Japan best-selling mystery writer looks overseas

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Some authors might decide that being one of their nation’s best-selling writers is good enough, but not Japanese novelist Miyuki Miyabe.

Japanese novelist Miyuki Miyabe is seen through her books at an interview with Reuters in Tokyo November 26, 2007. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The prolific, popular and prize-winning Miyabe, who has 46 novels to her name and has been translated into 11 languages, is now capitalising on intense overseas interest in Japanese manga comics and anime films, and fellow writer Haruki Murakami, to take on the English-language market.

Miyabe, who rarely gives interviews, spoke to Reuters recently on the publication of her fifth novel in an English translation, “The Devil’s Whisper”.

Q: Tokyo is nearly another character in your stories.

A: I was born and raised in Tokyo. I don’t know if all the world’s cities are like this, but it has two faces. One is the face that everyone knows: the economic power, the bright, shining place where all the political power gathers and all the people of strength come together.

But there’s another face, the place where ordinary people live. These people can’t take part in the beautiful, bright Tokyo, it’s kind of a scary place. This is the Tokyo I write about. The real image of Tokyo is hard to get a grip on. All of Japan is like that. If you see Tokyo in anime it’s very hard and modern, and this is not the Tokyo I know.

Q: What do your books have to offer overseas readers?

A: I thought that all I had done was write about Japan. There are a lot of people writing mysteries and people who take up all sorts of big international issues. To my way of thinking there are so many things that could be translated.

I thought breaking into the English market would be impossible since I write such very Japanese-oriented things, that the translation of “All She Was Worth” (her first English translation) would just become a nice souvenir for me.

But one of my first translaters said: your work shows what Japanese are thinking, how they live, what they want. I realised this was true.

Q: How do you see yourself in comparison to Murakami?

A: Murakami’s works are in their very own world. I don’t think I have the strength to do that kind of thing, I just write about modern Japan.

I write suspense and thrillers, I’m an entertainment writer. He writes pure literature. I want to be the kind of writer that people keep reading and reading. If my books can show just a little more of what Japan is and what it wants, I’ll be happy.

Q: How did you get started writing? I’ve heard that you worked in a law office and wrote in your spare time.

A: Most people around my age who are mystery writers in Japan wanted to be writers from childhood, but not me. My father worked on the line of a small factory, and my mother was a seamstress. It was a neighbourhood of people who worked with their hands. There was nobody who wrote, who worked at a desk, who was a writer. I loved to read but I never thought I’d be a writer.

I went to classes to learn to write only as a hobby at first, like going to a piano class or studying flower arrangement.

On work days I couldn’t write, if I stayed up late I couldn’t get up the next morning. So I wrote on Sundays and holidays.