Author’s Notes; Culture

Writing a story set in another culture to yours, and probably to your intended audience’s, throws up some interesting challenges. Writing a story set in another time is an additional complication. Just ask anyone under 14 to operate an audio cassette recorder without instructions. There are compromises to be made, often because it would take too long to explain, thus interrupting the main purpose of entertaining the reader.

Daughter of the Katsura was first written using the Japanese names or terms for many objects. It was initially thought that it would help add flavour and authenticity to the story. But it proved to be a stumbling block for some readers. It interrupted the narrative flow in the reader’s mind, if only for a split second, as they recalled the meaning or stopped to check the glossary.

For example; the kimono was a later garment, not worn in the period my stories are set in. The characters should be dressed in kosode, a shorter garment. But by using “kimono” most readers would know what I meant straight away. Was it worth making the distinction?

The Japanese family and personal names also presented a hurdle. Some readers had difficulty in keeping track of names, leading to problems as outlined above. But there is no real solution to this except to use simpler names for supporting characters.

Customs, manners, courtesies and prejudices are harder to get across to the reader without heavy handed explanation. Cultural sensitivities towards errors, omissions and misrepresentations must also be taken into account where possible. All I can hope is that the reader enjoys my interpretation of what Michiru’s world might have been like.

In the words of Lian Hearn, author of “Tales of the Otori”,

“I hope I will be forgiven by purists for the liberties I have taken. My only excuse is that this is a work of imagination.”

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