Novel Experience Podcast Transcripts - S1 Ep1 Emily Itami
Novel Experience is a weekly podcast for writers and readers where authors chat candidly about writing and books. Full of writing advice, reading recommendations and reflections on the experiences that lead authors, to through and beyond publication.
Series 1 Episode 1: Costa First Novel Award Shortlisted author Emily Itami (FAULT LINES). Chats to Kate Sawyer (THE STRANDING, THIS FAMILY) about the experiences that led to her being published, Japan, writing her second novel, writing around work and children and how editing is her favourite part of the writing process.
Kate Sawyer: [00:00:49] My guest for this first episode of NOVEL EXPERIENCE is Emily Itami. Her debut novel, FAULT LINES, was published in 2021 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. It is a very funny, bittersweet, moving book about a marriage. An affair, motherhood. Independence, identity, family and somehow manages to be a literary walking tour of Tokyo. I'm excited and a little nervous (as this is my first podcast) to talk to Emily about her brilliant book, how she came to write it, and the whole experience of having a book out in the world.
Emily Itami: [00:01:36] Hi, Kate. That was such a nice introduction. Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be your first guest.
Kate Sawyer: [00:01:40] Oh, I loved your book. It's so funny. Even though it's quite sad in parts and, you know, at a time where we weren't able to travel, it really felt like a tour of Tokyo as well, which is something I've always…well, actually, I've been there once for 24 hours, but that doesn't really count.
Emily Itami: [00:02:01] Yeah. Yeah, it's hard to see anything in 24 hours, isn't it? Although you always try, right? When you stop over. I always try and see, like, entire countries in 24 hours.
Kate Sawyer: [00:02:10] Yeah, it was that flight back from Australia that goes through Tokyo. And so you stay, like, on the outskirts of Tokyo and everything. I, you know, even where we were near an airport, essentially, I still felt as though I was trying to suck up culture.
Emily Itami: [00:02:25] That is so different. I always feel…yeah, exactly as you said: no matter where you are. You know that bit at the beginning of Lost in Translation when she's in a taxi looking out and everything, she's like landing in an alien land. I would think that's like the feeling of Japan.
Kate Sawyer: [00:02:38] Anywhere that you have seen from a distance but don't have direct experience of, it just feels like you're in a different reality for a while until you get used to it. But I think that's one of the things that you do so well in the book. So I'm going back to the book and your writing! I suppose what I wanted to start with is how you came to write. And I don't necessarily mean your book. I mean, just in general, did you always know you wanted to write from, like, a young age or, yeah. What brought you to writing?
Emily Itami: [00:03:18] Well, first of all, can I say this is so weird because obviously I'm like nodding really enthusiastically and that cannot be heard. So it's funny, isn't it? Recording stuff? And how did I come to writing? That is I feel like I.. I'm so sorry but it's such a cliché; I always wrote! I was one of those people who was always writing, but that is actually true. I was always writing, you know, plays that I was like making all of my friends being in and making my family sit through. That was no doubt extremely terrible for them. I was writing always. Like diaries that were really tortured. And I actually really first started loving to write when I came back to England. It was when we had been living in Japan - because I was brought up in Japan - and moved to England. And when I first came to my school in London, that's when. I guess, sort of English and creative writing was more of a thing. We hadn't really done it as a separate subject in Japan. It was all just kind of melded because it was all in separate subjects. That was when I was like: “All right, I get it! Right? So writing stories is like an official thing.” And that was when I first started. Actually, the very first thing I ever wrote about was Japan because, of course, when I lived in Japan, I had never thought about writing about it because that was just where we all lived. And then as soon as I was away from it, I was suddenly aware of it as a place like a setting, which I hadn't been. And I think I really, really missed it as well. So that was when I started writing about it and really enjoying writing. So actually my very first kind of writing experiences, I guess you are about to ask…
Kate Sawyer: [00:04:50] So your background outside of writing novels.
Emily Itami: [00:04:56] Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:04:57] Can you tell me a bit about that?
