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 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Sweden II

Very happy with the cover design (by Jose Lucas) for my forthcoming novel.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Route 16 schedule

So, in just over a month I'll be setting off to walk the length of Japan's National Route 16, which more or less encircles Tokyo, from Yokosuka in Kanagawa prefecture to Futtsu on the other side of Tokyo Bay in Chiba prefecture. Below is my schedule. I've given myself ten days to cover the 241 kms. There are some long days (37 km!), but I won't have much gear and as far as I know there are no major hills. I've done about as much training for this walk as I did for last year's Oshu Kaido hike, which is to say very little! I know the scenery won't be like the kaido I've walked over the last ten years, but I'm looking forward to seeing some places on the outskirts of Tokyo (Yokosuka, Kawagoe, Kashiwa) that I've never been to before.

May 10 (Day 1): Maborikaigan - Yokohama (30 km)
May 11 (Day 2): Yokohama - Sagami-Ono (25 km)
May 12 (Day 3): Sagami-Ono - Hachioji (20 km)
May 13 (Day 4): Hachioji - Kawagoe (36 km)
May 14 (Day 5): Kawagoe - Yoshinohara (15 km)
May 15 (Day 6): Yoshinohara - Kasukabe (22 km)
May 16 (Day 7): Kasukabe - Kashiwa (25 km)
May 17 (Day 8): Kashiwa -Chiba (37 km)
May 18 (Day 9): Chiba - Sodegaura (30 km)
May 19 (Day 10): Sodegaura -  Futtsu (22 km)

Hmm. Just realised those distances add up to 262 km. Don't know how I got the extra 21 kms. Probably I added a bit on some days to account for walking to my pre-booked accommodation, which in some cases is off Route 16. At least it's not less than 241!

Sunday, 28 January 2018


Not so much a new post, but an update on an old one from March 2011(!). So, the novel I've been working on for more than seven years is due to be published later this year. It has a title: SWEDEN. And a publisher: The Mantle. I'll be posting more details, including the publication date, as they become available. But for the time being, here are the photos I posted back in 2011 as clues to help those curious determine the subject matter. If you can identify the people and places in the photos, you should have a good idea of the true story on which SWEDEN is based. There may also be (or not be!) a clue in the title.

Friday, 20 October 2017

It was ten years ago today...

Nihonbashi, 13 November 2007
Ten years ago today, on 20 October 2007, I flew out of Christchurch bound for Osaka to begin my first epic walk - the Nakasendo. Two days later I met up with my friend Erik in Kyoto and on 23 October the two of us set off on the first leg of our 22-day, 534-km hike to Tokyo.

We arrived in Nihonbashi in fading light on the evening of 13 November. I remember feeling a mixture of exhaustion, relief, fulfilment and joy. But I also felt sad. Sad that the walk, which I had been planning, writing about and thinking about for more than eight months, was over. There was only one thing to do. Plan the next one.

I have since completed four more epic walks in Japan, the latest back in May this year. Soon after returning to New Zealand I began thinking about my next adventure. And today I can announce I am in the middle of planning not one, but two more treks in Japan.

In May next year I intend to hike Route 16, the 241-km national highway that all but encircles Tokyo, from Yokosuka on the Miura Peninsula to Kisarazu on the opposite side of Tokyo Bay on the Boso Peninsula. Along the way I will pass through such scenic spots as Hachioji, Kawagoe, Saitama, Kashiwa and Chiba. I have set aside ten days for this journey.

Then, in October 2019, I will be teaming up with Erik again to do the Shikoku pilgrimage. At 1150 km, this will be by far the longest walk I have ever attempted. It will take us around a month and half to complete. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Day 5: Shirakawa

Distance covered: 4 km
Weather: Cloudy

Day 5 dawned cloudy but minus rain. Thankfully, my shoes and most of my clothes had dried overnight. Those items that were still damp I put in a laundry bag and attacked with a hairdryer. After breakfast, I packed and checked out of my hotel, leaving my backpack at reception to pick up before returning to Tokyo by train later in the afternoon.

With just the clothes I was wearing and my bumbag, I set off just before 9 am to rejoin the Oshu Kaido. Being a Sunday morning, apart from a few people out walking their dogs, the streets were practically deserted. It felt strange not having the weight of my pack on my shoulders. I even felt slightly guilty, as if I was somehow cheating. As I neared Komine castle, the streets became narrower and I noticed the odd ancient-looking kura. There was also the occasional dogleg, a feature still common in former castle towns and originally designed to slow and confuse attacking armies.

With less than a hundred meters to go and the castle in sight, the reality of what I was about to achieve, not just in completing this walk but in completing the task I had set myself nearly ten years earlier of walking all the go-kaido (the five Edo period highways) hit home. A feeling of pride and  contentment washed over me, but I also felt a pang of sadness, as if without that goal my life had lost some meaning. These mixed feelings stuck wth me as I passed through the gate and into the park that now surrounds the castle.

Like the majority of castles in Japan, Komine castle is a modern reconstruction. The original castle was built in the mid 14th century. It was reconstructed and expanded in the mid 17th century, only to be destroyed some two centuries later in the civil war between the forces that supported the Tokugawa shogunate and those that favoured the return of political power to the Imperial court. The three-story keep was reconstructed in 1991, and three years later one of the gates was restored. However, these structures and some of the surrounding stonework were damaged in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and while I was able to look around inside the keep, some areas of the grounds were still being repaired and were fenced off.  

