12 Jul 2018
27th October 2017
JET experience inspires novel
Behind the scenes of Hijacking Japan
By the book's author Christopher Hood
In 2005, I started jotting down a bullet point list of ideas for a book. They flowed largely when I was filling the time as I travelled around Japan as part of my job, to visit universities that offered exchanges. The fact that I had just written a book about Shinkansen also meant I could draw upon some of my knowledge about that. But I didn’t want the book to be merely about a train or its hijacking.
As I planned the story, I had to develop characters. As my daughter had been born two years previously, I wanted the central character to be female. I also thought that a female lead would help provide a counterbalance to the world of trains, which is dominated by men. It also seemed logical for the character to have some sort of JET Programme-like background.
That the Shinkansen was a central feature of the book provided a natural rhythm; there is a timetable to be adhered to. And so the bullet points turned into a timed list. In turn, these became the chapters. This pattern also allowed me to develop a real-time style of writing; each minute being 170 words. I think the influence for this form also came from the TV programme 24, which was popular around the time I started working on the book.
The system is not perfect as it assumes no variation in the speed people talk at, for example. However, it provides a flow and dynamic that provides both excitement and tension, whilst allowing readers to get to know the characters better. A consequence of the style of writing was that the book grew to be much bigger – over 150,000 words in total – than is typical for novels.
In writing the novel, I also had another objective; to blur the boundaries between “good” and “bad.” I am always frustrated with how many books – and movies, especially – work in a simplistic two-dimensional way. Too often, the identity of the “goody” and the “baddy” is clear, but are people really like this? Are the good always good? Are the bad always bad?
During one summer when I was writing the book, my daughter, who was eight years old by then, asked whether she could read it. As the book was going to be aimed at an adult market, the answer was no. But I then realised I could alter certain parts of the text to make it more accessible to different audiences. The result is that there is more than one version of the book.
Originally I had no idea whether I would ever complete this book. It was just a hobby that I spent only a few hours on each week; and it was often used as a means to help me get in the mood for writing, of which I have to do a lot as part of my academic work. There were many weeks when I did no work on the novel. In fact, for about three years I hardly touched it. But, one day, I got back to it and decided that I wanted to ensure it got finished. I was also spurred on because I now had ideas for other books on which I wanted to work, but knew I couldn’t move ahead on them until this one was completed.
Initially I thought that, if I did publish it, I would use a pseudonym. However, that was quite restrictive. There are not many English language novels set in Japan and the number set on Shinkansen is even fewer. That I had written an academic book on Shinkansen increased the probability that one day somebody would guess that this book was by me. So, rather than go through the charade, I decided I would use my real name. This allowed the book to take a major step forward as I could throw more of my experiences of Japan and places I have visited into the text.
After around 11 years of writing and a further year of editing, the book was completed in early 2017. Now it’s time to turn to my next novel.