This is where the seed for my Bath Novel Award shortlisted novel You’re Beautiful took root: in the garden of the little grey-walled house you can see second from the left in the above picture. This was my weekend seaside cottage when I worked as an editor at a large Tokyo book-publishing company. Every Friday evening I’d go straight from my desk to the station and take a packed commuter train from the centre of the city out towards the suburbs. After Yokohama, the train would continue to empty at every station until it reached the seaside town of Zushi at the end of the line. Then I would take a local bus down a darkening coast road to my village. Even in the middle of summer the sun sets in Tokyo by about seven-thirty, and by the time I got to my bus stop, night had fallen. I found the final stage of the journey really scary: getting off the bus in the silent village, walking down the deserted lane, dragging open the squealing, rusty garden gate, and stumbling in the pitch black through weeds and spider webs to the front door, terrifying myself with thoughts that someone might have followed me off the train, onto the bus, and into the garden and might be standing behind me as I stabbed blindly at the door with my key, trying to find the keyhole. And that fear was the starting point for the novel—a man on a train going from the centre of Tokyo to a suburban seaside town develops a fixation on a girl he sees in his carriage every week.
Despite those moments of irrational fear every Friday evening, I loved my weekends in this little house. My friend Greg and his family would arrive on Saturday morning to take up residence in their weekend cottage, the low, wooden, red-roofed building on the left, and there would always be barbecues and friends visiting. I’d usually spend the mornings writing in that upstairs room with the red shutter, and the afternoons reading or watching the waves on that blue sun lounger you can see in front of those glorious canna lilies. In case you’re curious, the dilapidated green-roofed house on the right once belonged to Charles E. Tuttle, a pioneer in publishing Japan-related books for the English-language market (whose company I was later to work for as an editor).
Both our weekend cottages are gone now; Greg had them knocked down to build a lovely new house where he now lives year round, and I imagine the Tuttle house must have met its demise by now. That little white house is probably still standing though. It belonged to an old couple I never met or even saw. I heard them though. Or rather, I heard him. I’d be lying in bed in the middle of the night and I’d hear a liquid sound that was out of sync with the rhythm of waves breaking onto the sand. It took me a while to realise that the old bugger was peeing out of his bedroom window into my garden. I must have given him a terrible fright (perhaps even induced some urinary tract damage) the night I yelled out of the window at him to stop, but after that he never did it again.
Got a whole treasure trove of You’re Beautiful related pics and stories to come . . .