Name: Elka Ray
Age: Before or after coffee?
Where are you from?
Born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have spent the past two decades in Southeast Asia.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
After studying Journalism and Asian Studies at university, I moved to Vietnam in 1995 “for one year”. More than two decades later I’m still here, living by the beach with my family in Central Vietnam.
As well as writing fiction for adults I also write and illustrate kids’ books.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My short story collection “What You Don’t Know: Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia” came out last fall, followed by a psychological suspense novel, “Saigon Dark”, released last winter.
I’m now 70,000 words into the first draft of a new suspense manuscript, set on Canada’s West Coast, where I grew up.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As a kid I loved to read, draw and write. A Grade 6 teacher told my mom I’d be a writer when I grew up.
I started devoting serious time to writing fiction in my twenties and got an agent and some encouragement but no success. It took until 2011 to get my first book – a light romantic mystery called “Hanoi Jane” – published.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Some time after my first book was published.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your latest book?
“Saigon Dark” follows a grieving mother who makes a morally questionable choice that requires her to live a lie. The idea for the story came to me after the death of my first child. I’d never experienced real grief and was unprepared for how crazy I felt. I spent a lot of time pretending to be okay, which actually made me feel worse.I wanted to explore hidden grief and the corrosion caused by lies. Pretending eats away at you.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I hope so. My goal is to write prose that’s simple, clear and vivid.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title “Saigon Dark”?
The book’s set in Saigon and examines some dark emotions.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Lies are toxic.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In my experience, stories are like plants – there’s a seed from your own life, something you saw, felt or heard, some kernel of emotion that stays with you. But once that seed’s planted, you don’t know what will grow from it.
The seed for “Saigon Dark” was my daughter’s death and the questions it raised. Why, when I was lucky in so many ways, was I hung up on her loss? What grew out of that was the character of Lily Vo, a woman who’s smart, successful and loved – yet struggles to overcome the darkest moments of her past.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I’ve been very lucky to be mentored by the brilliant author Deborah Nolan, aka A.D. Scott, the force behind the Scottish Highland Gazette mystery series.
As a child and young adult I read widely and across genres – everything from the classics – Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, Great Expectations, etc. – to teenage trash. In my twenties I read mainly literary fiction. These days, it’s all about crime. The UK has an impressive crop of contemporary female crime writers – Tana French, Belinda Bauer, Denise Mina.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Tired of the stresses of city life and working in the ER, Milla agrees to move to Brier Island, a remote island on Canada’s West Coast where her husband Blake grew up. Milla soon discovers that this picturesque spot has a troubling secret – the disappearance of a native high school girl twenty years back. None of the islanders want to discuss this missing Indian girl, who’s been dismissed as a runaway. Even Blake seems cagey. Is Mila just paranoid or could this cold case put her and Blake in danger?
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Overcoming self-doubt. You spend months or even years working alone on something that might not be any good. What if no one gets it?
The rewards are those moments when you’re in the zone and the story’s flowing out of nowhere. It’s magic. For me, it’s like listening to a car radio on a country road. You spin the dial and get static and more static and then, all of a sudden, there’s a voice telling you a story.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned more about my readership. Readers who want clearcut heroes and heroines don’t like my main characters, complaining they aren’t “nice people”. This is true. Rather than write about virtuous detectives trying to solve crimes, I prefer to focus on the wrong-doers – and grey areas. I’m interested in people whose morals and world-views differ from my own. I want to understand how they justify what they do.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
In the words of Elmore Leonard: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Look away kids.
I stole this off the Internet, years ago. I actually like Christmas – but find this hilarious.
Cry: Toys R’ Us in Hong Kong just before Christmas – thousands of people lining up to buy ugly plastic crap that’ll soon go into a landfill. It made me despair.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?