Emily Itami: [00:04:59] Yeah. So when I first left university, I worked for the Push Independent University Guide, which I don't know if that's a thing anymore, probably not.
Emily Itami: [00:05:08] Because it was a long time ago.
Emily Itami: [00:05:10] But that was when we used to, like, go round - I guess as I was kind of just graduated people though that we would maybe have some kind of insight into, you know, how much students like to drink. And so. We went round and sort of wrote these university guides. So through that I then got a job working for the Rough Guides of Berlin. So that meant that I was able to go and travel and write, which was obviously totally amazing. And so I spent quite a lot of time travelling and writing that up. So that was kind of one of my first writing experiences. That was really fun and and I suppose in a way kind of related to the fact that I really, really like writing about places that are, you know, just about places and trying to figure out how to make them come to life and make people really want to visit them. As much as I loved being there, yeah. So that was amazing. And at the same time I was also working in a sort of magazine journalism. So doing interviews, which are just the best thing ever, right? Well, I was like, oh my God, I can just ask questions, be really nosy, and that's my job. So that was great.
Kate Sawyer: [00:06:15] That, that all makes sense in how it feeds into FAULT LINES actually. Absolutely makes sense that you wrote for Rough Guide because of the way that they tour the city.
Emily Itami: [00:06:29] Yeah. Travelling. Yeah, exactly. I wanted to show bits of it. Right. And show…everything.
Kate Sawyer: [00:06:35] When did you know you were writing FAULT LINES? Like, how did you get to write? How did you come to write it?
Emily Itami: [00:06:42] I actually only wrote FAULT LINES after. So I lived in London for a while. And then when I then I had my kids - who are who are now nine and seven, but who when they were very little - we then decided to move back to Japan again because we really wanted them, you know, to be able to maybe speak Japanese and know a bit, to feel Japanese. So we moved there and it was actually after we'd moved back again to London and that once again I wanted to write about Japan. And I started thinking a lot about motherhood and about the culture of how different motherhood is in different cultures. And I thought a lot about it when I was in Japan, since Japan is quite a, you know, traditional kind of culture. Oh, kind of interesting slash complex. So it was when I got back from that, I started thinking about it a lot.
Kate Sawyer: [00:07:32] But this was I mean, I know it's a debut novel, but it's your first book. Was it your first attempt at writing long form?
Emily Itami: [00:07:40] No, I think I was kind of I had written some other things before, but I you know, I wasn't that convinced by them or…yeah. It's very difficult, isn't it? Yeah, it takes a long time. Well, it took me a long time anyway!
Kate Sawyer: [00:07:52] Yeah, yeah, I get it. Yeah.I think it's really interesting because it seems as though it's, just like, come out of nowhere, these debut novels. But often and certainly a lot of the people I'm talking to in the series, they, you know, didn’t do it straight out of university. Your experience of getting your agent and your book deal. Was that a slow process? Was it something that happened quite suddenly? How did that happen?
Emily Itami: [00:08:20] It was so amazing. Like, it was like. It wasn’t my full time job, you know, because I'm working. I'm a teacher. Yeah. So I can do kind of book related stuff around that. Yeah. So there was especially that there wasn't all that much time. So especially when my kids were little, I remember I had childcare and to spend the time of the childcare putting together letters to write to agents, you know, like it just takes such a long time, doesn't get any easier to figure out what you're going to say and how much you're going to do. And there were points when I was like: “What am I doing?” I just felt like it did eventually, to be honest, begin to feel like I was just completely shooting in the dark and this was just a crazy hobby. Like, I might as well just be throwing hoops over something and never landing, but I kind of had to make my peace with it and be like: “Well, I'm just going to keep going because well, I may as well.”
Kate Sawyer: [00:09:13] Yeah, I do think there is that whole: you just got to trust in the whole process of it. It feels like from the writing all the way through, you're sort of just going, you have to just let go of the control of it a bit and just just let it happen and just keep going.
