Lauren Ho: Comp titles are comp titles--a guide. There are certainly similarities in the sense that the novel is set in Singapore and there are themes about family pressure and cultural identity, etc, but while my book involves a privileged set of working professionals at the height of their careers, it’s certainly not the same rarefied milieu that the characters in Crazy Rich Asians inhabit. The tone is similar to Bridget Jones’s Diary, but Andrea is a little more sardonic, and she’s very much more a hot mess of a human being--very successful on the face of it, but very unsure of who she is, inside.
Your novel includes a chapter dedicated to Luxembourg, where you lived from 2007-13. What were you doing in Luxembourg then?
Which aspects of your Luxembourg experience are captured in the book?
Without getting spoilery, let’s just say Andrea, the protagonist, and her colleague and rival Suresh are in Luxembourg to try to resolve a potential legal issue for their clients. I did mention that the lawyers in Luxembourg are pragmatic, business-minded lawyers. There’s some meandering in the cobblestone streets of the old city and the Grund. There’s also scene set in Sofitel and Kirchberg.
And I do mention SPA agreements, somewhere, in that chapter in passing. Very sexy.
Could you talk about your experience of living as an expat in Luxembourg compared to your expat experiences in other countries?
It’s a bit hard to compare apples with oranges as I was an “expat” in 3 different countries at very different stages of my life. But I suppose my impression of Luxembourg is that it’s a cosmopolitan city that is very welcoming to foreigners, as I recall. And it’s diversifying and evolving at a staggering rate--every year that I’m back I feel like it’s reinvented itself. It’s a modern, dynamic city, yet it retains a certain old-world charm. That’s what’s special about Luxembourg, this contrast.
Could you tell me more about your transition from the legal to the literary world?
I harboured dreams of being a published novelist, but being pragmatic, decided that going to law school and getting a degree was safer. Nobody incepted the idea that law (or medicine, the other popular, safe choice) should be my only choice--my parents never pressured me to pick either--but I didn’t know better. I think I was also influenced by how being a lawyer was portrayed as being glamourous in the media (I mean, have you watched Suits/Ally McBeal?). I might have just liked the idea of wearing pencil suits.
I went on to work in one of the largest law firms in Luxembourg before becoming a legal counsel with the Central Bank of Luxembourg. I wasn’t exactly writing a lot back then, because the truth was I was often too tired (mentally and emotionally) at the end of the day. I was writing a novel around that time but had to abandon it.
It was only after I moved to Singapore and returned to the humanitarian sector was I finally in the right headspace to write again. I had also matured as a person and had more stories to tell, and the discipline to tell them. Friends advised me to kick-start my writing, so I started writing flash fiction and short stories again. Being shortlisted in a few international competitions gave me more confidence to pursue my dream of becoming a published novelist. In late 2016, I got the idea for Last Tang Standing and finished the first draft in 2017/18. I sold the novel in 2019. I also placed second in the Singapore biennial fiction writing competition, the Golden Point Award, in 2019.
Could you take us through the process of writing the book and how you managed to do so with your other priorities?
I’m actually working full-time as an author now, although once I’m re-settled back in Singapore I’d like to freelance in the social sector.
When I wrote the book in 2017 I was still working full-time, and what I would do was write my book at night. I wrote almost every day, at least 300 words a day, even if what was coming out was (to me) sub-par. But you need to finish a manuscript first before you can fine-tune it, that’s my advice to aspiring novelists.
Your novel was published in June of this year. What was it like to debut during the covid-19 pandemic, and did you receive any support from surprising places?
It’s a really crap year to be a debut author, but you know, I’ve been very blessed to have had massive support from stakeholders at every level. My publishers, Putnam (North America) and HarperFiction (UK/Commonwealth), and my agent have been so lovely, but even some of the people who were from competing imprints have been so generous with their praise and support online.
I want to use this opportunity to thank all the booksellers (especially independent bookstores like Ernster!) who rallied behind LTS, so much so sometimes I would get someone tag me (@hellolaurenho on IG and Twitter) to say they got a copy somewhere half the world away from their local bookstore, which always makes me happy.
I also love the bookstagram community. It’s been really interesting for me because I wasn’t on IG much (actively) until this year and I’ve learnt a lot from some of these very experienced bookstagrammers. They have been very kind. A few of my fave bookstgrammers are @owlslittlelibrary, @bradeighgodfrey, @bookswithtay, @lookprettybooks, @fatin.rosnan and @be_yourshelf—they give good comprehensive reviews with interesting personal insights informed by their lived cultural experiences.
I’ve also had amazing, established authors reach out to me or agree to share their platform with me. I just completed a panel with one of my literary heroes, Kevin Kwan, early July, and I got Twitter shout-outs from David Nicholls, Jodi Picoult and Beth O’Leary, and established international bestselling Malaysian authors Zen Cho and Hanna Alkaf. My fellow @debuts2020 (IG) have also been the best cheerleading squad, sharing advice, sympathy and support. I’m very grateful for them all.
Can you tell us what your plans are for the year or two ahead? For example, will there be a sequel?
Yes, there’s a sequel in the works!
Lauren Ho will join Delano for a live chat on 2 September at 12pm. Details about the event will be forthcoming.