Ivy Ngeow – Q&A

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. Her debut Cry of the Flying Rhino won the 2016 International Proverse Prize. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her short stories have appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service, Fixi Novo’s ‘Hungry in Ipoh’ anthology and most recently the Fixi 2020 Anthology. Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999.

Ivy can be contacted at:
Website: http://www.writengeow.com
Twitter: @ivyngeow
Instagram: @ivyngeow
Facebook: facebook.com/ivyngeowwriter

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut novel was inspired by a dream, which took place in a Borneo longhouse. I saw a girl with huge hollow eyes and she was just about to run away from something. I have since written 4 more novels.

What came first the characters or the world?

Always the world for me. Then I fill it with characters.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

It took 12 years.

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow

How long did it take to write?

About 2 years. I rewrote for another year. My latest and fifth novel took 38 days.

How many publishers turned you down?

More than 80.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

“I will read anything from Ivy without checking the back blurb. I know I will love it.”

What can you tell us about your next book?

My next book will be an Asian thriller with a female protagonist.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes and no. Occasionally I do check but I am more resilient now to one stars and trolls.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow

My current genres are literary fiction and psychological crime thrillers. When I do stray outside these, I tend to do it in short stories. Short stories are a great form to experiment in genres out of our expertise, and to exercise creative freedom. So for example, I have written romance, historical, paranormal, dystopian, speculative or women’s fiction short stories. They are also less rigid when it comes to mixed genres.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I have a 30 year profession in architecture and interior design.

Which author(s) inspire you?
David Szalay, Flannery O’Connor, Carl Hiaasen, Sarah Waters, Daphne du Maurier.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I read crime, psychological thrillers and literary fiction.

What is your biggest motivator?

Reader engagement

What will always distract you?

Work

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

Most of the say. I am a designer myself. I do all the graphics already in my interior design and architecture practice.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes. I started late. I read to myself at around 8.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I read all the Enid Blyton books and later the Nancy Drew series. Hence the interest in adventure stories.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I love little indie bookshops, eg Nomad Books in Fulham and South Kensington Books in South Kensington.

What books can you not resist buying?

Short story collections.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I tend to write in the early mornings, first thing. That is the only criteria.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

5.

What is your current or latest read?

I am reading a thriller for an author now, coming out soon, to give him a cover quote.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

My 4th and 5th novels are coming out this year but I can’t say when yet as they are still being edited. However, what I can say is that I will be doing a cover reveal very soon for my 4th novel, White Crane Strikes, a suspense thriller set in Chicago’s Chinatown.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I enjoy the dark psychological side of human nature with its surprises and twists, and inventing characters to reflect that unpredictability in humanity. Therefore literary fiction, noir and thrillers are my subject interests.


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Lulu Allison – Q&A

Lulu Allison

Lulu Allison

Lulu Allison has been a visual artist for most of her life. She attended Central St Martin’s School of Art then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad. Amongst the bar-tending and cleaning jobs, highlights of these years include: in New Zealand, playing drums for King Loser and bass for Dimmer. In Germany, making spectacle hinges in a small factory. In Amsterdam painting a landmark mural on a four storey squat and nearly designing the new Smurfs. In Fiji and California, teaching scuba diving.

After a decade of wandering, she returned to the UK, where she had two children and focused on art. She completed a fine art MA and exhibited her lens-based work and site-specific installations in group and solo shows.

In 2013 what began as an art project took her into writing and she unexpectedly discovered what she should have been doing all along. Her first novel, Twice the Speed of Dark was published in November 2017 by Unbound. Her second novel, Salt Lick, was published on September 16th 2021 and had been long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.

Lulu can be contacted at:
Website: https://luluallison.net/
Twitter: @LuluAllison77
Instagram: @luluallison77

Twice the Speed of Dark

Twice the Speed of Dark

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

In a roundabout way it was the Boston marathon bombing, specifically the different way the media treated the victims of that horrible event, compared to those killed in daily bomb and drone strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, where victims were at best a tally. I wanted to explore how we might think about the deaths of strangers. But at the time, I wasn’t a writer. I started a blog that took the skimpy little news items, about 7, or 3, or 5 unnamed people dying in a roadside or cafe or school bus bombing and I wrote little portraits for each of them, a few sentences to try and make them, even if invented, real enough to grieve. I started it as an art project but to my surprise I was so taken with the actual writing, it became a novel called Twice the Speed of Dark.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Salt Lick was in part inspired by a song by The Handsome Family, Peace in the Valley Once Again. It is a song I find comforting and beautiful – we will probably fuck it up in the end, and nature doesn’t care.

I have a playlist for my current WIP, Beast, not to write to but to remind me what to do – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5LnQ8UT9Ij0CmRZtKkYXZC?si=ccf0c4f6846b48f2

How many publishers turned you down?

