author of Crazy Rich Asians
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Singapore and enjoyed a blissful childhood climbing trees, taunting neighbourhood dogs and eating five meals a day. I went to a private school where I was taught the Queen’s English and drilled in all subjects, including a class called “Moral Education.” When I was eleven, I was dragged (kicking and screaming) to Houston, Texas, where I was put in a suburban public school. I learned to get rid of my Queen’s English accent FAST. After surviving high school and then college at the University of Houston, where I majored in Media Studies and Creative Writing, I moved to New York and enrolled in Parsons School of Design to study photography. (Of course, that was just an excuse to remain in New York forever.)
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At TWELVE, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect life than diving into oceans in search of new species of marine life, and I maintained a saltwater tank that at its zenith boasted an octopus, a Lionfish, a Picasso Triggerfish, and a suicidal stingray that kept trying to jump out of the tank. I also had a thriving black market business trading exotic fish with other local aquariums. Then I hit puberty and promptly lost interest in fish.
At EIGHTEEN, I had no idea what I wanted to do and had absolutely no ambition. If I recall, my dream was to go to Morocco and hike the Atlas Mountains, where I was told there was a portal to a parallel universe.
At THIRTY, I was juggling three careers as a writer, a creative consultant and a fine art photographer. At that point, I think I just wanted to be retired.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That butter, eggs, and coconut water are bad for you.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
FILM: Wong Kar Wei’s “In the Mood For Love.”
ART: Donald Judd’s installation in Marfa, Texas – “Untitled, 100 works in mill aluminium.”
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
The vision for “Crazy Rich Asians” had been brewing in my mind for twenty years, and I felt most confident that I could recreate this world by using words first.
Crazy Rich Asians is a fun, satirical story of three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and all the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season. When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.
Initiated into a world of dynastic splendour beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose stylish family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong society magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should—and should not—marry. The book is a romp through Asia’s most opulent playgrounds, providing an insider’s look at the Asian Jet Set.
It is a comedy of manners depicting the clash between old money and new money, the rivalries between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese, and ultimately about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope readers will have laughed a lot and feel like they were transported to another world for a little while.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Joan Didion. Because her nonfiction is brilliantly devastating, and her fiction devastatingly brilliant.
I’d like to be able to make a living writing novels. From a house in Italy with an ocean view. (With the book industry in the state it’s in, and property prices on the island of Capri at an all time high, I think that’s a rather ambitious goal.)
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid to channel your inner freak. Tell your truth, whatever it is, and don’t censor yourself in the belief that those crazy voices in your head are not valid or not original enough to put on paper. It’s always the work that you think is too personal, too messy, and too weird that people will notice the most.
Kevin, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.