Emily Itami: [00:09:30] Yeah, and keep going. Maybe. I think you have to keep going. I had a friend who had run a business for a while and she said that running a business and making it successful is like riding a bicycle. You just have to keep pedalling. If you stop pedalling, then you're screwed. So I guess I kind of thought about it like that. I was like: “You've got to keep pedalling. Don’t ask too many questions.”
Kate Sawyer: [00:09:48] Yeah. And similarly, Shonda Rhimes book Year of Yes, she talks about how writing Grey's Anatomy is like “constantly laying track”. You can't, like, look to the side because the train's coming. So you have to keep laying track and just hope that when the train gets there, it will sort itself out.
Emily Itami: [00:10:13] I think that's a great way to think about it.
Kate Sawyer: [00:10:15] Yeah, yeah, you've got some experience.
Emily Itami: [00:10:17] So Yeah. Threatening to have the train constantly come. Oh yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:10:22] But I suppose the train’s always there. Just like in life anyway, isn't it?
Emily Itami: [00:10:30] Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:10:31] And so editing did that - like it did for me - happen, you know, during the pandemic?
Emily Itami: [00:10:39] Yes. Yes, it did actually. It was online. Gosh, the pandemic.
Emily Itami: [00:10:44] Yes.
Kate Sawyer: [00:10:46] It was. Yeah. Because I got my publishing deal right in April. So it was like just after the pandemic had started.
Kate Sawyer: [00:10:53] Right. So during that first lockdown?
Emily Itami: [00:10:56] Yeah, exactly. And actually, to be honest, that was just when my agent was sending it out and kind of seemed like maybe, maybe it was just not going to be a thing. Because, of course, as it turned out, the pandemic was great for reading and stuff, though I guess at the beginning no one knew what was going to happen and lots of things were being pushed around so that it didn't seem like maybe that was going to be space for anything new, you know, it was just so unknown. So that was like a massive, really excellent surprise. And for that to work out and then yes, exactly: the editing was happening during the pandemic, sometimes in lockdowns and sometimes in between. You know, I totally lost track of, like, when we were in lockdown when weren’t.
Kate Sawyer: [00:11:31] I think we all did. I think that's why people referred to it in the past tense, even though obviously it's still going on. Do you like editing?
Emily Itami: [00:11:38] Oh, yeah, I really, really do. I really do. I mean, I've been thinking about it a lot, and I feel like when you're writing it for the first time, it feels like, well, for me, I feel like I may be trying to make the bones of a house or build like a statue or something. And at first it's totally awful and it just looks like you're just throwing clay at the ground. And I'm like: “what is this?” And then when you edit, you get the chance to actually try and make it into what you wanted it to be.
Kate Sawyer: [00:12:04] Yeah, I love the idea of bones, because it does feel like you're fleshing something out that before was just a frame. I think there's something really true about that.
Emily Itami: [00:12:12] Yeah, and I think it's quite hard. It can be hard or it can't. I mean, every day I come up with like a thousand clichéd things. Like, I think I'm like, you're trying to think of, you know, what it’s going to look like when it's finished. You can't be disheartened at the point at which you are making a construction that doesn't look the way you want it to look in the end. Sometimes you have to keep reminding yourself to not lose faith at the beginning.
Kate Sawyer: [00:12:31] Yeah. And it's also I think this is the same thing as being scared to try something because it might not work. You have to try it in order to be able to make it better. But that's yeah, that's one of the places again where you have to sort of “screw your courage to the sticking place”. Yeah. You know, you write something and you're just like: “This is terrible!” And then you have to think of it as: only if something exists, even if that something's terrible, you..
Emily Itami: [00:12:57] ..can make it better! Yeah, exactly. And even the act of, like, deleting, I mean, when you have nothing, you're just like, there's nothing, right? I mean, that's a terrifying place as well.
Kate Sawyer: [00:13:10] Um, and so publication happened during one of the lockdowns or one of the in-between lockdowns, and did you enjoy it?