Agents and publishers, loads

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Astounding reaction to Salt Lick – the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has blown my mind.

Salt Lick

Salt Lick

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

People on Goodreads moaning about talking cows…
Or, my sister saying it was one of the best books she has ever read.

What can you tell us about your next book?

It is a take on Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. I became interested in the idea that perhaps the deal maker, reaching out into the cosmos for something, was seeking the hand of the divine rather than a deal with the devil. It lead me to thinking about the types of desire we have and what we will do to fulfil them, which clearly is inherent to the Faust myth, but I wanted to stretch it out a bit. There is so much in the myth and in Mann’s novel that I wanted to ravel and unravel.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I may notice them but am busy teaching myself not to necessarily take notice of them.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I am still an artist and maker, my practice these days is predominantly teaching.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Milton, Shakespeare, Nick Tosches, Lucy Ellman, Barry Lopez, Rebecca Solnit, Jean Genet, Thomas Mann, Marie NDiaye. I’m not much of a completist and tend to go mad for individual books in a fairly scatter-gun approach, but these guys really know what they are doing.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Mostly literary fiction and classics

What is your biggest motivator?

Wanting to think about things followed by enthusiasm for banging on about what I ended up thinking

What will always distract you?

I will need several pages for this one

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I designed most of the cover for Salt Lick and did the illustration but I knew it would be a hard sell. Being an artist or ‘visual person’ isn’t the same as being knowledgeable or good at book jackets. I prefaced the conversation by saying ‘Look, I know your hearts probably sinks when an author says this, but…’ and luckily Unbound were very accommodating and the art department made some great adjustments. I’m so pleased with how it looks

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes

What were your favourite childhood books?

King Arthur legends, books like The Dark is Rising when the world is subject to ancient and mysterious magic.

What is your current or latest read?

I’ve been reading other Women’s Prize long listed books. I really loved Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide. And I’m also reading The Cheffe by Marie NDaiye, whose writing I love

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

My Galley Beggar Press subscription always delivers wonderful books

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I guess what I love to read fed into the way I wanted to write. When making visual art, it seems necessary to retain in the work what I can only think of describing as a kind of space, if not literally a gap. Maybe a better description is something like the possibility of ambiguity. In a way it is a gift to the viewer, not to overwhelm with your own ideas, but to give enough room for them to make their mind up about what they are seeing. Otherwise you are just illustrating your ideas. It can be a small space, a flicker somewhere; the work doesn’t need to be completely open or unintelligible. But it allows just a little room for the viewer to breath, to make their own experience. I like books that have the same quality.


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Hilary Tailor – Q&A

Hilary Tailor Author Shot

Hilary Tailor

Hilary Tailor is a design consultant, and has worked with clients including adidas and Puma as a colour and trend forecaster. She was raised on the Wirral Peninsula and graduated from the Royal College of Art. The Vanishing Tide is her first novel.

Contact details for Hilary are:
Website: https://www.hilarytailor.com/
Instagram: @hilarytailorwrites
Twitter: @HilaryTailor

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

I won a paediatric first aid course in a raffle. When we were learning how to resuscitate children who had fallen into water, a really nasty, horrible thought entered my mind and I couldn’t shake it off. Over the next few weeks and months, it built into a story and I started to write it down.

What came first the characters or the world?

Definitely the world. I think about plot and setting way before I think about the personalities involved. I find it hard to read a book if the plot doesn’t hook me in from the get-go.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

The Vanishing Tide

The Vanishing Tide

I’m not going to lie, it was really, really, hard. I was pregnant when I did that paediatric first aid course and now my daughter is fifteen, so it’s been a long time coming. I was a complete novice. I didn’t share my work with anyone, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing – all the things you shouldn’t do. I just squeezed it in between working and child-rearing. When I finished a decent draft, I submitted to agents and absolutely nobody was interested, although I did get some quite nice rejections that made me think I was a decent writer. I decided I needed some professional help, so I shelved Book 1 (now called The Vanishing Tide) and started another. I applied for, and got into, the Curtis Brown six month novel writing course and this really made me take my ambition seriously. I absolutely loved learning about the trade, how to submit to agents, how to structure my novel. I also learned how to use Scrivener from my fellow coursemates, and this has really helped plan my work. But guess what? When I finished the course, I submitted Book 2, the rejections began to roll in. This time, many of them were full of praise and I got several full manuscript requests, so I knew I had improved. I decided to take what I had learned and apply it to Book 1 (The Vanishing Tide). I rewrote it while I received more rejections for Book 2. Eventually, an agent (Oli Munson) at AM Heath liked Book 2 but didn’t think it was right for his list. He asked if I had anything else and I was able to submit my new, shiny version of The Vanishing Tide. He read it, realised my work DEFINITELY wasn’t right for his list, but very kindly he gave the manuscript to a colleague who loved it. I signed with AM Heath and my agent, Rebecca Ritchie, sold the book in a fortnight. Later, I looked at my huge spreadsheet of agent submissions and saw that Becky was one of the very first agents I submitted The Vanishing Tide to, four years previously.

