, without whose love, patience and instant coffee, none of this would have been possible.
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.