Monday, 30 November 2009

An Interview with Marianne K. Nishibayashi

Marianne K. Nishibayashi is the author of My Dearest Osan. She talks to us today about her current book and her plans for her next writing project.

Marianne, what inspired you to write My Dearest Osan?

In October 1998, my Japanese grandmother sent me a box of papers. Inside that box were old photographs, postcards, letters, drawings; a collection that captured my family's history on paper. Almost everything was familiar, as grandma had shown me the contents of that box many times when I was a child. One collection of papers was unfamiliar, however - pages of handwritten Japanese that looked very old. I couldn't read them. My mother couldn't read them. Grandma told me she'd explain the contents when she visited that Christmas - she said she was the only one who could read the antiquated Japanese they contained.

Before translating the contents to me (though she admitted she knew them by heart so was really reciting rather than translating) grandma told me all she knew of the back story. A relative on my grandma's side of the family had written the letters in the latter part of the 19th century (I named the relative Sankatsu and moved the time period to the beginning of the 19th century for the book). There were numerous scraps of incomplete letters, and two whole letters, one of which told us what grandma already knew - Sankatsu's sister had been sold by her father and the two girls hadn't seen each other for many years. The fragments and second complete letter painted a picture that sparked my imagination. Family rumours, handed down over many decades, added to that picture.

My grandmother had her theories about what had happened to the two sisters. She was still thinking up new ones, she said. She shared all of them with me. Some detective work and research, and a lot of my grandma's imagination, transformed those pages of writing into the preliminary pages for "My Dearest Osan".

Are you still trying to uncover what really happened to the two sisters?

Yes. I don't think I'll ever give up trying to find out more about them. I received some letters from a relative just before the book came out who said she had more information, and I'm going to visit her when I go to see family in Japan next year. I'm hoping to uncover more letters, as my grandmother was always sure that there had been more of them in the family when she was a girl.

What are you working on at the moment?

Another book set in Japan - this time the end of the nineteenth century. I'm right at the beginning of this project and I'm not fixed on how things will pan out. It's a story about a young woman who marries into a well-to-do family, believing that she's really landed on her feet. However, a strange sequence of events leads her to question whether her new family is all it previously appeared to be, so she begins to investigate her husband's past, discovering three previous wives and a number of children who died in infancy along the way.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I have two very lively children, three equally lively cairn terriers, and a mad cocker spaniel. There's not time to do much at all when I'm not writing. When I do get some free time, though, I like to walk. We live in a very built-up area, so it's nice to hit the road and head out into the countryside - breathe in some fresh air and walk in the woods.

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