Rebecca Jones talks to Felicia Yap about her new murder mystery Yesterday.
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Now it's time for Meet the Author.
Felicia Yap's CV reads like a character from a book.
After a childhood spent in Kuala Lumpur, she's been
a biochemist, a war historian, a catwalk model, and she won a half
blue in competitive ballroom dancing at Cambridge University.
If that wasn't enough, she's now written her first novel,
which was snapped up for a 6-figure sum, after a bidding war.
It's called Yesterday and it's a murder mystery with a twist.
It poses the intriguing question, how do you solve
a crime when you can only remember yesterday?
Felicia Yap, Yesterday is set in a world where there
are two types of people.
There are Monos, who can only remember yesterday,
and there are Duos, who can remember two days ago.
Where did this extraordinary idea come from?
Well, it all happened literally on the move.
So I was on my way to a dance studio in Cambridge when this question
just arose to my mind.
How do you solve a murder when you only remember yesterday?
And that question just so intrigued me, when I got
to the dance studio I couldn't stop thinking about it.
My mind was full of all the possibilities,
the rich possibilities, which were inherent
to this speculative world.
So we got to the studio, started practising our tango.
My mind kept returning to the question, and you could say
that I worked out the early contours of that story on the dance floor
and that twists and turns were built into the fabric of the novel right
from the start.
I started writing the next day, literally, and 15 months
later I had a thriller.
Good lord, well, we'll come back to some of the points you've
just raised in a moment.
But just to explain to people what happens in this book.
In the world you create, people's memories become full
by the time they're 18 and this is down to a protein.
I wondered at this point how much you were drawing
on your background as a biochemist?
Quite a bit.
So actually trying to work out the rationale for this novel
and also how it could potentially function, I found my previous
training as a biochemist to be incredibly helpful,
because I actually write a lot of research papers about memory,
what proteins in our own world actually could have an impact on how
we ourselves make memories, and from all these papers
I was actually able to put together this hypothetical protein in this
world which I've created, which is responsible for the storage
of short-term memories.
And in this world you've created, it's segregated by memory.
It's nothing to do with wealth or education or religion,
and Monos are discriminated against by Duos, and I wondered
if you had anything else in mind when you were writing about that.
Well, I really wanted to explore this idea of memory,
what difference does an extra day of memory make?
So in my novel, the wife just remembers one day,
just because she's a Mono, and her husband is a Duo,
who remembers two days.
And it just so happens the murder in my story happens two days before,
so the husband is privy to information, memories,
facts, in his own head, which the wife does not have.
So I thought it was an interesting way of going into the story,
to create a sense of conflict, true characters and bringing that
to the sense of society and the entire novel itself.
Which came first, the memory setting, or the idea of this murder?
It was the concept which occurred to me first, but then I realised
concepts are just broad canvases.
They don't really mean very much.
What really makes the story sing, what makes it resonate with readers,
are characters which readers can identify with.
So that's why I really wanted to make it real.
What difference would this day make in the lives of real people.
So in the case of Mark and Claire, the husband and wife in my story,
that was what I was trying to look at.
You tell the story from four different perspectives,
from the point of view of the husband and the wife,
Mark and Claire, also the victim, and the detective trying
to solve the murder.
Had you got it all planned out in advance, or did
it evolve organically?
It actually did evolve organically.
Yes, I started with Claire, then I went on to Mark,
then I thought it would be interesting maybe to write
from the perspective of the villain, the woman he'd been sleeping with,
the one who was murdered at the start of the novel,
so I started in her voice, and then I realised that my story
needed a narrative drive.
Something has to power the engine of the story.
I thought maybe I should write from the perspective
of the detective too.
That was quite tricky, because I don't naturally think
like a 40-year-old male detective.
Whereas the female parts tend to come more naturally.
So I struggled a bit at first, writing the fourth voice,
the detective, but because I worked so hard at it and really tried
to get his voice right, he paradoxically became the easiest
character for me to write.
Talking to you, there maybe some people who think this novel must
be set in the future, but actually it's
mainly set in 2015.
Why was that?
I wanted it to be real, like very immediate story to all of us,
so setting it in the present day seemed to make natural sense.
Also, the novel takes place over the course of one day and it makes
sense to be drawing on things which are going on right
now, immediate to us, so that's what I wanted to do
when I was writing it.
It's really a darkly skewed version of contemporary Britain, the story,
that's what's at its core.
Yeah, I was very intrigued by one particular line,
where you say most novelists write to make sense of things
that happen to them - and I wondered with this book
what were you trying to make sense of.
Quite a few things and it goes back again to this idea of memory.
What we ourselves choose to remember and what we
ourselves choose to forget.
That's a very relevant question to myself,
because memories change over time.
They mutate, they transform and studies suggest that 80%
of what we remember isn't actually what happened.
In my case, I think back to things that happened
to me a long time ago, it gets tricky, this whole
slippery nature of memory.
We do question ourselves, whether our own memories
of the past is true.
That's what I wanted to explore in this novel.
The second thing is our own capacity for self-delusion.
What's fact, what's fake?
Really is memory a set of lies we choose to tell ourselves?
You've done all these various different jobs.
I know you were also a flea market trader at one point.
I wonder how all those different experiences have
influenced you as a writer.
It has all been incredibly useful, because I've realised that
everything is relevant when you're writing a book.
All the conversations you've listened to, eavesdropped on,
the tiniest, smallest details, they're all relevant
when you are writing a novel because details make a novel sing.
So to give you an example, from my catwalk modelling days
I was trying to think back to some of my most vivid exciting memories
of my modelling on runways, and trying to ask why
were they the most exciting.
That's when I realised that they were really vivid
because they make me feel delight when the audience was clapping,
cheering away, fear that I would fall flat, trip,
land on my nose.
Or just horror, shredding on a dress with my heel.
So that's when I realised emotions help us decide
what to remember, what to forget.
Things which really trigger something deep within our hearts,
touch us to the core.
That's why we remember them.
So that proved really useful when I was writing this book,
because people must rely on diaries to understand their past and that
really helped me write each diary entry in Yesterday,
to infuse each line in the book with more emotion and movement.
So as you said, this idea for the book suddenly came to you.
Had you always wanted to be a writer, or was it just another job
on your very long list of jobs that you were going to do,
or wanted to do?
I've always wanted to write and my dream to become a writer
began with bedtime stories, which my dad used to tell me
when I was growing up.
When you read a lot as a child you begin to wish that
you could tell the same delicious stories yourself, so there wasn't
really a Eureka moment when I thought I wanted
to be a writer.
It was more of an increasing conviction that I really wanted
to tell a story which someone would potentially enjoy,
respond to and remember.
Is this the path ahead for you now?
I would love...
Nothing would make me happier than to be a writer.
Right now, I'm writing a prequel to Yesterday,
which is called Today.
We look forward to hearing about it.
Felicia Yap, thank you so much.
Thank you so much.