Emily Itami: [00:13:21] Did I enjoy publication? Yeah. Yeah, it was great. I was so excited. I just felt like I was, you know, because as we were saying, like that, beginning that way, you're just like, this is never going to happen. And I honestly just couldn't believe that it was actually happening. I think we all have imposter syndrome but right until the day I was like, they're going to say, sorry it’s a terrible mistake. I mean, I didn't fully think that, but it was a weird feeling, you know? Yeah. This amazing, weird feeling. Yeah, I was really, really super happy.
Kate Sawyer: [00:13:56] And did you manage to do any celebrating? Celebrations? Or…
Emily Itami: [00:14:01] Um, no. No, I mean, a bit. My friends were so lovely, you know, like organised and stuff. I think it was literally at a time when it was like the rule of six was still in place. So it was really relatively limited. So I imagine that it was completely different to what I imagine what it would have been like if it hadn't been during that time. But I guess the good thing was I didn't know any different and so I was just over excited and running around, so. Did you did you enjoy it?
Kate Sawyer: [00:14:25] Yeah, I did. I think that one of the things that happened with the lockdowns and the things not being open and stuff, it felt like it wasn't like the real experience in a way.
Emily Itami: [00:14:44] Totally.
Kate Sawyer: [00:14:45] I kind of like that, though. It was a special experience because I mean, I hope that those sort of lockdowns will not happen again. So therefore, although we could say: “Oh, those people in 2021 and 2020 didn't get, you know, the normal experience”. But we also got an experience that lots of other people have never had because we did have that online connection that people who published before us didn't have. And for example, I think I've made so many friends online. I mean, right now I'm talking to you and other people that I’ll be talking to you on the series, but then slowly getting to meet people in real life and it's like you know each other because you've read each other's work and all of that stuff. So there is something really special about that. And also visiting bookshops when they were allowed to be open, but other places were closed and sort of starting to make connections there. Yeah, I did really enjoy it. And also I did have a bit of celebration with my family and also I managed to have lunch with my agent and my publicist and stuff. So, you know, I was lucky. Mine was in June 2021.
Emily Itami: [00:16:00] Yeah. Yeah. It's good, isn't it? Yeah, I agree. And also like then when you could meet in person, it felt so exciting. So that was really good.
Kate Sawyer: [00:16:08] Yeah, that's brilliant. And then Faultlines was nominated or shortlisted for the Costa first novel.
Emily Itami: [00:16:23] Yeah, like THE STRANDING! Congratulations!
Kate Sawyer: [00:16:27] Congratulations to you too! I mean, what was that like? You know, I know what my experience was, but…how did you find out?
Emily Itami: [00:16:35] It was really ridiculous. I was well, it wasn't ridiculous. It was what it was. I was teaching. I was standing in front of the class of year eight or something, and I was trying to take the register, which post pandemic we've had online because, you know, you have to do that when we used to do kind of zoom school and stuff. So I was fiddling around on my phone trying to get the register up, and that was when the email came. So I was in the middle of taking the register and the kids were kind of not fully settled down yet. And I just couldn't believe what happened and didn't really know how to deal with the situation. It's like, what are you doing? Life seems so slow. Whatever. It was kind of like it was my life, but it was…it was funny. And, I mean, I was just completely blown away, as I imagine you are as well.
Kate Sawyer: [00:17:16] Yeah. I mean, I love those moments when what's so great is these strange juxtapositions. I mean, that's what makes that good stuff in books, right? When there's juxtaposition. And that's what happened for me. I was ferrying stuff to the car but trying to be really quick because my daughter was in the car from the house because I was caring for my grandmother, because my mum was with my sister who was just about to have a baby. And my mum normally cares for her. And so I was just getting on with the drudgery. And then I got a phone call from my editor, and she was like: “You're not going to believe this.” I did cry just because I was just like, it was such a weird moment. And equally when it was on the radio, when it was announced on Front Row my Nana wasn't feeling well at that point, so I was having to help her. And then my my daughter tugged on my top was like: “Mummy, I done a poo.” I was like. Oh, this, this is a really special moment, but actually really just part of life too.
