“Stories are about making the “other” world that your audience can access”: Ivy Ngeow (Author)

interview with ivy ngeow author of the american boyfriend
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Amritesh Mukherjee from Team P3 is in conversation with author Ivy Ngeow.

Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Her debut, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong. Her novels include Heart of Glass (2018), Overboard (2020), and White Crane Strikes (2022).

She is the commissioning editor of the Asian Anthology New Writing series. The American Boyfriend was longlisted for the Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize for Commercial Fiction Writers of Colour 2022. She lives in London.

Amritesh Mukherjee from Team P3 recently caught up with her at the Jaipur Literature Festival early this year.

Amritesh Mukherjee: How has your experience at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year so far?

Ivy Ngeow: I enjoyed every minute at the Jaipur Lit Fest 2024. It’s my first time here in India and Jaipur, and I have found the experience very real and heart-warming.

Amritesh Mukherjee: How has your background in architecture and interior design shaped the creative process in your writing?

Ivy Ngeow: Having design training shapes the way we think about how our world is made. Stories are about making the “other” world that your audience can access. It’s about creating a satisfying and rich set of experiences curated and put together in a meaningful context.

Amritesh Mukherjee: What have been some of your literary influences growing up? 

Ivy Ngeow: Growing up, I was reading what everybody else was reading, like the school lists. I was fond of modern American writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee. I was also fond of U.K. writers like George Orwell. Especially du Maurier. Rebecca is my favourite book.

Amritesh Mukherjee: How did growing up in Johor Bahru influence your writing and your choice of themes?

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow: Growing up in Johor Bahru, I always felt that I must leave Johor Bahru to do something great. It’s a huge city that is primarily green, industrial, and probably 75 percent working class. I was hungry for culture and art, something that stimulates life experiences and my mind. I always sought inspiration in the library, museum, or galleries. I found it hard to get it from the popular culture and media because there was none. So, I found my other world and life in books and reading.

As a child, my mother took me to Johore Central Store, an Indian Muslim bookshop. It’s the classic old bookshop with books from floor to ceiling. Every corner, every space was filled with books on everything you could look for. That was my dream shop. And the other was the library because my mother got me a library card when I was nine. She was also a schoolteacher. So, she brought back books from her school library. With those, I was kept very satisfied and happy. I grew up with only a bike, a piano, and a library card. That was my world in Johor Bahru.

Amritesh Mukherjee: In that process of reading while growing up, where did the inspiration to become a writer come from?

Ivy Ngeow: I was always interested in telling stories. I felt that books were things that were written by others for me. I never thought that I’d be a writer. I didn’t know that writing involved making up stories, and I enjoyed them. And I also enjoyed extending my reading process by rethinking endings or the characters. What I didn’t realize was that that was writing. You create something and recreate it. It came organically to me. They always say that if writing is your calling, it will keep calling.

Amritesh Mukherjee: How do you approach the specific diversity in your writing, characters, themes, and settings?

Ivy Ngeow: I like diverse settings and characters because I enjoy mirroring the world that we live in now. When I travel, I see people from everywhere in the world. When I go to a restaurant, I see people from everywhere. And that is part of our modern life. You know, modernity. To enjoy that and not share it seems dumb. If you give that sense of how varied our lives are nowadays, the modern life with social media and so on, readers will absorb that. They understand that, too. This is contemporary life now.

Amritesh Mukherjee: Can you share some insights about your upcoming projects?

Ivy Ngeow: Right now, my only project is this India Book Tour in five cities. That is taking up my focus. When the tour ends, I will revisit an abandoned manuscript I wrote but had to stop. I’m hoping to work on that.

Amritesh Mukherjee: Are there any new genres or avenues you are eager to explore in the coming time?

Ivy Ngeow: Okay, this is a very exciting question. I’m going to explore immigrant life in London more. It is a shaky and sensitive topic because there is no one immigrant life. We are all living our own unique experiences because we’ve all come at different times in different places, from other worlds. Writing about London will open not just the reader’s eyes but my own eyes to how I have come to be in this situation.

You can also watch this interview with Ivy Ngeow on our YouTube channel, The Purple Corner.

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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