Friday Night Live shortlisted author, Felicia Yap, was snapped up by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown soon after our 2015 Festival of Writing. Her brilliant high-concept thriller ‘Yesterday’ was bought by Headline’s Alex Clarke for a six-figure sum. Her latest title, ‘Future Perfect’, was also published by Headline in March 2021. Felicia has had an expansive and divergent career; we spoke to her about how you can use multiple interests to inform and add texture to your writing.
JW: Hi Felicia! It’s great to talk to you. Could you start by telling us about yourself as a writer? When did you start writing?
FY: I started out as a journalist. I wrote newspaper articles from the age of nineteen (for The Economist and The Business Times, amongst other publications). Later on, I became a historian at the University of Cambridge and spent years writing academic papers about the Second World War. I only began writing fiction properly after the idea for my debut novel ‘Yesterday’ came to me; the concept struck me on my way to a dance studio in Cambridge. I started writing the next day and I’m glad I did.
JW: Tell us about your journey to publication. Were there any events or resources that helped you along the way?
FY: I was fortunate to be shortlisted for the Friday Night Live competition at the Festival of Writing in 2015. It was a joy to read the opening paragraphs of ‘Yesterday’ to a large audience in York; I was thrilled by how the audience responded. It made me confident that my story began decently – which in turn made me twice as determined to finish my manuscript.
“Nothing in life is ever wasted when it comes to writing.”
JW: So, you got your agent – what happened next?
FY: I did an extensive round of edits with my agent. He then sent out my manuscript and it went to auction in multiple territories.
JW: What happened at the auction?
FY: I had the wonderful privilege of speaking to several editors in both the United Kingdom and America, to find out if we shared similar visions for the manuscript. It was an exciting time.
JW: You’ve had a multi-hyphenate career, including working as a radioactive-cell biologist, a war historian, and a technology journalist. How have your different career paths informed your writing?
FY: I have drawn on technical elements and knowledge from the professional orbits I’ve moved through. I have also incorporated sensory details from these worlds. My second novel ‘Future Perfect’ combines high fashion with technology; the book is set in the near future where computers will be able to predict how we will live and when we will die. The first chapter is told by a model who carries a bomb down a catwalk in Manhattan. I used to be a runway model and wrote quite a few articles on detection/prediction technologies for The Economist in the past. ‘Yesterday’ contains spoof academic papers and science articles in the house styles of the publications I have contributed to. Nothing in life is ever wasted when it comes to writing.
JW: Do you have any tips for balancing writing alongside other, seemingly divergent pursuits?
FY: My unorthodox pursuits have stemmed from curiosity; I’m fascinated by the delicious possibilities out there, the things worth trying and doing. I’m convinced that divergent activities can enrich a person’s life (and one’s writing), especially the quirky ones. Life is too short not to be embraced fully. If one truly enjoys one’s pursuits, balance will come naturally.
JW: Your writing balances being very high concept whilst at the same time achieving the complexity of a murder mystery. How do you approach this?
FY: I normally begin with the concept and iron out the details later. Both my novels were inspired by conundrums, questions I knew I would be happy spending two years of my life figuring out the answers to. ‘Yesterday’ grew out of the question: ‘How do you solve a murder if you only remember yesterday?’ While ‘Future Perfect’ was inspired by the concept: ‘What if today were your last day?’ Yet, high concepts are merely empty canvases on which to hang narratives. What makes a story sparkle are the tiny yet lively details that populate it.
JW: Is your writing more research-driven or informed by the experiences you’ve already had?
FY: All my writing is informed by personal experience, the things I have done or encountered (or eavesdropped on). I try to set my stories in places that I have visited before or know well. This is because the five senses are crucial in the art of storytelling, especially their rich alchemy. Stories come alive when readers can feel, touch, hear, taste and see what the characters are experiencing. I believe that one can only write about the five senses convincingly if one has experienced them in the magical amalgamation unique to a particular location.
I also do a lot of research but only after I have completed the first drafts of my manuscripts. It helps to know what you don’t know, so that you can ask the right people the right sort of questions.
“High concepts are merely empty canvases on which to hang narratives. What makes a story sparkle are the tiny yet lively details that populate it.”
JW: Do you think that your experience as a journalist had an impact on your writing?
FY: Most certainly. The first paragraph of The Economist Style Guide continues to resonate with me. It says: “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.”
JW: Were there any other resources you found helpful along the way?
I did a couple of writing courses; they helped me understand the basic ‘rules’ of storytelling and gave me some appreciation of form, structure, and technique. It helps to know the rules if you hope to break them. More importantly, the courses put me in touch with other writers. Many of my classmates have since become good friends and we still send our works-in-progress to each other for critical feedback.
“It helps to know the rules if you hope to break them.”
JW: What are you working on next?
FY: I wish I could tell you but I’m afraid it might jinx what I’m currently working on. Even my long-suffering partner Alex hasn’t got a clue!
Felicia Yap is the author of the speculative literary thrillers ‘Future Perfect’ and ‘Yesterday’, published in multiple languages around the world. She has worked as a radioactive-cell biologist, a war historian, a university lecturer, a technology journalist, a theatre critic, a flea-market trader, and a catwalk model.