Autonomous Author

Autonomous Author

Iain Maloney on being a foreign author in Japan


Iain Maloney

Foreign authors in Japan aren’t all writing about shoguns and geisha, otaku culture or Harajuku fashion. Iain Maloney writes about places and eras dearer to his home.

The Scottish author’s third and latest novel—and his first to be published—First Time Solo, is a tale of young, British men on the home front in 1943 who learn to fly and play jazz.

The settings of his stories also reflect the writer’s environment—in particular, his current country of residence.

“I’ve written a lot of short stories set in Japan, and one day I hope to collect them all into a book,” says the Aberdeen-born Maloney, who moved to Japan with his wife in 2005.

“The novel I wrote before [First Time Solo], Dog Mountain, was set in Japan with all Japanese characters. It was about political corruption and abuses of power—as well as being a thriller with odd fantasy elements, like talking dogs.”

Maloney’s writing has manifested in various genres of expression: short stories, poetry, haiku and articles on music, travel and literature. But his heart remains closer to writing novels.

“Novels are where my passion lies,” says Maloney. “I love the sprawl, the structural possibilities … the space that a novel gives you.

“I’ve written four [novels], of which First Time Solo was the first to be published. The first I wrote is too embarrassing to show anyone, the second was shortlisted for the 2013 Dundee International Book Prize and the fourth will come out sometime [in 2015].”

Maloney also harbors an interest in writing for the screen and stage, but is first eyeing translating works by Japanese authors to bring their works to an international audience.

“Not enough contemporary writers are given exposure in the English literary world. I’d love to bring out a book showcasing … lesser-known Japanese writers like Ryuichiro Utsumi and Nao-Cola Yamazaki—and all the ones I’ve never even heard of yet. There’s so much great literature in this country that the rest of the world deserves to enjoy.”

Asked about the trappings of writing stories with foreign characters or settings, the writer says it’s all too easy to fall into the usual clichés. “It takes a brave, imaginative leap to free yourself from viewing a culture as an outsider, and to believably inhabit the psyche of someone from that culture, with all the different pressures and expectations that follow.”

First Time Solo (Freight Books) has been shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, and is available on Amazon (¥1,660). You can follow Iain Maloney at his website: