Books: Falling From The Floating World by Nick Hurst

Nick Hurst's tattoo is based in Japanese woodblock prints which feature in his book picture by Anna

Nick Hurst's tattoo is based in Japanese woodblock prints which feature in his book picture by Anna Gordon - Credit: Anna Gordon

The Muswell Hill author got so immersed in writing his Tokyo thriller that he got inked like his lead character

Nick Hurst picture by Anna Gordon

Nick Hurst picture by Anna Gordon - Credit: Archant

Nick Hurst has been an English-language teacher, money broker, model, and stuntman. He lived for several years in Japan, where his second book Falling From the Floating World (Unbound £8.99) is set.

It follows Ray who goes to Japan after being sacked from his London job and strikes up a relationship with the beautiful, Tomoe. But when her father is found dead, she sets out to trace the killers - dragging him into a world of corrupt politicians, yakuza, sumo wrestlers and call-girls.

“My path to writing my latest book, a woodblock illustrated Tokyo thriller, came via three years’ training with a Chinese kung fu master in Malaysia, a plan to write a travelogue about living and training with sumo wrestlers, and a small part in a Bollywood film opposite India’s leading lady, Priyanka Chopra.

All in all, an unlikely route. But there was some logic, if not method, to the madness. My time in Malaysia was not only spent trying to hone my martial arts skills, but also writing a book on the adventure-story life of charismatic but temperamental master, Sugong. Watching a Bollywood film while on holiday in India, I saw parallels between the lead and Sugong and decided that the book could be adapted into an Indian film.

Falling from the Floating World by Nick Hurst

Falling from the Floating World by Nick Hurst - Credit: Archant

On contacting companies in Mumbai it appeared I was not the only one who saw the possibilities, as the heads of Disney and Viacom were keen to know more.

Sensing my chance of subcontinental stardom, I wrote a film treatment and headed over for talks. These were slow moving but I filled my time writing a script and ‘acting’ in the film Mary Kom (a small part and I’m a terrible actor).

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The big deal for my book never materialised, but as the true story of Sugong moved into a fiction, my previous trepidation at writing a novel diminished.

I was still left with the fundamental question of what kind of book I should write. I decided to go with what I’d like to read and what I could do best – a fast-paced thriller. All that remained was the setting.

I came to a shortlist of three cities; London, where I grew up, and Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo where I’d lived.

It didn’t need much debate. The fast pace and bright lights of Tokyo stood out, as did the contradictions between its civilised exterior and dark underbelly. I’d also done some research on a travelogue - ‘Japan from a sumo stable’ - that looked at how much of the country’s culture can be traced back to its Edo-period pleasure quarters. Despite my book being set in the present, I was inspired by the tales of adventure from this ‘floating world’ and felt its essence could be captured in a contemporary tale. As well as offering something extra to the drama, this presented another opportunity. Japanese woodblock prints were originally created to reflect the floating world and as a fan of these and illustrated fiction, I decided to include them in the book.

With 200 years of art to choose from I was able to find ones that perfectly fitted the story.

To my surprise I found out these works of art have a link to the traditional tattoos reviled in Japan for their supposed gangster links. The artists who created them were only ever responsible for the designs, with artisans doing the actual carving and printing. The tattooists simply chose a different canvas for the same art. With my story’s hero forced to have one of these ‘horimono’ tattoos I visited a leading tattoo master for my research and, in a moment of over-enthusiasm, had the same hand-poked tattoo the main character is forced to have.

From kung fu to sumo to Bollywood to thriller, is not the most obvious route and one I would probably advise against. It was physically painful (although strictly speaking I didn’t have to have the tattoo) and it meant chasing down prints from museums across the world. But it left a book that I hope provides thrills and spills while giving readers something to mull on when they’ve closed the last page.”

Falling From the Floating World by Nick Hurst Unbound ISBN: 1783526319 £8.99