Singaporean author of international satirical novels Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. Crazy Rich Asians became both a national and international bestseller and has been translated into 12 languages. It is now being adapted into a major motion picture.
Q: Tell us about your journey from wanting to be a fashion photographer to being an author.
My first degree was in journalism and creative writing, but after graduating, I moved to New York and went to Parsons School of Design to study photography. I was attracted to the glitz and glamour of fashion, but after I began assisting some very famous fashion photographers and producing fashion shoots for magazines, I realised that it wasn’t my true passion. That’s when I began working as a creative consultant and produced many books for clients like Oprah Winfrey, Kate Spade, and Elizabeth Taylor. After years of working behind the scenes on other peoples’ books, I finally decided to try writing one myself. The great benefit of having worked in the photography, fashion, and design worlds for 15 years, was that I was able to use all that experience in my books. My stories are full of fabulous fashion, glittering jewels, spectacular interior design, and there’s even a chapter in my latest novel, Rich People Problems, that takes place during a cool photo shoot with Nigel Barker.
Q: Out of all your characters, whom do you relate to the most?
The character of Alistair Cheng is the one I think I relate to the most. He works in film production, so he’s the “creative cousin” that is constantly underestimated by his family. Because he’s not a doctor, lawyer, or finance whiz, most of his relatives can’t take him seriously.
Q: Were you raised in a similar kind of world you describe in Crazy Rich Asians?
Yes, I was fortunate enough to grow up in Singapore, and because my family had been involved in banking, politics and the medical world for generations, I was exposed to both the rarified, old money establishment circles as well the flashier new money crowd. As a child, I didn’t really understand that what I was seeing was in any way unusual, but it was only when I moved to America that I began to realise… not everyone has ponds filled with baby sharks in their living rooms, or private hangars in their gardens for their airplanes.
Q: What advice do you have for those aspiring to be authors?
Trust your own voice. Because we all have original stories to tell, and the more honest you can be in telling that story, the more you will connect with your readers. When I first began writing Crazy Rich Asians, there was a part of me that was censoring myself and not wanting to go “full crazy.” I thought some of the real life-inspired stories were too unbelievable, and that I shouldn’t spend so much time describing the fashion, or the interiors of colonial era mansions. In the end, I decided to just completely be myself and portray this world in all its excess. Bring on the couture gowns and bespoke suits, the million dollar vintage sports cars and super-yachts. And guess what? My readers love all that, and constantly tell me they want more!