Emily Itami: [00:18:14] That's just what life's made of, isn't it? Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:18:17] There's these, like, incredible moments surrounded by the absolute mundane moments and, you know, the pace of life.
Emily Itami: [00:18:25] Totally.
Kate Sawyer: [00:18:27] So, I mean, I was a bit sad that we didn't get to meet up really during that time. But because that was Omicron.
Emily Itami: [00:18:35] That was gutting wasn't it. Let's be honest that was quite shit.
Kate Sawyer: [00:18:43] It was shit! Yeah! But has it boosted your confidence? How do you feel about the shortlisting?
Emily Itami: [00:18:51] It was totally flabbergasting. I feel, even now, I'm still like: “Really?” I can't. I cannot believe it. And it makes me. It makes me. It makes me so happy, obviously, and it makes me also just so happy that I kept going. And I guess it just seems really crazy that on, you know, like all the things that happened, on the one hand, it's so difficult to get started and then on the other hand, so many amazing things happen once you do get started. So it just kind of makes something maybe seem even more surreal, has a bit more confidence for sure. But then, as I said, I mean, my imposter syndrome never really goes away. So I'm always like, well, that was nice, but…you know me. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:19:39] And yeah. And like you say, it is the first novel award. So there is like, well, that's great, now let's do the second novel. On which point is that something that you're working on? Or have started? Or..?
Emily Itami: [00:19:54] Yeah. Yeah, I am working on that right now. Yes. And I'm kind of yeah. I don't know how I'm sure this tiny thing that everyone talks about how difficult the second novel is and I think that is a point! How did you find it? Are you doing it?
Kate Sawyer: [00:20:08] Yeah. So I've done the first structural edit and I'm pretty sure there's another structural on the way, but I feel as though for - whatever it was, 18 months - that I was trying to work out a story, I now know there's a story there. It's not perfect, but it's something I'm already feeling proud of. But there were points where I was just like, “I'm just going to write one novel.”
Emily Itami: [00:20:34] Really? Did you think that? No.
Kate Sawyer: [00:20:37] THE STRANDING was such a, sort of, it felt like an instinctive thing, but I just wasn't sure if I had that long form expression in me twice. But now I feel as though I have. And now I'm like, oh, I think I know what the third one could be.
Emily Itami: [00:21:04] It's like standing at the top of a diving board or something, right? Like just do it already!
Kate Sawyer: [00:21:08] Are you enjoying writing it? Do you have a similar feeling about this that you had when you wrote FAULT LINES?
Emily Itami: [00:21:18] Um, no, I think it's quite a different feeling. I have to be, and I don't know if you find this as well, but I feel like I have to make a much more conscious effort to turn off everybody else, because before there really wasn't anyone in my head. You know, everyone talks about the fact that that's the case. That with the first, if your writing feels off, you're like: “Oh, no one will ever see this” or whatever. And now you're like: “Oh, the chances are relatively high.” Now, other people might see this, but if you think that, then you can't write it. So you have to kind of do some weird disengagement of your brain.
Kate Sawyer: [00:21:43] Yeah, I read a brilliant thing in the book I’m reading - I'll tell you what it is later on. When one of the characters sits down at the piano, she has to empty her head before she plays. And I was like: “Oh, that's exactly what it's like for writing.” Sometimes it takes me about half an hour of, like, messing around and just writing ‘and and and’ before something changes and things start coming.
Emily Itami: [00:22:09] Yeah, totally. But it's fun. Well, I find. Do you find it fun?
Kate Sawyer: [00:22:12] Yeah, I do find it fun. I find editing more fun because then there is something to play with and I feel like I've got more licence to mess around, whereas at the beginning I feel like I need to be strict with myself and get the words out.
