Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Christchurch 360

I may have mentioned it before on this blog, but there's a 135 km-long loop trail around my hometown called the Christchurch 360 Trail. Affectionately known as The Meurky Way in honour of its chief architect, ecologist Colin Meurk, it was designed to highlight the diverse ecology of the area, which ranges from marshes and wetlands to dry savannah ecosystems, from verdant bush remnants to the exposed hilltops of the Crater Rim. It was officially opened in 2015.

Though I've done a lot of hiking around Christchurch over the years as part of my training for longer walks in Japan, with the exception of Te Araroa (the 3000 km trail extending the length of the country), the thought of doing an epic walk in New Zealand has never appealed to me. But times have changed. I've already had to cancel a planned trip to Japan next month due to the corona virus, and it's unlikely I'll be going there again for a while. Who knows when we here in New Zealand will be able to indulge in international travel as freely as we once did?

This new reality got me thinking about doing a longish walk closer to home. And what could be closer than a trail almost literally on my own doorstep (the Christchurch 360 Trail passes less than 2 km from my house)? I wouldn't have to travel to get to it, so I could do it all at once or in stages, choosing fine days and taking breaks if the weather turns bad or if my knees start to play up again.

Of course, I'd have to wait until our lockdown ends before attempting this. And since I'm so out of shape, I'd have to do some training first. But after the ignominy of having to abandon my last walk, I'm looking forward to trying something a little less challenging. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

SWEDEN reviews

So, reviews of my debut novel, Sweden, are trickling in, and so far they're pretty good.

In the Midwest Book Review, senior reviewer Diane Donovan describes Sweden as: 

"... a moving, multifaceted story that cements its plot with strong characterization, astute cultural insights and social inspection, and a backdrop that will seem both familiar to any regular reader of Vietnam novels and alien to those anticipating the usual military encounters." 

In his review for the Asian Review of Books, Bill Purves writes:

"... this is not a novel about Sweden, but a few hours with Sweden will be well spent. You’ll come away with an interesting picture of mid-century Japan and an appreciation of a little-known movement with a place in modern history."

On his blog, Throw Out Your Books, William Andrews (author of Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture from 1945 to Fukushimawrites:

"Across its 300-plus pages, the novel encompasses a wide range of characters and settings. Along the way we encounter activists, hippies, servicemen, girlfriends and culture clashes aplenty. It portrays a vibrant, exciting time at the end of the 1960s, packed with the passion of personal entanglements, street riots and ideologies."

And finally, writing for the The VVA Veteran's Books in Review II, Angus Paul says of Sweden:

"The narrative keeps moving, thanks to Turner’s efficient prose, as well as an attractive supporting cast. The Beat poet Gary Snyder shows up at a Buddhist temple. And JATEC operatives—the jazz enthusiast Masuda among them—show resourcefulness in guiding the deserters on their individual perilous journeys."

Sweden is available in paperback and ebook formats and can be purchased through the following outlets:

Directly from my publisher, The Mantle
Your local bookstore (in the US)   
Book Depository

Thursday, 18 October 2018


Some photos from a visit the other day to the recently opened Christchurch central library, called Tūranga. Christchurch has been without a proper central library since the 2011 earthquake, so it's good to see this up and running. It's a beautiful space, full of light and with lots of wood used inside. It's also in a great location on the edge of Cathedral Square. Though they don't seem to have a lot of books on Japan (considerably less than in the old central library, if my memory serves me correctly), they did have one that I've been keen to read for sometime: Walking the Kiso Road by William Scott Wilson.

Monday, 2 July 2018

My debut novel, SWEDEN, is set in...Japan

It's 1968. As war rages in Vietnam, a group of American deserters holed up in Japan plot their escape with help from local peace activists. Their destination: Sweden.
Based on true events, Sweden takes readers on an exhilarating journey from the killing fields of Vietnam to a fogbound fishing port on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, with stops along the way at a hippie commune in Japan's subtropical south and a student-occupied university in Tokyo.
Sweden is your passport to discover a part of American history you never knew.

