Interview: Paul Broadhead – Author of Tremors
By Adam Clery on May 16, 2012 in Art & Design
We’re considerably better read than both our spelling and general demeanour would let on here at KYEO. The only problem is that we’re not given the opportunity to talk to you about book as much as gigs, or art, or funny gifs. Which simply makes us all the more delighted to have come across Tremors, the story of life in post-earthquake Japan, written by local author Paul Broadhead, and illustrated by Let’s Buy Happiness songstress Sarah Hall.
Telling the personal tale of Paul’s trip out in the immediate aftermath of one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in living memory, Tremors has recently been released in both e-book, and real life paper formats. I caught up with the author to find out the story behind the story.
First of all , what made you want to keep a journal of your experiences?
I’ve travelled quite a lot and always kept travel journals so there was no big decision to keep one this time, so it’s actually something that I would have done regardless of whether there’d been an earthquake or not. I keep journals for personal use; partly due to a poor memory if I’m honest. Sometimes little extracts or stories of real-life experiences can work their way later into a piece of fiction but on this occasion, it seemed very much like this was the story.
Given how sureal living through something like that must be, was it ever tempting to write the book away from the first-person, and possibly turn it into a work of fiction based around your experiences instead?
Not really. When I got home from Japan, I realised there was a story here that should be told and to me the ‘hook’ was always a personal account from someone in a strange land at a strange time. At times it is an intimate story, especially in regards to the personal relationships, so a temptation could be to turn it into maybe a romance-in-troubled-times story, but to me that would have trivialised the nature of what was happening in Japan at the time. I think some of the most interesting stuff for readers will be the differing media portrayals of the situation and I think it hits harder in terms of the seriousness of the situation as being an actual historical document or period piece.
You’re a writer by trade, but how did keep ing a journal like this differ from the styles and processes of writing you’re more accustomed to?
I’m afraid that I’m actually merely an office monkey with aspirations of eventually paying the bills with my writing, but it’s certainly different to the fiction I’ve written. If you were to write an entire book in three weeks whilst travelling, your head would be stuck in your notepad and you’d miss the feel of what was going on around you. So it’s important to come up with a method that works for you. I’d never remember everything so I made notes when I got the chance and took plenty of photos then fleshed it out and tried to make some sense of it all when I got home, whilst still trying to maintain the feelings that I was having at the time. That’s important when writing up a journal I think; don’t appear wiser than you were at the time. You have to reflect the innocence you had in the moment or the moment will be lost forever.
Had you known before you flew out, what you now know about about what would happen and what you’d experience, would you have gone? Would you have done anything differently?
Absolutely. Never for a second did I consider not going. Whether it’s the writer and need for adventure in me or not I don’t know, but if anything the situation made me more determined to go. Friends joke that if I’m off on my travels, then that country had better be warned. Japan at the time of its worst natural disaster, I was in Thailand when they had the political uprising and protestors took over the airports and I’ve been to Israel which is always on edge but it was just a week after they attacked a Palestinian boat and tensions were particularly high. I can’t think of a single thing that I would have done differently, though you can never know too much of a country’s dialogue before visiting.
When, and why, did you decide to try and have the journal published? How did you go about doing that?
When I got home and started fleshing things out I realised that it could work. But I realised there was a story when I was following the media portrayals of what was happening. There were two very different versions of events between the media back home and the Japanese media. I just had to make sure I could reflect that. I went very much down the DIY route that is publishing these days. I’d been in touch with Bangkok Books – who specialise in books about Asia – before with a novel I’d written called ‘Butterfly Me, Butterfly You’, which was set in Thailand but reading it now, I’m glad that never came about as I wasn’t ready as a writer. It’s not ideal; there’s very little, if any, money to be made and the promotion is completely left to the author but publishing houses are feeling the recession as much as anyone and the chances these days for new writers are very few and far between.
Even once accepted, a book can get stuck in development hell for years and I thought this had to get out there whilst the earthquake was still fresh in people’s minds, which was why I always had the one year anniversary in mind for its release. It was a lot of hard work at times but I made it so it was very worthwhile. I’m also a bit of a luddite; I love the feel, the touch and the smell of a book. I love turning the pages so I paid for my own print run which the publishers organised. They sort out the Amazon and other sales distributions too but I’m sure there are plenty of other similar publishers out there or if you have the time and the knowhow, you can put your own stuff out. Charles Bukowski put out his own stuff until he was nearly 40 and that was before the days of the kindle. It’s been a learning experience and it’s great to say I’ve had a book published, but for the novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years, ‘Release’, I’d prefer to go down a more traditional route.
Sarah Hall of Let’s Buy Happiness fame did the cover art for you, how was it she came to be involved in the project and what do you feel her work adds to things?
I had an image that I originally wanted to use but after an initial positive response from the designer, it fell through fairly close to submitting the final edit to the publishers so there was a chance the whole thing might fall through. I’ve been a huge Let’s Buy Happiness fan for a couple of years and always liked Sarah’s artwork that featured on their records so I was thrilled when she said she was interested. I came up with the idea for the Manga style artwork and already had the ruptured flag concept, but Sarah took those ideas and did something wonderful with them. I can’t stress how massive that was because it’s the first thing people see before they pick up a book and read it. In a way, I really hope people do actually judge my book by its cover.
How does being “home” feel after the events in the book? What perspective has it given you on day to day life? Do things like paying a gas bill or getting a hole in a sock feel considerably more trivial in comparison?
To a certain extent, I think we’re always changed by these experiences, even if we don’t realise it. We’re a sum of our parts, the things we’ve done and the people we’ve met. If we don’t take anything from these situations, be they positive or negative, then it’s a waste of time. Travelling is the greatest learning experience I can think of. Educating ourselves is how we become more tolerant and understanding of other nationalities and will ultimately make for a better world. I think the most important thing to remember, in order to give ourselves perspective, is that life continues after the experience. I left Japan’s troubles behind but Japan’s troubles haven’t left them behind. There’s still a story to be told after the final page has been turned.
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