Emily Itami: [00:22:26] Yeah, totally. It feels more of a straightforward slogging away, doesn't it? Yeah. Do it, do it. Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:22:32] And I've always been better when I've been being a bit naughty. So I like that I'm not sticking to the rules. I'm always more creative, I think. Yeah. So you teach still and which I think is really important for us to recognise that writers don't just like wake up, get their breakfast, sit down and write. I mean, I'm sure some people do.
Emily Itami: [00:22:52] Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:22:52] But yeah. So just tell us a little bit about your writing day or writing week.
Emily Itami: [00:22:59] Probably is more likely, week. Yeah. Right. A week of that would be nice I think. I think it would be nice, wouldn't it, to wake up and write. But then I don't know presumably if that was the case then that would be. I can imagine there'll be other problems with that as well. Yeah. But at the moment there is not that, that is not unfortunately happening yet, as I say. Yet we hope. Yep. No, at the moment I work three days a week, teaching three days a week. And on those days it's just like I can't really write because it's from really early in the morning and it's just a completely different energy and it's all just go, go, go, go, go. Yeah. So that happens. And then, on the two days when I don't have that going on, I drop my children at school and I come back and write in the kitchen, which I really like and write on a mini iPad. I write the whole thing really ridiculous. I think the mini iPad as well is kind of my way of being like, that it’s not really official. I think if I had a big computer, that would make me quite nervous. You know what, I mean?
Kate Sawyer: [00:23:56] Yeah, I've heard of people that write much better on their phone because it feels like you're writing a text or you're writing something of no consequence. I suppose that's the thing.
Emily Itami: [00:24:06] Exactly. And if ever I go to work in a cafe or something, then clearly no one is interested and they would not be doing this. But I just feel better when I like to put my phone to size six, so noone can see what I'm doing. So yeah, I'm in the kitchen nowadays. You know, everyone's working from home, my husband's working from home and stuff as well. So I have to write really hard to keep him out. And we have these conversations. Every time you make a cup of tea, you ruin my concentration by half an hour.
Kate Sawyer: [00:24:42] So do you plan or do you just let it come?
Emily Itami: [00:24:47] Um, no, I do. Well. With FAULT LINES. I kind of had a really clear idea in my head of what the storyline was, because the storyline is pretty straightforward. Yeah, essentially. So I was like, this is what happens. And I always knew how it was going to end.
Kate Sawyer: [00:24:59] Well, I don't think - sorry - but I don't think it's that straightforward! Because I think the ending - and I'm not going to give any spoilers, but I found it so beautiful. Because yeah, you’re indicating that it's there throughout, but at the same time it still felt like a surprise in the way that it manifested. And so I don't think it is straightforward. It's beautiful. The ending.
Emily Itami: [00:25:29] Oh. See, I'm really. I'm really glad that it turned out. Thank you. Yeah, it's funny because I guess that I kind of feel like that's how it is right there in your mind, as relatively straightforward. As in like, you know exactly what's going to happen and then and then it's embellishing, I guess kind of like we were talking about ‘the bones’, like, you know what the bones are like, where it's going towards, and then you kind of figure out how it gets there. And I think that that is how I've done the second one as well with knowing kind of where it was going and then and then figure out twists and turns along the way. But I also think that I have a tendency to kind of think of things that if I'm thinking about the characters and things like that, I think things that they might do, moments that they might have. And then sometimes I just write like scenes and then it turns out that they fit in in some way. That's interesting. Do you tend to be a planner?
Kate Sawyer: [00:26:19] I try to plan and then I just don't like the plan and write something else.
Emily Itami: [00:26:25] (laughs)
Kate Sawyer: [00:26:25] What you say about scenes is quite interesting because sometimes find that that's the easiest way to connect things up. But that's also why I love editing because sometimes it becomes obvious the scene that you need to add in or what needs to be taken away to make things connect.
Emily Itami: [00:26:43] Yeah.
Kate Sawyer: [00:26:44] Yeah.
Emily Itami: [00:26:45] So it's a good moment, isn't it?
Kate Sawyer: [00:26:49] I did have a spreadsheet for THE STRANDING. It's just it was filled in afterwards.