August 1, 2018
327 pages
pb ($14.95) and ebook ($3.95)
Historical Fiction | Japan | War
5.5" x 8.5"

Available for pre-order from the following:

The Mantle (Buy directly from the publisher for $9.95) 
Small Press Distribution
Book Depository 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Day 6: Yoshinohara - Kasukabe

Distance covered: 16 km
Weather: Fine

After breakfast at my hotel in Omiya I rode the New Shuttle to Yoshinohara Station, which is where I had originally planned to finish walking on Day 5. It was a beautifully fine day and my blisters weren't bothering me at all. I felt confident of reaching my goal of Minami-Sakurai, some 22 km east along Route 16. But soon after setting off I had to negotiate a pedestrian overbridge, and on the descent my knees again started hurting. I reminded myself that pain never killed anybody (I don't know where I heard that expression, but it seemed appropriate) and tried to think positively as I pressed on. But the traffic-clogged road and less-than-scenic surroundings made it difficult to remain optimistic.

Thankfully, the congestion eased as the morning progressed, and I was even treated to some semi-pastoral scenes in the form of rice fields complete with one or two egrets. Further on I noticed some farmers planting rice, and stopped to watch them working.

But such enjoyable moments were few and far between, and by lunchtime the pain in my knees and the constant noise and fumes from all the cars and trucks had become unbearable. I looked at my map and saw that Kasukabe Station was just a couple of kilometres away. I could head straight there and catch a train to Chiba, where I had booked a hotel for the next few nights. The pain and suffering would end. It was very tempting.

Up ahead was a Saizeriya, so I decided to stop for lunch and think over my options. By the end of the meal I had made up my mind to abandon my walk. It all came to the fact that I simply wasn't enjoying it. Also, I had very little to lose by stopping. I wasn't doing this to prove anything to myself or anybody else. The only downside I could think of was that I would have to admit that the people who told me I was foolish to try to walk the length of Route 16 were right. Sure, it's possible. The fact that I had made it this far proved that. And there are some pleasant stops along Route 16 that have much to offer the traveler on foot, such as Yokosuka, Yokohama and Kawagoe. But with the exception of the stretch along the coast of the Miura Peninsula (and possibly on the opposite side of Tokyo Bay in Chiba Prefecture, though I don't know because I didn't get that far), there didn't seem to be enough in the way of pleasant scenery in between these places to provide relief from the monotony of the bland suburban landscapes and relentless traffic. Maybe I'll go back some day and complete this walk (I don't like leaving things unfinished). But somehow I doubt it.  

Monday, 14 May 2018

Day 5: Rest day

Distance covered: 0 km
Weather: Gloomy

Dear reader, the knees were still sore. I decided they needed a day off, which would also help my blisters heal. So after hanging around my hotel in Shinjuku for most of the morning, I took the train to Omiya, from where I was determined to resume walking again the following day.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Day 4: Hachioji - Kawagoe

Distance covered: 36 km (by train)
Weather: Mainly cloudy

With my knees still giving me trouble, I decided walking 36 km was out of the question. After breakfasting at the hotel restaurant on all-you-can-eat bread, a boiled egg and coffee, I went to the station and caught the 8.17 train to Kawagoe. 

The train journey to Kawagoe took an hour, as opposed to the seven or so hours it would have taken on foot. I also saved myself a lot of pain and discomfort. As I walked from the station to the warehouse district, it started to drizzle. It continued to rain on and off for the rest of the day, but it didn't really bother me. It was my first time in the city, and I enjoyed strolling around looking at the old buildings, many dating from the Edo period.

Just after midday, I headed back to Kawagoe Station and caught a train to Shinjuku. There I checked into the hotel where I'd spent my first night before heading to Kannai and where I'd left my suitcase. After resting for an hour or so I went out in search of a pair of knee supporters. I found what I thought were some reasonably priced ones at Tokyu Hands, but when I got back to my hotel room and removed the packaging I was horrified to find just a single supporter inside. At first I was angry. It seemed bizarre to me that knee supporters would be sold individually and not in pairs. I mean, nobody buys just a single shoe. So who on earth would buy just a single knee supporter? The answer, which when it came to me made perfect sense, was people who have one sore knee! Anyway, after another rest I went back to Tokyo Hands and bought another one. I also got on the Internet and found some exercises designed to relieve knee pain. With any luck I'd be better by the morning and able to resume my walk along Route 16 from Kawagoe.