Looking for more photographs showing the Japan background to my Bath Novel Award shortlisted novel You’re Beautiful, this one felt like a piece of ancient history with its pre-iPhone mobile, and my fags sitting on the table. Yes, I used to smoke. And even though it’s seven years since I gave up and I don’t actively miss smoking any more, I know I used to love it. Smoking and drinking. Smoking and writing. Two of life’s top smoking combos. And Japan was a fabulous country in which to be a smoker. Everyone smoked, everywhere. It was cheap. There were cigarette machines on every corner. Smoking was cute and sexy (proof below). Japanese cigarettes had great names, like Hope, and Peace, and Keith.
I was a regular smoker for twenty years and then it took me ten years of stopping and starting again before finally giving up for good. During that decade, there was a period when I didn’t smoke for three and a half years. Oh no, people say, sympathetically, when I start telling this story. What on earth made you start again? Were you depressed? Stressed out? No. It was because I was having an absolutely marvellous day on this very beach. It was late afternoon at the height of summer, I was with a group of friends, we were sitting on the sand having a beer with the beach bar in full swing behind us, and in front of us a couple of fire dancers started an impromptu performance. And then out of the heat haze Mount Fuji appeared on the other side of the bay, a rare sight in the summer. Everyone on the beach cheered. A cigarette was all that was needed to make the moment perfect.
A version of this scene made it into the book. Nothing to do with smoking, you’ll be glad to know; it marks a significant turning point in the emotional journey of Lisa, the main female character:
“Look.” His hand is still clamped over hers, but he is staring across the bay. She looks where he is looking and there is Mount Fuji, outlined in gold as the sun sets behind it, the spectacularly perfect cone shape rising up to dwarf the surrounding mountain ranges. In the bar and along the beach, people have stopped to point and stare; some are even cheering. In front of the bar a couple of fire dancers begin to gyrate, spinning their flaming batons to the accompaniment of a djembe. He has removed his hand, but her flesh retains its warm imprint.