Martin J. Frid was born in Malmö, Sweden, in 1966, near Bulltofta Airfield, famous as an emergency landing field and safe haven for damaged returning British and American aeroplanes during World War II. He moved to Tokyo in 1988 to teach English, write, play the bass guitar and travel, not necessarily in that order. Working at NHK World at the time, his first book was published in Japanese by Kodansha in 2009. Kamikaze to Croydon is Martin’s first published novel in English. His editor, Patrick Sherriff, asked him about the experience of writing and publishing the novel.
Patrick Sherriff: What’s your new novel about?
Martin J. Frid: I got interested in telling the story of what it must have been like to live in Japan back when pilots were heroes, and the idea of breaking a world record to fly to Europe fired people’s interest, and how these two pilots dealt with the pressure and the excitement. Yet, it was a very humble time, in spite of the technological advances. It felt like a story worth telling, especially in light of current events and the parallells drawn to that era, the 1930s.
How did you discover the story of the flight to London?
Back in 2009 or so, blogging was popular, and I was doing a blog called Kurashi News from Japan. A blog I really liked, Pink Tentacle, did a post about some postcards from 1937 they had found at the Boston Museum collection. I was intrigued because I had never heard of the Kamikaze flight back then.
And how did you research the details?
One thing I did was to visit the Iinuma Masaaki Museum at his home town in Nagano Prefecture. It is a small museum, but suddenly seeing his own personal belongings like his passport and maps with the course indicated with red pencil, as they must have flown over Europe… that really started to trigger my imagination. Both Iinuma and his navigator, Kenji Tsukagoshi from Gunma Prefecture, became increasingly real to me and I almost felt like they were the ones with stories to tell, not me. Of course, I also read as much as I could about the era and the aeroplanes of the day. Youtube helped a lot. Old videos of planes from the 1930s? Bring them on.
Why did you feel compelled to write their story as a novel?
There are a few non-fiction books in Japanese about their 1937 flight but I felt I wanted to make it come alive. To do that, especially to a non-Japanese reading audience, fiction was the only way for me to tell their story. Plus, it was a lot of fun to take liberties and invent characters.
What was the hardest part of the writing process?
Getting it published! Initially, I sent the manuscript to a few standard publishing houses, like Tuttle. So nothing much happened for about five years after a couple of formal but final rejections.
And the easiest or most enjoyable part?
Working with other people on the manuscript, getting it knocked into a shape that is really a novel I can feel proud of. Publishing on Amazon also turned out to be easier than I had been expecting because you had done it before and knew how to help me avoid all the time-delaying mistakes and mishaps.
How did publishing the novel yourself compare with working with a traditional publisher?
When Kodansha published my non-fiction book in 2009, we spent endless hours in meetings at their office in XYZ, Tokyo. With this, I could do 99% from home. That’s on a very practical level, and worth mentioning, I think. If you do it yourself, you are totally in control of the time it takes, and how to get it done. You set your own deadlines. and that is very fulfilling.
Who would enjoy this novel?
I hope anyone with an interest in aviation, especially the history of flight, will read it. A special group of course is anyone with an interest in Japan’s colourful history. I think there are a lot of discoveries to be made about events in the 1930s, and to think about the bravery and confidence that these guys shared with the rest of the world, as a goodwill flight, before the war.
How did you come to Japan?
By air to Narita, from Kuala Lumpur, after a very long flight from Los Angeles…
What’s next for you?
Promoting Kamikaze to Croydon will be great. As I write this, I’m planning a trip to the Croydon aerodrome museum in London in early August. To actually visit that famous airport and its archives, will no doubt be an amazing experience, and a nice way for me personally to think about how my interest in telling the story began. It will be a way to sum up my experiences since 2012 and my visit to the other museum in Nagano.
Kamikaze to Croydon is available here.
Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.