10 things about: Felicia Yap, scientist-turned-thriller novelist

Cheras-born Felicia Yap made her much-anticipated debut, following the hype of a bidding war and a six-figure deal, with Yesterday, a crime thriller set in a world where most humans cannot remember beyond the prior 24 hours, last Thursday. — Picture by Tim Steele
Cheras-born Felicia Yap made her much-anticipated debut, following the hype of a bidding war and a six-figure deal, with Yesterday, a crime thriller set in a world where most humans cannot remember beyond the prior 24 hours, last Thursday. — Picture by Tim Steele

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Born in Cheras, Felicia Yap made the leap to the United Kingdom to study biochemistry in Imperial College, London on a scholarship before joining the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany as a researcher.

She had dabbled in writing for The Economist and Singapore’s Business Times, and even read history at Cambridge University which provided the backdrop for her first novel as she took a dip into the life of an author after a stint at writing school Faber Academy.

Yesterday, a crime thriller set in a world where most humans cannot remember beyond the prior 24 hours, hit the UK bookshops last Thursday; a much-anticipated debut following the hype of a bidding war and a six-figure deal.

Now finishing up a prequel amid frenzied promotion appearances and negotiating a film deal, Yap spoke to Malay Mail Online from her home overlooking the River Thames, where seagulls could be heard in the background during our phone interview.

In her own words:

I’m a Cheras girl born and bred, really. The school where I went to, Convent Peel Road, was in Pudu. For my primary and secondary school, I’d commute between my house in Cheras to Pudu, that went on throughout my entire schooling in KL. It’s about 10 kilometres away from school to home.

I don’t think I would have gone to university all the way up to PhD if I didn’t get scholarships from funding bodies or from kind benefactors So I want to help other people in the same position.

I think all life experiences help while you’re writing a book. Had I not gone to Cambridge I wouldn’t have written Yesterday, I wouldn’t have set the book there. I wouldn’t have populated the book with so many details about Cambridge.

The most important thing for writers is to keep going, especially if you’re working on the first draft. You really need something to keep yourself fascinated as a writer.

Ideas do come to me on the move. So, I write better literally on trains, on buses, on planes... I really just carry my laptop everywhere with me, and actually write stuff... just about everywhere. I really think buses work really well for me as an environment.

I’m quite an omnivorous reader. In terms of books which specifically inspired Yesterday, I found Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald the other is Kazuo Ishigiro, I like Never Let Me Go... Kazuo is amazing because I love the understated, precise nature of his storytelling and just the surreal beauty of his prose.

For me the most important thing about characters is that they’re people who are relatable to, that people can identify with. So, I just use them for the point of view of getting the story across I didn’t make any conscious decisions on who they were, what’s important is they fit the story I wanted to tell.

I actually think that the three things that make me happiest are writing, ballroom dancing and scuba diving. It’s all because there are these moments, scuba diving in particular where I’m out of the world for 60 minutes underwater.

There are very few things in life that makes you live in the present. We spend so many times remembering the past and thinking about the future. To be totally in the moment and enjoy each passing second, very few things have that insight for me.

Writing is the best thing ever. Maybe that’s why I write in the present tense. For Yesterday, it’s a very immediate story. It’s happening right now. Being in the present, that’s very important for me.

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