She’s a trained architect and visual designer and she’s an author. When she’s not designing beautiful interiors or buildings, she’s busy writing psychological thrillers. We managed to catch up with Ivy Ngeow on the sidelines of her talk on her new book The American Boyfriend at Kunzum. Excerpts from the interview:
Bhavneet: Your novel, The American Boyfriend, is a psychological thriller with a very strong female protagonist. Where did the idea of writing such a novel come from?
Ivy Ngeow: The idea of strong female protagonists came from the fact that I grew up reading a lot of Asian fiction, in fact, that’s why I wanted to write. I was really tired of the stereotype of the Asian woman as somebody who has been used a lot by the hero, which is the male figure, and the male character always directs what the woman does. I wanted to write a character about the modern Asian woman who works, travels, does all these things, looks after the children, has the support of her own family to help her with her career and children, and I wanted to bring that to the eyes of both the Asian as well as Western readers.
BSA: This was a concept which you found was missing in literature?
IN: I think it was a gradual sense that I got. I read a lot of thrillers, which is why I enjoyed the genre. I enjoyed the scary genre and I feel that a lot of women are the victims.
BSA: You grew up in Malaysia, you studied in Middlesex. You have qualified as an architect and interior decorator, and now you’re writing stories, novels. Did you always want to be a writer?
IN: I think that writing always wanted me. I didn’t always want it. They say “if it’s your calling, it will keep calling and calling”; I felt that calling. So it was something that I always did on the side because I enjoy reading and writing, I found that they were the same thing. Writing is the creative side of reading, because you always have to go into ideas. You have to explore characters, plots. So I found it was natural for me to start creating stories because my normal job is creating buildings and rooms for people and I wanted to create worlds and writing and reading are exactly like creating worlds.
BSA: As a trained architect and interior decorator, when you go on a vacation or are traveling, do you look at locations and think that maybe I can set a story here?
IN: Yes, I absolutely love it. And now I’ve been to India for the first time in my life and I find it very inspiring. It’s a very creative place. A lot of my stories are set in places where I’ve already been, or based on an image that really stuck with me. I’m inspired by the places I’ve been to. And because my training was in visual design, in creating a different world from the mundane home life, that helps a lot. I’m very used to that world of travel.
BSA: How does your family look at your stories? Do they read your books?
IN: My parents do. My children are too young because my stories are adult fiction.
BSA: Your previous books have been published in different cities. Was it intentional or was it just a matter of picking a particular target audience for those particular books?
IN: I would say it’s a mixture of both. Intentional, because I want always to set my fiction in places which are exciting or have an undercurrent of crime or they’re set in cities where people have very intense lives, or they’re set somewhere really beautiful. So all these, I think, are the silent main characters in fiction.
BSA: You have 3 psychological thrillers to your name, and you also have a cookbook to your name. You wrote in the introduction to the cookbook that you don’t like to cook. Where did the idea of writing the cookbook come across?
IN: That’s a really great question. I actually wrote the book during the pandemic for my children because at that time we never knew that the pandemic would end in two years. At first it was 2 weeks, then the two weeks became four months, and then it became two years. And I thought that they have no skills and I wanted them to grow up learning how to cook the food that they were eating at home so that when they leave home one day they would be able to cook for themselves exactly like home, and they don’t have to rely on sandwiches and McDonald’s and all that.
BSA: As an author what kind of books do you read? Who are your favorite authors?
IN: I’m a fan of Colleen Hoover and Shari Lapena. They’re American authors. In Asian authors, I like Ann Mah and Celeste Young. These are some of the writers that I follow. In the classics, I like Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, the old classics and especially Daphne du Maurier, who is, I think, the one who started the psychological thriller genre.
BSA: Apart from the new book that has just come out, The American Boyfriend, is there anything else that you’re working on or are you just taking it slow right now?
IN: Right now I’m promoting the American boyfriend in India on my 5-city book tour. But when I complete the tour, I will be going back to a novel that I’ve abandoned at about halfway, which is a psychological thriller set in London about an Asian family.
Pick up Ivy Ngeow’s The American Boyfriend from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.