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An Interview with Ivy Ngeow, Author of The American Boyfriend


Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She holds an MA in Writing from Middlesex University, where she won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Press Prize out of almost 1,500 entrants worldwide. Her debut, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong. Her novels include Heart of Glass (2018), Overboard (2020), and White Crane Strikes (2022). She is commissioning editor of the Asian Anthology New Writing series. The American Boyfriend was longlisted for the Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize for Commercial Fiction Writers of Colour 2022 and is published by Penguin Random House Southeast Asia. She lives in London.

You can buy The American Boyfriend here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I wanted to write after I watched Hitchcock movies and later Martin Scorsese and David Lynch. As a child, I did not feel that I wanted to write. I was mostly interested in storytelling. I enjoy listening to stories and then making them up. The writing came much later when I began to form more complex ideas.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was and still am in architecture and interior design. As a student, I was a sandwich maker and made very high-class sandwiches for board meetings. I can make 66 combinations of posh sandwiches. It was really tedious after a while for me as I had to eat sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was free food, so I ate them as I was a student.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It took a long time of brainstorming and researching keywords to find my book’s title. The original title was “The Element of Trouble,” which was a terrible name.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I was thrilled to hold in my hand my book cover because I had grown up reading the orange-spined classics. I was proud that my book will now belong alongside the kind of books I was raised with. I had already seen the design because I designed it myself. I believe it is rare for a Penguin author to retain so much control and design over the cover, but I requested it as a one-off because I am already a designer and I have designed several book covers for other authors, which look totally professional, and they agreed.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift

“Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny

“Year 3000” by the Jonas Brothers

“I Feel Fine (Remastered 2009)” by The Beatles

“Mas Que Nada (Radio Edit)” by Sergio Mendes and the Black Eyed Peas

If you are curious and like these, you can listen to eight other songs on the one and only The American Boyfriend Spotify playlist, including one that is written and performed by me (“Dead Cool Guy”). Save the playlist!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I would like them to feel entertained and that they’ve learned something, whether about another culture, the Malaysian-Chinese-British culture, travel, Key West, Florida, and/or the diversity of London life. My perfect reader is a well-travelled, intelligent female who likes books, wine, TV, eating out, and has a sense of humor.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The worldwide connections have been the most astounding and rewarding part of the publishing experience. Having a publicist was already mind-blowing as I had never had one before with self-publishing or with the small publishers I had worked with.

The Penguin publicity, marketing, and sales team have opened doors from day one: #1 Sunday Times authors providing the cover endorsement quotes, media and press outreach including World Literature Today, Nerd Daily, Culturess, Book Riot, The Telegraph, and Elle, being #4 on the Straits Times bestseller list in its opening week, being on sale at WHSmith at the airport departure lounge, book launch at West End London bookshop and in the USA, in Barnes and Noble physical bookstores throughout USA and at the airports such as in Key West, Miami International, and JFK. I have also been invited to the Jaipur Literary Festival (“the greatest literary show on earth”) in February 2024. I have also seen an uptick in the sales of my other books. These opportunities to build audience trust and author visibility would not have been possible without the Penguin label. This experience has changed the way I see publishing as I come from a “nothing happens” school of thought from my previous publications.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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