Emily Itami: [00:26:54] You had a spreadsheet? I'm so impressed.
Kate Sawyer: [00:26:58] Just because of the two timelines, but it was supposed to be a planning spreadsheet, but I filled it in afterwards, so that doesn't really count.
Emily Itami: [00:27:08] Like a hypothesis. After you finished the science experiment, that's what we do at school!
Kate Sawyer: [00:27:15] I'd love to know a bit about your reading because for me, the two are so interconnected. Is it true for you as well?
Emily Itami: [00:27:22] Definitely so, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Massive reader. Before I even started writing, I was always reading it all.
Kate Sawyer: [00:27:29] Yeah. And so I would love to know - I asked you if you would mind jotting down three books that you'd recommend to listeners - the first would be a book that you would recommend to fans of FAULT LINES.
Emily Itami: [00:27:45] Well, this was a total crisis. I mean, the whole of recommending only three books, Total Crisis Response! I was thinking of FAULT LINES, I was thinking of the of elements of it all, the Tokyo element and then also the kind of relationship, motherhood element. Yeah. So am I allowed to cheat and say that one for each of those?
Kate Sawyer: [00:28:03] Oh yeah, go for it! Why not?
Emily Itami: [00:28:05] So then the Tokyo one, there's a book called STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO by the Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami. And it's oh, it's just so lovely. Like, me and my sister have this thing where we don't always…we sometimes can't look too much at things that are kind of based in Tokyo, around Japan, because it just makes us miss it too much. So we'll both be like: “This is really good, but only do it when you're prepared to really miss Japan”, you know? And so I wasn't sure if I wanted to read STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO. I was like: ‘It's going to be too painful because it's going to be about how great Tokyo is, it's going to take me back to Japan.’ And it totally did. It was just it's really kind of quiet, which is a rubbish way of describing it. I think that sometimes that makes people think that it's boring, which is not what I mean at all. I just mean it's quite kind of understated in that it's a love story that is set in a kind of not, you know, not very glitzy area of Tokyo. And it's just about these two people who kind of fall into a relationship unexpectedly and all the stages that take them there. And it's so beautiful and amazingly absolved and just makes you feel like you're in Tokyo and they love the delicious stuff, so.
Kate Sawyer: [00:29:09] Well, that's great. That does sound like it would be a good complement to your book.
Emily Itami: [00:29:13] Yeah, it's excellent. And then with the motherhood thing, I'd just say MY LIFE ON A PLATE by India Night. Yeah. Have you read that one?
Kate Sawyer: [00:29:21] I haven't. And I think she lives in East Anglia, near me. And obviously I grew up here and my writing is based in East Anglia and I think there's a connection. I like her columns but I haven't read the book.
Emily Itami: [00:29:34] Yeah. Oh, you should totally read it. I just thought it was so funny. It's about a woman who's going through divorce when her children, well, her children are quite little. She's kind of unsure about what's going on, but she's really funny with it, but it's really funny and really touching at the same time. It's kind of very moving about, like motherhood, but also very funny with the ridiculousness of the humour and the grossness and everything.
Kate Sawyer: [00:29:56] So then I definitely need to read that as there’s stuff about that in my next book as well. I think that's interesting. I will.
Emily Itami: [00:30:02] Do. I hope you enjoy it. I'm sure you will.
Kate Sawyer: [00:30:05] And so then the second book, or third book, I asked for something that you've loved for years, for a really long time, that you'd always to recommend to people.
Emily Itami: [00:30:16] Yeah, that's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith. I mean, so old school. But that was the first book, you know, I can remember loving. I think I read it at just the right time. I read it when I was like 17 and it was just like blowing my head open cause I loved it so much.
Kate Sawyer: [00:30:31] Love that when that happens!
Emily Itami: [00:30:33] Right? I don't know if it would have the same thing if I read it now for the first time.
