Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Sam Baldwin, I’m from the UK, and I’m the author of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan, which is an account of my time spent living and working in small town, backcountry Japan. The book is an outsider’s view of rural Japan and the Japanese, and focuses on the people, natural landscapes, food and general culture of the lesser known part of this amazing country.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
For Fukui’s Sake is an entirely true account of my experiences in rural Japan and around the country. I tried to make it quite varied to include as many different aspects of life there as possible, including: teaching English in a rural school, climbing snow-clad mountains with a local legend, learning about samurai swords with a togishi (a samurai sword-sharpener who lived nearby), pulling in nets at dawn with local fishermen, feelings of alienation in a place with so few other westerners, paddling kayaks on deserted lakes in the mountains, and Japan’s biggest music festival – Fuji Rock.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
It may sound strange but I did most of my ‘writing’ whilst walking. The school where I worked had a dog that lived there, and I would always walk it whenever I had a free period. It was whilst roaming the rice paddies that I formulated many of the chapters in my head, which I’d then dump into a word document when I got back, before refining at a later date.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
I guess there are all sorts of mistakes you can make; perhaps one is to write a book that offers no new angle on a well-covered subject area. Before you start, it’s probably a good idea to think about what niche you’re going for and if there’s any room in that niche for what you want to write.
For me, a criticism I’ve had from some readers is that they were expecting more of the content to be about my experience in the classroom as an assistant language teacher on the JET Programme.
There are a couple of chapters about my teaching time but I chose to write more about everyday life outside the classroom, as in my opinion, there are already several books published that cover teaching in Japan in good detail.
I wanted to offer another angle about a Japan that was less explored, hence why I focussed more on everyday life in Japanese countryside, largely outside of the classroom.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I think a title needs to be eye-catching, but also ‘findable’ in an age of search engines. If you want your book to be found you need to have at least part of your title referring to the book’s subject material, rather than something very abstract.
Covers should also catch the eye and again, in the age of Amazon you should think about a design that can still be read when it’s only a small thumbnail image being viewed on a mobile phone.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
At the time of this interview, For Fukui’s Sake has more than 250 reviews combined across Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars which I’m very happy with.
Anyone who puts their creative material out to the public, has to be ready for criticism and it’s good to use it to improve your work. Some of the negative reviews have valid points and if I were to rewrite the book from scratch, I would for sure make a few changes.
Overall, as long as the good reviews outweigh the bad – I’m happy.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The best is when you get a glowing review or when people contact me to say how much they enjoyed the book and the positive effect it had on them.
The worst was probably the final stages of completing the book, when it was basically written, but still needed lots of minor edits and proofreading. That was certainly the most boring part.
The most surprising is when people interpret deeper meanings from the book than I ever originally intended. When I was in English class at high school, reluctantly pulling apart Shakespeare or Dickens, I always wondered if the author originally planned to create all these hidden meanings and metaphors that our English teachers would project onto us.
Now I know that sometimes, readers can find more in a book than the author ever intended.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers?
When I was putting the book together and thinking about which stories over my two-year period to include, I definitely tried to think which ones readers would find most interesting. For the most part, I based that on what I found interesting. However, I also solicited feedback from friends to see which parts they wanted to hear more or less about, which helped me shape the content.
What are your plans for future books?
I now live in the amazing county of Slovenia, which surprisingly, has some similarities to rural Japan (see my article: https://breghouse.com/2018/07/15/7-similarities-between-japan-and-slovenia/ ). I currently write a blog about life in Slovenia (www.BregHouse.com/blog) but I’m working on something more in depth, so perhaps a book one day.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I’m a big fan of snowboarding and mountains and have travelled to some interesting places to sample the slopes, including Kashmir, Macedonia and of course Japan. In fact, snow was the main reason I became interested in going to Japan in the first place, and it has continued to shape my life since then.
You can read more about the book at: www.ForFukuisSake.com or find it on Amazon.