How long did it take to write?

That’s a really difficult question to answer because there were lots of gaps, and I even re-wrote a third of it last year when it was being edited by my publisher. So, I guess, from start to finish, it took fifteen years!

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I just can’t listen to ANYTHING when I’m writing. I heard Deborah Levy on Desert Island Discs say she listened to Philip Glass when she wrote and I love his stuff, so I tried it the next day and found myself staring at a blank screen, listening to the music. I’m a good multitasker in a practical sense but I can’t do it when I’m writing and trying to think.

How many publishers turned you down?

My agent bumped into the editor at Lake Union who said she liked the idea before she had even read the book, so she got back very quickly with an offer when it was subbed out. There were three other editors who were still reading/thinking when the offer came through, but I figured they would have made an offer sooner if they had loved it as much as Victoria Oundjian did. I had waited long enough, and I wanted to work with someone enthusiastic and quick off the mark.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Obviously, my editor and publisher love it and so do I, but we are biased. My mum, who is incredibly well-read, told me she when she read the very first daft, she thought it was ‘better than Joanna Trollope but not as good as Ian McEwan.’ Which I thought was fair enough.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

The one from my agent when she said she wanted to sign me. You feel validated, that all the work was worth it and that you have an ounce of talent. I have an author friend who said he thought it was harder getting an agent than it was to get a book deal these days and I’m inclined to believe him. Everybody wrote a book over lockdown.

What can you tell us about your next book?

So, if you remember, Book 2 was the one I worked on during my stint with Curtis Brown Creative. It deals with similar themes: atoning for past mistakes, what it means to be a family. There’s a bit more back and forth between the past and present but I didn’t want it to be too much of a departure from The Vanishing Tide so there are elements that my readers will be familiar with.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

When the time comes, I’ll read them, for sure, and if there is a common thread among them that I need to address I will be aware of it when I’m writing my next book. Books are very subjective, though, and ultimately, you can’t please everyone, and you can’t write by opinion polls. Saying that, I often read book reviews before I buy a book or after I’ve read one and most of them are pretty helpful.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

With Book 2, I briefly considered writing it as a YA when I was doing the course, but it didn’t sit well with me. I don’t read YA, so it seemed a bit weird to write a YA book. My writing is a cross between commercial and literary fiction and I read both, so I could see myself crossing more into literary fiction at some point.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I still work as a colour and trend forecaster. I used to live in Germany and I worked for adidas and Puma before I set up my own company, HST Creative. Now I freelance with clients in the sportswear and outerwear arena. I also work with Pantone on their colour bible that comes out twice a year. There is a connection between designing and writing. As a designer, I am constantly editing my work and creating stories for my clients. Douglas Stuart (Shuggie Bain), has said the same thing. He studied menswear at the Royal College of Art and I studied Textiles there a few years before him. Stories are very important in many different creative industries.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Maggie O’Farrell, Celeste Ng and Anne Patchett can do no wrong.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Literary fiction, for sure, some commercial women’s fiction and I also really like biographies, autobiographies and factual exposés such as Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe which was jaw-dropping to read.

What is your biggest motivator?

The writing. It has to be. I don’t know any authors who are in it just for the money! I like creating my own worlds and being in charge of my own creative direction. I also love the collaborative process when I’ve finished a book and editors come in to shape it into something even better.

What will always distract you?

My dog. She is hideously entitled and whines at me if she hasn’t had enough attention and wants her belly scratching or something to eat. If I ignore her, she gets out of bed and nudges my knees with her nose. I can’t resist her.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

The Vanishing Tide

The Vanishing Tide

Well, I was under the impression I had a lot of say in my book cover design until I realised I was probably being politely managed by my publisher, who knows more than I do about what is going to work for readers of my genre, which is reading group. The book is going into several different countries and the biggest markets have a say in what they need from a product. The USA has a different take on cover design to the UK, for example, and I am a difficult author to please because of my design background. I had a fixed idea in my head at the beginning of the process, but ultimately, I had to bow to the expertise of Lake Union, who have a raft of research about what their customers expect to see. Luckily, the cover designer, a very talented and patient Emma Rogers, was able to please both me and my editors and we ended up with a cover everyone thought worked well. I love the upside-down child reflected in the water. I’m going to get it printed and framed.

Where you a big reader as a child?

