Ovidia Yu Q&A

Why did you start writing crime books?

Because I love reading crime books. I love finding out more about the places my favourite books are set in (Louise Penny’s Canada, Donna Leon’s Venice, M.C. Beaton’s Cotswolds and Lochdubh) but at the same time I wanted to write crime books set here, where I live. It’s like how the school stories (eg The Chalet School, Mallory Towers,) I used to love got me to writing stories set in my school, featuring my schoolmates!


What do you love most about being a crime writer?

What I love most of all is being able to read all the crime fiction I want and tell myself that it’s ‘homework’. I really love going to crime conventions and meeting ‘real life’ writers whose books I’ve been devouring for years.

And of course I love the writing. Not always the struggle to pull things together and make sense. But there are magic moments, like when you first think of an idea. And, even better, when you’ve been stuck for ages because something just doesn’t feel right, and you’re in the shower or the swimming pool or cycling in the park and it suddenly hits you HOW it all fits together perfectly (with just a little re-writing and adjustments to the previous 25 chapters) and then you thank God for Evernote on your phone and type it in. Those are the moments I totally love most.

Oh and then there’s seeing your book cover from Killer Reads for the first time. That’s another big high happy moment. And the amazement and ecstasy when someone says she liked your book (doesn’t matter if they’re just being nice. Those moments are Awesome)

I guess there’s a Lot I love about being a crime writer!


What inspired you to write “Meddling and Murder”?

The seed of ‘Meddling and Murder’ came from a newspaper story about a woman who went on a tour of China and met a tour guide who later turned up in Singapore, moved in with her and started taking over her finances and isolating her from her family.

This was exciting enough to be a ‘true crime’ story, but I wanted to explore other aspects of being a foreigner in Singapore—especially if you look like you fit in but don’t—and the unconscious assumptions we (including Aunty Lee) make all the time, so it turned into an Aunty Lee story!


Can you tell us a little about the story? 

In this story, a missing domestic worker is assumed to be a runaway until other strange things begin happening. Aunty Lee blunders in to help, of course. But it is her smart, practical domestic helper, Nina, who finds herself in greatest danger.


Why do you think readers will fall in love with Aunty Lee?

Previous readers (from New York Jewish to UK Indian and Singapore Malay) have said they love Aunty Lee because she reminds them of relatives—mothers, aunts, grannies and even themselves at times! And this though I thought Aunty Lee was a typical Singaporean Peranakan Aunty. I hope it means I’ve captured some of the well-intentioned, busybody traits of the ‘feed you and fix your life for you’ women who were part of my growing up.


Food and cooking are obviously key themes in your stories – do you like to cook yourself?

I do cook a little—survival cooking. But I’m not a ‘good’ cook by any standard. Not like my aunts and friends/ mothers of friends who Aunty Lee is based on! But I do love eating. I think that just as you may have more opportunity to read widely and appreciate books if you focus on reading rather than writing, you get to appreciate a wider range (and quantity!) of food if you approach it as an eater rather than as a cook!


The Singapore setting in this story gives the story a wonderful flavour – have you always lived there? What do you most love about the city?

Yes, I’ve always lived in Singapore. When I was much younger I lived in England for a few years when my father was working there.

What I love most? The food, the people, the weather, the durian tree and mango trees just outside the compound, the squirrels and birds and monkeys and even the occasional snake that comes to visit.

And I like the way we’re mixed up here. On my apartment floor we have two Chinese families—one English speaking, one Chinese speaking—one Indian-Scandinavian family and one German Muslim family.

There are things about Singapore I’m not too happy about of course (and Aunty Lee shares those feelings!) like the strict censorship and keeping laws on homosexuality we got from England in the Victorian Era. But I believe in the basic honesty and good intentions of the government.


What is your favourite thing to do apart from writing?

Oh, reading for sure!

But I also wish I could spend more time drawing and painting. I used to draw out my own stories before I could write properly. And I have a guilty addiction to washi tape and stickers that I put in books to mark parts that I really love.

And walking my dogs and (currently) massaging and medicining one for her bad tummy are favourite tasks that I know I would miss. I probably wouldn’t get outdoors as much if not for them and I do love being outdoors.


What are 3 crime books you would recommend to everyone?

Can I recommend 3 crime writers instead? Anything by:

  1. Louise Penny–her mysteries feature beautiful but human characters who seem like real-life friends. And her settings have a sense of community that I want to create in my books and my life.
  2. Laurie R King–her writing fiction about Sherlock Holmes/lesbian detectives yet focusing on character and situation driven mystery stories made me feel anything is possible.
  3. Agatha Christie (of course!!!!!)—what I grew up reading. She created a fantasy England that is still more real to be than a tourist visit to England could be, along with ‘English’ values of justice and fair play.

These writers made me love reading and try writing. To do a little towards creating a version of my own country, with my books.


What do you hope people will get from this book?

While I hope this book will be read as an entertaining story, I hope readers will see how people far away in time and geography were/are driven by very similar impulses–good and bad.


How does this book make a contribution to the genre?    

This book features Singapore as I see it. I hope that it both fits into the traditional mystery genre (justice triumphs though human resourcefulness) and stretches it a little (by introducing a new, different setting). But most of all I hope readers will see beneath the surface differences to how alike we are in our loves and loathings!


Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?

I discovered how easily people misunderstand others. I talked to several people—neighbours, mostly—about prejudice, especially when directed against ‘outsiders’. And there were instances, like one woman thought another was avoiding her/racially prejudiced because she pulled her toddler away from her at the park bench. But the mother said she was trying to stop her child from bothering the first woman because she was reading… and she was so jealous of anyone who had time to read. Btw they are friends now so even if no one reads this book, ‘Aunty Lee’ brought about one good thing!


Author photo credit: Kar-Wai Wesley Loh (Memphis West)

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