Working with Words: Masako Fukui

Bilingual writer and award-winning radio documentary producer Masako Fukui is a regular contributor to ABC RN and has previously worked for major Japanese, Australian and American news organisations as a radio and print journalist in Tokyo and Sydney. She is currently working on an erotic podcast, where she enjoys exercising her imagination during sound effect time.

She shares with us her love for baking and desire to rewrite Madama Butterfly.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

My first paid gig was in the early 90s for Winds, the old Japan Airlines inflight magazine. I wrote an article in Japanese about an Australian fashion brand, though I don’t remember which one. Maybe it was Ken Done because he was insanely popular in Japan at the time and I remember interviewing him. I also remember being invited to accompany him to some exotic island to explore different shades of blue. I didn’t go. 

What’s the best part of your job?

The diversity of topics and ideas I get to explore, from religion and ethics, culture, social history, food, design, art. And interviewing people about the things they are passionate about. Even Ken Done.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Rejection. It really, really hurts, and it never, ever gets easier. 

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The publication of my first novella in the Griffith Review edition 46, Forgotten Stories, in 2014. I had no experience writing fiction, but the Griffith Review gave me this fantastic opportunity. I rose to the challenge and really enjoyed it.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice: never be precious but be grateful to good editors who are ruthless with your words. I’ve worked with many good editors, only a few bad ones. I’ve been lucky.

Never be precious but be grateful to good editors who are ruthless with your words.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

I’m surprised that no one has ever said my work is total crap or that I should give up. 

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Cooking. Mostly baking. Cakes, pastries, bread, dog biscuits, anything that involves an oven and the gravity defying power of gluten.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I agree with one of my favourite authors Tobias Wolff who claims creative writing can’t be taught. But writing skills can, like how to structure an essay, how to write concisely, how to segue from paragraph to paragraph. I’m an enthusiastic advocate of the artful segue. I think brutal self-editing can and needs to be taught.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Read. Listen to good advice. Don’t think your formidable talent is enough.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I buy books wherever and whenever. If I know a favourite author is releasing a book on a particular date, I’ll wait till the book is online at midnight and buy it instantly in digital form. But I still love the trip to the bookshop, probably the only kind of shopping that thoroughly engrosses me. I even like the dust.

If I know a favourite author is releasing a book on a particular date, I’ll wait till the book is online at midnight and buy it instantly in digital form.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I relish the idea of dining with Mrs Pinkerton, wife of Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly. I’d ask her what the fuck was she thinking taking Cho-Cho san’s baby? Rewriting Madama Butterfly (or John Luther Long’s story Madame Butterfly on which the opera was based) is for me, a life long desire for narrative revenge.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

That would have to be the last good book/article/audio story I’ve just read or listened to. I’m constantly impressed and moved and influenced by good storytelling.

Portrait of Masako Fukui

Masako Fukui is a bilingual writer and award-winning radio documentary producer. She is a regular contributor to ABC Radio National. Previously, Masako was a radio and print journalist in Tokyo and Sydney working for major Japanese, Australian and American news organisations. 

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