Crazy Japanese religious cults: how I got the idea for my first book

Today I thought about why I used the Japanese religious cult “Aum Shinrikyo” as the starting point for my first novel. My ex-wife and I stopped in Japan on our way back from Europe in 1985, and we visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I loved the place. The train system was fantastic, the country was full of old temples with beautiful architecture, and it was easy to get around even though we didn’t know the language.

Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user  FG2
Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user FG2

In between about 1988 and 1997 l learned Japanese on-and-off in evening classes. My ex- and I started home-hosting Japanese visitors and Japanese students from nearby La Trobe University. In 1989 and in 1994, I visited again, only this time on my own. I stayed with Japanese friends.

The year after my 1994 visit, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. This event was a major shock to the Japanese people. They were not used to domestic terrorist groups engaging in mass killings in Japan. Soon everyone wanted to know: who are these people? The name Aum Shinrikyo means “Supreme Truth.” Their leader, Shoko Asahara, preached a mixture of Yoga, Christianity, Buddhism, and Nostradamus. He believed the end of the world was near. Don’t they all? He declared himself to be Jesus Christ. He used LSD and electric shock therapy on the group’s followers. Some were murdered.  Shoko was also big on conspiracy theories involving the Freemasons, the British Royal Family and the Jewish people. Yep, they were crazy as batshit. But the group had made a point of enrolling students from some of Japan’s top universities. They promoted themselves as the religion for the intellectual elite. After the gas attacks, Shoko and many of his followers were arrested.

When I stated my novel in the mid-1990s, I had a vague idea about a religious group mounting an attack on something in Australia. I asked: what if some of Shoko’s followers evaded arrest, invented a genetically modified virus, and threaten to release it at an international sporting event in Melbourne Australia. I invented a mini-Olympic Games that I called the “Pacific Games.” Setting the book in my own city seemed a pretty obvious thing to do. I could write scenes in Melbourne, and I had learned enough about Aum to visualize what they would do.

Sometimes I look at other writers and ask, “How did they get their idea?” How did Philip Hose Farmer get the idea to write Jesus  on Mars? (You guessed it: Earth detects some ancient Greek letters carved on a doorway into a mountain on Mars. They go inside and who do they find? Jesus and a bunch of guys following first century Judaism. I won’t spoil the plot.)

So, what’s the most unusual story idea you’ve seen in a book, and where do you think it came from?

I’d love to hear from you.

Note: this is my blog site.   For information about editing an academic thesis, click here.

My novel Fire Damage, an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here : the novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here. For the paperback version, click here.


Sandy Hook: a few (respectful) questions for gun owners.

What happens when lawful gun owners have mentally ill family members?

Everybody, even in other countries, has been shocked by the mass killings in Sandy Hook. I have some reasonable, and I believe, perfectly respectful questions to ask on this issue.

Somebody suggested that the appropriate response to the Sandy Hook massacre was that everybody should do a random act of kindness to someone everyday. But how will that stop the next Nancy  Lanza, who has two hand guns, and an assault rifle, from having them taken off her by her mentally ill son (or brother or husband or father in law, or cousin who comes to visit) and have them used on her and then on others? [Later note: Nancy Lanza in fact had 6 guns in her house, and her son  killed her with her own gun, then took three of them to do the shooting.]

To keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, don’t you you need to check that the buyer hasn’t got a mental illness at the time of purchase, and then regularly review that every year or two? Most countries have annual renewals for car registration.  In New South Wales, Australia, cars over five years old have to have annual roadworthy checks.  Certain medical conditions can get you banned from driving.

People with guns and people with cars can both kill others. Should gun ownership be less stringently monitored and reviewed than car ownership?Should a system of regular re-registration be in place but with documentation from your doctor? (Has this person  developed a mental illness in the last year?) How could this be done?

Or what about other people in your household (Like Mrs Lanza’s son?) Wouldn’t the gun ownership need to be limited where anyone who is a regular visitor to you house has a mental illness? (Does anyone in your house have, or have they developed a mental illness?) This might also apply to people with mental disabilities. The shooter at the Port Arthur massacre here in Australia didn’t have a mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia, but did have a serious intellectual disability.

The questions aren’t being disrespectful to gun owners.

