Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Talking Dogs and Englishmen: An Interview with Patrick Sherriff

Our Man in Abiko: Are you a proper writer?
Patrick Sherriff: I don't know if I'm proper or not, I just do it. I've just published my second novel, I'm working on my ninth textbook for Japanese kids learning English. I've published two short stories, an essay on how to write about Japan that was downloaded over 15,000 times last year and I published my first adult colouring book last month. So. Are you a proper blogger?

Hey, hey. Our Man asks the questions here. Why does everyone want to be a writer? What's wrong with being a rock star like in the good old days?
I don't have the looks to do anything else. I can't speak for others and I can't second guess myself all that well. What can I say? It's just one of those things. People say you have to have passion to be a success at a profession, I guess that's true. The closest thing to a professional passion I have is writing. There's just something about it that gets me going. Maybe I was praised at an early age by a teacher, and I wanted to get my dad's approval? I'm a natural-born smart arse, what else is there for me to do? I spent 13 years in newspapers, but when it became clear even to my short-sighted eyes that newspapers were dying, I was kind of relieved to put the 19th century hierarchies inherent in the newsroom behind me. Hey, in the modern world you don't need any of that stuff, just an internet connection, something to say and you're away.

Do you want to take this opportunity to slag off traditional publishing and praise the world of self-publishing?
Not particularly. I think the business is moving on. Trad is in decline and the self-publishing business model is becoming the industry default. People can argue all they want about whether that is a good thing, I have argued that it is, but the reality is the successful business model will prevail, whatever you or I think. And that's not the traditional publishing model. (The clue is in the title "traditional"). Anyway, readers don't care about the publishing industry, they care about good books.

So what's the new book about?
Year of the Talking Dog is the latest adventure of Hana Walker, a half-English/half Japanese orphan who finds she is on her own when her fiancé is killed in Tokyo.

Sounds pretty morbid...
It isn't really. Hana's quite the resourceful heroine. She has no choice but to find solutions to problems herself. She's an honest person, mostly, so when she becomes aware of a masked man following her on the streets of Shibuya, she must keep her wits about her to stay one step ahead of him and find out what really happened to her fiancé. As she says in Year of the Talking Dog, decisions are easy when you have no options.

So she's completely on her own?
Not completely. There's a drunken Shinto priest, family friend Uncle Kentaro, whose "help" is problematic to say the least and a nerdy manga fan convenience store clerk who takes a shine to Hana.

Ooh, a love interest?
I couldn't possibly say.

Where did you get the idea for the character of Hana Walker?
I had an idea back in 2010 for a mystery exploring the problem of international child abductions in Japan. I thought I needed a protagonist who could straddle the different worlds of East and West. I took my own biracial, bicultural daughters as a starting point and just upped the sassiness on the page. Then the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown happened and that became the natural backdrop for the plot of the first Hana Walker mystery, Half Life.

So folks should read that one first?
No need to. Year of the Talking Dog makes sense on its own with a complete, self-contained story. But of course, read both of them to get a stronger sense of the characters and their world.

Can we expect to see any more Hana Walker mysteries soon?
Yes, I've started work on the third one. It will be out before the end of the year.

One last question. What's the meaning of the title, Year of the Talking Dog?
That would be telling. But I will say this. Back in the 1990s, I was chatting with an Australian English teacher on Yasakuni Dori in Kudanshita, Tokyo. A Japanese tourist was clearly lost and my Aussie pal gave directions to the underground station in Japanese. The tourist was stunned to be addressed in flawless Japanese by an obvious foreigner and stared at him. My friend laughed. He said: "It's like he just saw a dog put down his bone and start talking." For some reason that line stuck in my head all through the years.

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Patrick Sherriff is a former newspaper journalist with stints in the US, UK and Japan. He is working on his third Hana Walker novel in between writing and illustrating textbooks for non-native speakers of English. He lives in Japan with his wife and two daughters.

Click on a link below to get Year of the Talking Dog right now for a special introductory price from any Amazon store, including and

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