Timing Challenges in My Novels

When I started writing my first novel Hijacking Japan, I had no idea that it would take so many years to write. Nor did I realise what the consequences of this would be.

When I started writing Hijacking Japan, Japan had no Ministry of Defence and the possible establishment of this featured in the Prologue. Once it was created, I had to adjust some of the text and also alter the interactions between some of the politicians.

Another change was to the train that features in the first half of the book. Although I created a fictional company, JR North-East, I wanted to keep a degree of realism by using actual trains and timetables. When I started writing the MAX Toki 321 service was 8 carriages. Subsequently it became a 16 carriage service and I had to make alterations to the storyline to account for this. Then in 2016, the service, which I had chosen due to it not stopping at Takasaki (and so giving the hijackers more time to take control before it entered the tunnels), was withdrawn. This effectively meant that the story became dated to prior to 2016.

I hadn’t really stopped to worry about which year the story was set in up to that point, but with it being set primarily on 12 August, which itself was a change brought in when I decided to locate part of the story in Ueno-mura and linking it to my research on the JL123 crash, and being a Friday, the year effectively became 2011. This was slightly problematic due to the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake (3/11) on 11 March that year and how this would relate to some of the storyline, but I found ways to refer to 3/11 without it becoming overly distracting.

I did consider taking the timeline further back to 2005, the year when I began working on the book, but decided that would be too problematic for other reasons. With the E4 shinkansen being retired around the time that the book was finally completed, I decided to keep with its original colour scheme rather than to further distance my fictional setting from the real world.

My second novel, Tokyo 20/20 Vision (which marks the official start of the ‘Iwakura Series‘ although he actually appeared very briefly at the end of Hijacking Japan), had a completely differently time challenge. I had always planned the book to be out well before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and I achieved this with it coming out in January 2020. However, only a short time later it was announced that the Olympics were being postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than leave the book as it was, I made some quick alterations to the introductory text and some minor amendments elsewhere. Overall the delay hasn’t had a major impact on the book, particularly since the Olympics will still be called Tokyo 2020. It does mean that there will be a bigger gap between the other books in the Iwakura Series than I had planned, but it shouldn’t cause any significant issues.

As I work on the second and third books in the Iwakura Series (which are set prior to the first book, which is now set in 2021), at least I don’t have to worry about any changes in what happens in the real world impacting the story. The main challenge is checking what major stories were happening at that time and ensuring that fits with the storyline if necessary. By the time I get to the the fourth book in the series, which is planned to be set after Tokyo 20/20 Vision, it is likely to be 2022 or 2023 so again, I hope that I won’t face any of the challenges that I had with my first two books. But the lesson has be learnt – set my books in a totally fictional world, have a story that doesn’t rely on links to real events, or set books in the past.

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