Kate Sawyer: [00:30:37] Well, I read it in my late twenties. I didn't know about it until my late twenties. I'm not quite sure why. You know, it's just sometimes those books pass you by because teachers don't mention them or they're not in the school library or your parents don't know them. Yes, I read it in my late twenties and fell in love with it, so I suspect that it is one of those ones that doesn't really matter your age. It's to do with how great it is. Has to do with how it does blow your mind.
Emily Itami: [00:31:04] Oh, good. I'm so glad to know. You know, that at all ages it's just as good. I thought it wasn't that.
Kate Sawyer: [00:31:10] And this feels like a good point to mention. The book that I said earlier about the piano, the girl who was playing the piano and has to empty her mind, which is I'm currently reading a proof of THE WHALEBONE THEATRE by John Quinn. I feel that if you like, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE you might like this.
Emily Itami: [00:31:30] Yeah? Okay.
Kate Sawyer: [00:31:31] it's a multigenerational family saga. Yeah, it's quite long, but it's such an easy read.
Emily Itami: [00:31:42] Fantastic.
Kate Sawyer: [00:31:43] Yes. Make a note of that. I think it's coming out in June. So that's definitely something to look out for. Which brings me on to the third book that I asked you to recommend: something that has come out recently or something that's coming soon. Something that you've read recently?
Emily Itami: [00:31:59] Well, I think even though I kind of felt like I wanted to of course, you want to mention, you know, the ones that aren't maybe necessarily being mentioned as much. So it almost seems like cheating to mention this because everyone's talking about it. But it's so good that I couldn't help it. SORROW AND BLISS by Meg Mason. It was just so good. Yeah, it was. It was like, mind-blowingly good. So it was impossible to not talk about that as being the recent one because, it's excellent. And there must be people, even the million people who've read it, there must be people who haven't read it and they should definitely read it.
Kate Sawyer: [00:32:30] Yes, definitely. What did you connect to most?
Emily Itami: [00:32:36] I just love- I think my favourite kind of book is the one that can tackle something that's a bit dark or a bit difficult or heavy and do it with humour. So that makes it easier to be able to think about it and talk about it. And you know, it really feels like humour, the right kind of humour is so empathetic. So you feel really with the person who's reading it. So I just loved her voice and her ability to make things, you know, so funny. I was just cackling out loud and at the same time, some of the things that she was writing about were so difficult and awful. I just. Yeah, I thought it was amazing.
Kate Sawyer: [00:33:11] Yeah. It's really astute observations, isn't it? Like the bit about the lettuce. I mean, that's just one bit of it.
Emily Itami: [00:33:19] No, there are 10 billion totally. And then there are so many things that she says that I think about them all the time. I think she said, I stopped going to the cafe round the corner because they started knowing what my order was and I couldn't cope with it. Yeah, I was like, Oh my gosh! I think she's such an amazing writer.
Kate Sawyer: [00:33:34] Yeah, it's brilliant. Well, that draws us pretty much to the end of today's chat, so thank you so much for being my first guest on NOVEL EXPERIENCE.
Emily Itami: [00:33:46] Thank you so much for having me. It was so nice to talk to you.
Kate Sawyer: [00:33:50] It's just yeah, hopefully a nice chat and I am really looking forward to your next novel.
Emily Itami: [00:33:56] Oh, I feel exactly the same about yours as well. I feel kind of like I'm sorry. I feel like it's not very good to say as, I know that you like the maker of the podcast, but I still feel like we should also talk about all of your experiences. But I hope that over the course of the podcast lots of people ask you lots more things about you.
Kate Sawyer: [00:34:14] I feel like I'm managing to! I've wedged in quite a bit of my experience deeply into your episode.
Emily Itami: [00:34:21] I think it should be my episode. It should be ours together.
Kate Sawyer: [00:34:25] Thank you so much, Emily.
Emily's debut novel, FAULT LINES, is published by Phoenix Books.
I hope you enjoyed this transcript of NOVEL EXPERIENCE Series 1 Episode 1 with Emily Itami.
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