After a leisurely lunch, I walked to the nearby Shirakawa station and took a train one stop to Shin-Shirakawa station. I walked to my hotel, picked up my pack, and returned to the station to catch the 1.56 pm bullet train back to Tokyo. The journey back to Tokyo took just under an hour and a half. Along the way we made a brief stop at Utsunomiya, where four days earlier I began this walk. The bullet train covered the 90 km in 25 minutes!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Day 4: Nasushiobara - Shirakawa

Distance covered: 28 km
Weather: Rain

Clad in my wet weather gear for the first time (though my Gore-Tex hat, identical to the one my walking partner wore during our Nakasendo walk ten years earlier, had already served me well as a sun hat), I got down to reception at 7.50 am and found the taxi I had ordered for 8 am already waiting. Minutes later I was on my way back to the intersection of Routes 72 and 34. The driver was super friendly and asked lots of questions about my walk. It was the first of several cheering encounters on this otherwise gloomy day.

Soon after rejoining the Oshu Kaido I crossed the Naka River, which looked so pretty I felt compelled to stop and take a photo of it. Like most of the photos I shot this day, it was taken with my iPhone aside a plastic ziplock bag, which explains the somewhat foggy appearance.

Half an hour later, I once again felt obliged to stop and take a photo, this time of the ichirizuka (Edo period route marker consisting of a mound topped with a tree) at the former post town of Terago. I later found out this one is actually a re-creation built in the 1990s, but it was impressive all the same and was surrounded by a pleasant little park with a shelter under which I took my first break of the day.

The terrain was becoming more undulating, and in addition to the ubiquitous rice fields I found myself passing cattle farms and forests. Early on I had taken care to avoid stepping in puddles, but after an hour or so I realised my feet couldn't get any wetter and I abandoned this tactic altogether.

I trudged on, enjoying the scenery but also looking forward to lunch, which I had decided to take at a restaurant in Ashino just past the 10 km mark. When I got there, however, I found it was closed! Disheartened, I wandered over to the building next door which appeared to be some kind of community meeting place. I opened the door rather tentatively to be warmly greeted by two women who invited me to come in and sit down. They poured tea for me and gave me a plate laden with food including sansai (foraged wild vegetables). It was delicious! My hosts were so friendly and it was so warm inside I was reluctant to leave, but I knew I had to press on. Before I set off, one of the women warned me that there was nowhere to buy food between Ashino and Shirakawa. I already knew this from looking on Google maps, and was resigned to the fact that I would have nothing but Scrummy Mix to sustain me for the rest of the afternoon.  

The rain was relentless, and knowing that if I stopped I would get cold, I walked the next 10 km without a break, stopping only briefly to take photos of the many interesting sights along the way, including some lovely old kura (storehouses) and other interesting buildings with kura-like features.

A house attached to a kura (?)
A house (?) with kura-like windows
There was a bit of a climb at the end of this segment as I approached the highest point on the Oshu Kaido (428 m), which also marks the boundary between Tochigi and Fukushima prefectures, but it was nothing compared to what I had faced on earlier walks. Still, it was time for a break, and noticing a set of steps leading up to a shrine on my left I climbed up and found shelter under a large wooden gate. The shrine (Sakai no Myojin) looked intriguing, and had the weather been better I would probably have spent some time exploring it and taking some photos, but it was getting cold and I was eager to press on and so after a bit of a rest and a snack I set off again. 

I soon regretted not taking the opportunity to put on an extra layer of clothing underneath my wet weather gear, but I couldn't be bothered finding somewhere sheltered to stop again and rummage around in my pack and so I continued on until I reached a convenience store on the outskirts of Shirakawa, by which time I was warm again anyway. There I took a much needed bathroom break. I had less than 5 km to go, but I desperately wanted to sit down and eat something hot and I needed coffee, and looking on Google Maps I saw there was a McDonalds just a few kilometres further on. Getting there became my next goal.

I struggled on in the rain, taking little notice of my surroundings. I barely paid attention when a car pulled up beside me. Then I heard a voice with an Australian accent say, "Do you speak English?"
I stopped, turned to look at the driver and sole occupant of the car, a young woman with auburn hair in a floral dress. My first thought was that she was lost and wanted to ask me directions. But it turned out she had seen me walking in the rain and was concerned that I was lost. I reassured her I was fine and that I was walking the Oshu Kaido (I'm not sure she knew what that meant!), and we both laughed before the little traffic jam she had caused by stopping obliged her to drive off.

It was warm inside the McDonalds. I found a table and took of my pack and my wet weather gear and ordered an EBI Filet-O (like a Filet-O-Fish but with a patty made from shrimp), fries and a coffee. It was yummy! Checking on Google Maps, I saw that I was less than 500 m from my hotel. But the thought of putting on my (soggy) wet weather gear and leaving the warmth of the restaurant was not a pleasant one. I didn't want to leave!

When I did eventually get to my hotel room, the first thing I did was hang up my wet clothes to dry. I also took the insoles out of my shoes and gave them a good wipe down. I hoped they would dry by the morning. I was thankful that the next day was my last, and that I only had about 4 km to walk.