In 2002 I was living in a traditional Japanese house in a small village in Yamaguchi prefecture as part of the Shuho-cho International Cultural Exchange program. Three years previously I had spent several weeks in the same part of Japan, at the Akiyoshidai International Arts Village where I started writing Across the Nightingale Floor. That book had grown into a trilogy; it had just been published and had already been sold into over 20 countries. The film rights had been bought by Universal Studios. I had gone to Japan to research another project, set in the 19th century, and was struggling with reading Japanese and trying to fathom the complexities of the bakumatsu and the Meiji Restoration. In between studying I explored the surrounding countryside by bicycle and on foot.
Grass For His Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon were already finished and I thought I was moving on from the world of the Otori, but as soon as I was back in the landscape that had originally inspired me I found the characters began to come alive inside my head once more. One night I could not sleep because of the brightness of the moon; I heard something moving around outside on the veranda. I went to see what it was: a tanuki was staring at me with its round beady eyes, the splash of white on its head shining in the moon. I was transfixed; for me it was like seeing a unicorn or some other mythical animal. Of course, it was an ordinary creature, as I found out, very fond of bacon rind and chicken bones, but that night when I went back to bed, marvelling that something out of a legend was living under my house, I began to think about Shigeru’s life and was seized by the desire to find out more about it, to write a prequel and fill in all that is only hinted at in AtNF.
I immediately made pages of notes and started writing as soon as I got back to Australia early in 2003. At the same time I was editing Grass and Brilliance, and seeing them through the publishing process. By the time I was half way through Heaven I had decided the Tales needed a sequel as well as a prequel. I went straight from the end of Heaven to writing The Harsh Cry of the Heron. I wanted the two new books to echo and mirror each other, and I also had to opportunity to put into the trilogy anything I needed to set up or to resolve.
I wrote obsessively : I had both books written down by hand in notebooks by 2005 – nearly half a million words. They were typed up and I made many additions and corrections, finally sending them to my agent in October of that year. Harsh Cry of the Heron was published in 2006 and Heaven’s Net is Wide in August 2007.
It ends where it all began, with the encounter on a mountain path between a boy fleeing his burning village and a mysterious warrior who saves his life.