They are legitimate questions when the guns are bought legally by a person who is mentally fit at the time, but who may subsequently suffer a mental illness, or whose family members may acquire a mental illness, or where a family member has a significant intellectual disability. Should households in these cases be allowed to own a gun and if “yes” to one should that be “yes” to two or three guns? Is one hand gun enough to protect the average home from intruders? Are two or three? Is an assault rifle needed for that purpose?

Gun owners want to be protected for burglars other violent people. But how do we protect people like Mrs Lanza from the use of her own guns by a family member? After all, although she had the right to own a weapon, she had other rights too – rights not to be killed by her son. How is this right to be enforced?

Who’se looking out for the rights of the thousands of Mrs Lanzas out there?

So – I know many of you have strong feeling about gun ownership – pro and con- but if you accept that guns should stay out of the hands of mentally ill people, how do you deal with the situation of the multiple gun owner whose family member develops a mental illness.

Any thoughts?

Excellent advice on social media for writers

This blog post was by Kristen Lamb at It’s one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read, and it’s about avoiding public fights and slanging matches on social media.


Kristen Lamb's Blog

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Social media is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives, and this means that we are coming into contact with more people than ever before. We do more socializing on Facebook than we do in person, but the impersonal nature of technology can get us into trouble if we aren’t careful.

The “impersonal” nature of Facebook is deceptive. Yes, we sit behind a screen and know people by monikers and avatars, but there are real people on the other side, so we need to take extra care to remember that.

We “Know” Others, but We Don’t KNOW Them

I go out of my way to always be positive on Facebook. Granted, I try and make sure I am “real.” I am not all fake buckets of sunshine, but I do respect the fact that we all struggle and most of us live in a…

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Good novel, if you don’t mind blood and guts

What I’m Reading This Week: Karin Slaughter’s ‘Blindsighted’. When I was a few chapters into this book, I started to wonder whether the author’s surname, Slaughter, was a pen name, chosen because she was writing a particularly gruesome series of murders. BS3I won’t go into all the details, but the first murder involved abuses of the victim’s body in a way I had not imaged ever happening. A short Google showed that Slaughter is in fact her real name. “I guessed I lucked out on that,” she said. Some of the material is based on research she did on real serial killers like Ted Bundy.  If she had been writing romances she would have had to change her surname. The book is well written, fast paced, the characters are believable, and it’s well researched. The conflicts that go on in a small town police department and medical examiner’s office, where everybody is friends with, or is related to, or an ex-partner of other characters in the book gives it an extra layer of emotional complexity that might be absent in big-city crime stories. It’s a good read, but only for those with a strong stomach.

Your TV is spying on you: Big Brother is coming


Here are a few strange things I came across this week.

US company Verizon has applied for a patent  for a device that would allow a TV to monitor people in their living rooms, picking up sounds,  telling whether the occupants  are children or  adults, and whether they are having an argument. If it detected an argument, it might then should an advert for marriage counselling. If it detected the sound of gym equipment being used, it might show ads for fitness equipment or personal trainers.

The device would also be able to recognize the skin tone and guess the race of the person watching the TV. In the novel 1984, the government watched everybody through their telescreens in the name of Big Brother. If we thought Facebook and other computer applications were playing ‘big brother’ when they keep track of which websites we visit, so they can target ads to us, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Ellen DeGeneres told us Bic had a new line of “pens for women.” Seriously? The pens are supposedly designed to fit a ‘female hand,’ whatever that means.  They come in pink and mauve. I wonder who in the company thought this was a good idea. De Generes sends it up with a mock ad which is amusing.

A sixteen-year-old Norwegian kid downloaded an app onto his smart phone that mimicked the sounds made by dying rabbits. (The app was intended for people hunting foxes.) He and a friend thought it would be funny to put the phone in the middle of the road to see what happened. They did. A fox came, sniffed and nipped the phone, then picked it up in its mouth and made off with it. There’s a video here. The kid didn’t get his phone back.

If you stay on the page after the fox video, you can also see a video of an Albino Echidna, ( more or less an Australian hedgehog.) The commentary is in Swedish, but there’s an English explanation here .

Finally, a man  in Australia, was charged with cruelty to an animal (among other things) after he bit a police dog, which bit him back. The man had been arrested for breaching a restraining order, and began kicking the cage in the back of the police van. When police attempted to move him to another vehicle, he kicked and bit a police dog. The dog bit back, and the guy required stiches in his arm.

Does anybody have any strange news items they’ve come across? And how do you feel about  your TV set detecting your race, age gender, based on being able to recognize skin tones and voice types.  Is this going too far?