NEXT week, the guest author visiting the Salisbury Writing Circle is Alison Jean Lester, talking about her latest novel, Yuki Means Happiness.

Described by John Boyne as ‘a mystery, a love story and a fascinating encounter with a different culture’, the novel deftly tells the tale of Diana, who moves from America to Japan to work as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki.

As Diana gets to grips with living in Tokyo, she begins to realise that the family life she has signed up for isn’t quite what it seems.

As the title of the book suggests, Yuki is indeed Japanese for happiness. By a quirk of fate, Yuki is also Japanese for snow, something more observant readers might have noticed outside their windows last week.

While the bad weather brought difficulties for some, the arrival of snow also brought happiness for many others: the street outside my house, for example, turning into a temporary sledge park. On Friday, my daughters and I took a snowy trip into town on foot. It was fascinating to see how the snow had transformed the city: the silence from the lack of cars; the brightness of the fields of white.

It doesn’t snow in Salisbury very often, so it felt a moment to remember: a rare chance to see the place where you lived from a different perspective.

An alternate way of looking at the world is something that Japanese culture has offered us in many ways over the years.

Before the arrival of Hygge, there was the influence of KonMari, using decluttering and tidying to change how you live. More recently, there has been Ikigai, promising the secrets of a long and happy life.

When I caught up with Alison on the phone this week, I asked her what she had taken away from her own time living in Japan.

She talked about the influence of having so little room: with space being such a premium in Japanese cities, so many parts of a house have a dual purpose.

She described how Japanese advertising is all about products offering peace and calm – and how these have become ideals to aim for.

We talked, too, about the concept of Sakoku, the fascinating period between the 1630s and 1850s when Japan chose to isolate itself from the rest of the world – only ending when the Americans turned up with a fleet of warships and effectively forced the country to re-engage.

The result was an influx of new and different influences into the country, and also the spread of Japanese culture beyond – a cross-pollination of ideas that has continued ever since.

Alison Jean Lester is at Salisbury Writing Circle on Wednesday, March 14, 7.30pm at Sarum College.