Yes, my whole family are big readers. I was very lucky. It was just assumed we would want to read for pleasure and my parents were always willing to bring home books if I wanted something special. I still swap and discuss books with my mum. We are both members of book groups and often end up reading the same book at the same time.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I actually loved reading poetry as a child and remember being given A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson that I read a lot. Danny The Champion of the World sticks in my mind because a teacher at school read a few pages to us every day and then, for some reason, didn’t get to finish it, so I asked my parents for a copy so I could find out what happened in the end. My earliest reading memory comes from the school library where there was a slim set of books that concerned a ghost bus and a boy who could see and talk to ghosts on it. I cannot for the life me remember the title but I still think of it. That and Tom’s Midnight Garden which was a genius plot. I like a few ghosties here and there and incorporate a bit of the supernatural into my own work.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Any book shop will do, really, as long as the staff are friendly. Lingham’s on the Wirral was the first bookshop I regularly frequented. Now I live in London I am spoiled but actually prefer the smaller bookshops as they don’t seem so overwhelming and it’s easier to talk to someone. The Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill and Pickled Pepper books in Crouch End were godsends when my kids were smaller as I wasn’t familiar with the stock and the staff in both shops are really well versed in what to recommend. Oxfam is great for unexpected gems you never thought you wanted.

What books can you not resist buying?

Anne Patchett could write something on the back of an envelope and I would buy it. Sometimes I’m seduced by the cover and I will end up buying a book because the cover is so nice. I recently saw a book cover on Twitter by Zoe Somerville called The Marsh House and I love the cover so much I’m going to buy it when it’s out. But generally, I read the first page and if the writing sucks me in, I’ll buy it. I had that experience with Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. It’s written in the second person for a start, which is unusual, but his writing has a poetic quality that is brimming with atmosphere. And it’s a debut. I like reading debuts.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Tea and quiet. I drink a lot of tea. I also sometimes need to stop writing and think about things so I will take the dog out for a long walk through the woods to figure out a problem. I am a great believer in letting things settle for a while and not writing blindly through a problem.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

Too many to count. I don’t have an English degree so I am painfully aware I haven’t read many classics that are often referred to, so I have a pile of classics I ‘should’ read and a pile of books for pleasure.

What is your current or latest read?

I just finished The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by Andre Leon Talley. Despite the odds being stacked against him, he was a giant in the fashion world and sadly died recently. I already had it on my TBR pile, but when his death was announced, I was drawn to read it. This happens a lot – if someone interesting to me is in the media, I want to know more about them. The same happened when Joan Didion died. I wasn’t familiar with her work and read The Year of Magical Thinking over Christmas to get some insight into a woman whose death provoked an outpouring of grief in the media. To counter those choices, I plan to read Rachel’s Holiday by Marion Keyes soon, as her much anticipated follow up is published this year and I never got round to reading the original.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Of course! There is apparently a new Celeste Ng in the pipeline. I cannot wait for that. Nonfiction: A Novel by Julie Myerson, another author I love and who hasn’t had a book out for a while, is due out in June. Jessie Burton has a sequel to the brilliant Miniaturist coming in July called The House of Fortune. Edward Enninful has written an autobiography that I would like to read called A Visible Man and Alan Rickman’s diaries should very interesting. I met him once and he was very gracious. He told me he used to be a graphic designer.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I am writing a third book right now, also book club fiction, that is gradually taking shape. My second novel, title TBC is due out in 2023. My website www.hilarytailor.com should be up and running soon with news and snippets about what inspires me and how I work.

Any events in the near future?

The launch of my debut novel The Vanishing Tide in June this year of course! You can pre order it here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59979640-the-vanishing-tide

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just happened. I write in the same genre I read in. It’s what I understand and am familiar with. Book club fiction is great because the text should throw up ambivalence and questions that can be discussed afterwards. I like a book that stays with you after you have put it down.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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Circe

Madeline Miller. Bloomsbury. (352p) ISBN 9781408890042
Circe

Circe

I was very late to reading this and never understood why, I had it on my bookshelf from the moment it came out in paperback as I’d loved Song of Achilles so much and was looking forward to it but it sat there for ages.

In the end I listened to it on the library audiobook service and that was absolutely perfect and seemed entirely apt to listen to a mythology as part of an oral storytelling tradition.

We are taken into the world of Greek mythology once more by Madeline Miller, this time to explore the myth of Circe through her eyes and with her words, not through the eyes of a hyper-male society and modern patriarchal adaptations.

This was a stunning adaptation, closely following the myth, with Madeline Miller’s lyrical text mirroring a lot of forms of Greek myth narrative style. Writing HERstory is always difficult as it is a voice that we’re not used to and it centres parts of the story that are often brushed aside or glorified when they really need to be highlighted.

Madeline Miller does an excellent job of this, and I especially loved the swine story and how it was viewed from Circe’s point of view.

I think it was also enhanced by listening to it, Perdita Weeks was the perfect narrator/voice, I could imagine listening to this in a public space being performed to an audience.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.