From the very first paragraph I was struck by the grounding of this story, the inherent reality of Chen and his world. What inspired this story?
It came from a visit to Hong Kong, of which Singapore Three is a thinly disguised version. I stayed on a houseboat with a friend of mine, who was writing a book on murders in the colony and going out with a vice squad cop . . . the rest is history.
This story is rooted in familiar details and moments — expensive sunglasses, the taste of lightning and rain, waiting for a ferry, instances of alienation and loss. The overlay of a supernatural, near-future setting flows seamlessly from such details and further serves to define the story. When laying the foundation for a new world, even one extrapolated from our own, what do you consider to be the most important aspects?
I would say worldbuilding — making lots of notes, but I don’t generally do this myself. I’ve got good recall and most of it is simply imagination.
The story blends aspects of Chinese culture and beliefs with noir elements. Do you have a favorite genre when writing or reading?
I tend to prefer detective stories for light reading: I don’t read a lot of SFF when I’m writing it, in case I get over-influenced.
Detective Inspector Chen has a long and illustrious presence in the world of print. He is a likeable, troubled, insightful man both good at his job and discouraged by the reactions of others when they recognize his office. What is it about Chen as a character that appeals to you, that keeps you coming back to tell his stories?
You need tensions within a character and within their situation, but I got tired of the dysfunctional loner cop with no home life and an alcohol problem. I wanted to make Chen different, still hopefully with issues, but not necessarily ones that stemmed from his own personality.
You have had an active and successful career. What advice do you have for newer writers hoping to make a name for themselves in the speculative fiction market?
To be honest? Be born a boy. I know so many women writers who are really struggling at the moment — who are excellent writers, but who never get the breaks or the recognition that men do. Once you’re over forty, it’s more or less as though you’re invisible, with a little blip when you die and everyone says ‘oh, wasn’t she wonderful!’ To redress this, I’m supporting women’s work where I can — I hope to do more for my colleagues in the coming years.
Are there any particular projects or works we can expect from you in 2015?
None. I’m back in the corporate world now, working enjoyably, but working long hours, and with very little time for writing. I need to focus on looking after my family, and the writing has been put on the back burner.
Spread the word!