Is this the next Crazy Rich Asians?! Expat mum-of-two Stephanie Suga Chen is the author brand new book, Travails of a Trailing Spouse. She tells Carolynne Dear what prompted her to put pen to paper
So what’s it all about?
The story begins with Sarah, a lawyer in the US, quitting her job and moving to Singapore with her husband and children. They become part of a close-knit group of expatriates, enjoying alcohol-fuelled evenings together. But when cracks appear in this seemingly perfect world, Sarah and her friends discover how complicated life can be.
How long did it take you to write?
The answer usually shocks people! It took me about five weeks – I wrote a chapter a night. I think I just had it all pent up inside me, ready to flow out. Editing, well, that’s a whole other story – I think that took five months.
Have you always been a writer, or is this a shift from a previous career?
It was a complete shift; I left my career in finance when we decided to move to Singapore in 2012. Although one of my goals had been to possibly find a new career for myself, I admit it took longer than I had expected. I spent about four years floundering quite a bit – lots of yoga, lunches and volunteering until I discovered writing.
How was the writing process?
I wrote everywhere – at home, on the MRT, at school waiting for the kids. And I used many different media – laptop, phone, scribbles on a scrap of paper.
How much of the story is autobiographical?
This is everyone’s favourite question. It did start as a memoir, but I found it a lot more fun to fictionalize it. So if you’re wondering, the juicier bits are probably made up. Although I’ve heard many readers say “I know that exact person!”
Why do you think expats often struggle despite their comfortable lifestyles?
Although the novel centres around expat life, the problems that the characters face are not necessarily unique to trailing spouses. I think the journey of self-discovery applies to anyone at a crossroads in life; it just happens to have a more exotic setting – similar to Eat, Pray, Love.
What would you say are the best and the worst bits of being an expat?
For me, I would say the best is having my children experience diversity on a daily basis. The worst is definitely being away from family and friends, although that can sometimes be a good thing, too – being shielded from the stressful, Christmas holiday period is one example that springs to mind.
Any downsides to life in Singapore?
The unyielding heat takes quite a bit of getting used to.
What would be your advice to expats moving to Singapore?
Three things: 1) The fight against mold is real, 2) Enjoy every moment, 3) Read my book!
Do you have any plans for a follow-up novel?
I have several projects in the pipeline, and I’ve already collected dozens of stories for a possible sequel. If you’ve got any of those ‘too crazy to be true’ expat stories, please do send them my way!
Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen is published by Straits Times Press and is available internationally from stpressbooks.com.sg.