A big welcome today to Lesley Downer and the blog tour for her latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen which was released by Bantam Press on 3rd November.
Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has – like all the clan’s women – been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse.
But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan’s very existence. And turns Okatsu’s world upside down.
Today, on the last day of the tour, Lesley has joined me to talk about writing The Shogun’s Queen. Over to you, Lesley…
Hello, Laura. Thank you for allowing me to post on your blog today! I greatly appreciate it.
I’ve had a love affair with Japan all my life, and when I decided to move from non-fiction to fiction ten years ago, it was obvious that was where my stories would be set. I’m also mad about research. I love any excuse to go to Japan and I also love scouring old books written by Victorian travellers who were there in the nineteenth century. If I could live my life again it would be in old Japan, the Japan of the great woodblock print artists Hokusai and Hiroshige – and a reasonable second best is reading about it and being there in my mind and taking my readers there as I write about it.
Somehow – I forget how – I came across the Women’s Palace, a sort of harem where three thousand women lived and only one man, the shogun (the military ruler of Japan), could enter. To me the most surprising thing was that I’d spent so long in Japan and read so much about it yet in all those years hadn’t come across the Women’s Palace before. I decided to set my first novel there and so The Last Concubine was born. There was literally nothing in English about the palace. I had to struggle through a book written in Victorian-era Japanese with the help of a Japanese friend. My story took place at the very end of the era of the shoguns and my heroine fled the palace early on in the book.
I went on to write two more novels following on in time after the events of The Last Concubine.
Somewhere along the way I heard of Atsu’s heart-rending story and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It haunted me. Telling her story would mean going back to the Women’s Palace and I’d been feeling for a long time that I hadn’t finished with it – or rather it hadn’t finished with me.