Author Felicia Yap On Her New Book, "Future Perfect" And Why Crime Stories Attract Her
Malaysian-born, London-based author, Felicia Yap has just released her second novel, Future Perfect, an exciting thriller where Police Commissioner, Christian Verger races against time to solve a catwalk murder despite being told by his voice assistant that he will die tomorrow. The book is the much-anticipated follow-up to Yap's Yesterday, which was met with buzzing reviews during its release in 2017.
The former catwalk model turned writer, speaks to Tatler about her latest book, how her time as a model inspired her, her numerous travel adventures and why crime novels attract her.
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Congratulations on your new book! How did the idea for Future Perfect come about?
The idea for Future Perfect came to me on a catwalk. At a show in 2012, a backstage helper handed me an extremely heavy leather bag, just before I walked onto the runway. I remember clutching the bag and thinking as I glided down the platform: What if someone put a bomb inside the handbag and we are all going to die? Would I have led my life a little differently yesterday, had I known I would die today?
Years later, I sat down and began writing this episode from the perspective of a model named Ally. The scene now forms the first chapter of the book.
As a former catwalk model yourself, what personal experiences did you draw from to write the novel?
I was inspired by the people I met. Alexander King in Future Perfect is modelled after a designer I had worked with, a sandy-haired creative genius named Alex. Hours before a show, he draped a large piece of white satin around me, fastening it with safety pins. He then pulled out a giant pair of scissors and began snipping away. I was mesmerised by how his hands danced around the fabric, how the skirt took shape as cuttings fell around my feet. I marvelled at how the garment came to fit me like a glove, how it flowed beautifully around my ankles. Whenever I think of a creative virtuoso, I think of Alex and the dress he magicked up around me.
The models I worked with were equally inspiring. One of them was a stunning platinum-blonde girl named Daniela who knocked on the doors of at least a hundred agencies before someone eventually took her on. She is now a successful full-time model. Daniela has inspired me to never give up, to always keep trying. Her struggles to break into the fashion industry have inspired the fictional travails of my character, Maya von Meyer (the King’s muse in Future Perfect) who also has a hard time finding a job in the fashion world.
Was the transition from being a model to a writer difficult?
I was a writer long before becoming a model. I wrote for the Business Times when I was 19 and The Economist when I was 22. I only began modelling at the ripe old age of 26, when I was still doing my PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. Modelling involves a considerable amount of poise and athleticism. I had to learn how to hold my spine and head up, glide gracefully. My background as a competitive ballroom dancer helped.
When I decided to focus on my debut novel in 2015, I discovered that there are good days and bad days and I should make the most of the good ones. Bad days are days when my brain would feel like gloopy treacle; ideas would fail to form. When one is writing a high-concept thriller, this can be pretty frustrating. I learnt to find more conducive environments to write—or simply to go on long walks. When I realised that inspiration is the alchemic response to the surprising, unfamiliar and unexpected, I also began doing a lot of writing on the road.
You have visited more than 130 countries and the novel also takes place in various cities, was there any reason you chose these places in particular?
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, their rich and delicious 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 set part of Future Perfect in Montana because I once rode a beautiful white stallion through the Montanan side of the Yellowstone National Park, a horse with a golden mane. I remember peach-red sun rays streaming into my face, a delicate breeze caressing my shoulders and the glorious scent of wildflowers in the air as I cantered across the pristine landscape. When I got off the horse, I vowed I would set a story in Montana one day.
Manhattan’s dizzying pace and frenetic energy mesmerize me each time I visit the city; I have tried to capture a bit of the Big Apple’s soul in Future Perfect. The rest of the book’s action mainly takes place in London, the city where I currently reside and know well.
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What is it about crime stories that attract you? Do you have particular work that you draw inspiration from?
As a reader, I like the suspense element of crime stories, how tantalising information is revealed in stages. I love how crime stories are frequently propelled by a sense of urgency, how they often have in-built ticking clocks that compel us to keep turning the pages. I also enjoy the mystery element of crime novels, the thrill of finding out who-did-it or why-it-happened. It’s fun to discover how different threads of a narrative are brought together, how different pieces of the jigsaw can make a coherent whole.
As a writer, I enjoy the process of working out the logical order and structure of a crime story, the challenge of withholding information from the reader until the right moment. It’s wonderful to have the power to resolve mysteries and tie up loose ends, to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. If it’s fun to read a crime story, it’s even more fun to write one.
I’m inspired by Daphne Du Maurier (especially her magnum opus Rebecca), Agatha Christie and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night helped inspire the tangled romantic relationship between the main characters in my debut novel, Yesterday. I’m also a fan of the works of Patricia Highsmith, especially The Talented Mr Ripley.
You're big on concepts and ideas, what main themes are you particularly interested in and what did you want to explore here?
Future Perfect explores how computers might soon know us better than we do ourselves. They might be able to predict our futures, how we will live – and perhaps even when we will die. I’ve long been fascinated by predictive technology. During my time at the science and technology section of The Economist, I wrote several articles on how technology can detect buried treasure or predict phenomena like tsunamis or wildfires. I’m intrigued by how artificial intelligence can pinpoint our profiles with increasing accuracy, based on our data trails. It’s possible that computers will soon amass so much data about us (like our health metrics, consumption habits and personal preferences), they will be able to predict our short-term prospects with ease. In Future Perfect, an app called iPredict provides forecasts about what will happen to a person over the next two days and a large swathe of humanity is, predictably, addicted to the app.
I’m also fascinated by how computers might be able to predict a person’s likelihood of becoming a murderer. In Future Perfect, a secret service software named CriminalX scans people’s backgrounds and data trails (such as their Google histories) to prevent future homicides and terrorist attacks.
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What do you want readers to take away from your new book?
I believe that good speculative fiction holds up a mirror to ourselves, prompts us to ask new questions about our current surroundings. Great fiction reflects reality, makes us realise new truths about ourselves. Future Perfect is partly about perfection in life – or the impossibility of it. I wanted to explore how imperfection has a savage beauty of its own, how it makes us human (and our lives worth living). I would love readers of my book to come away with a new understanding of themselves and the world they inhabit.
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