Ovidia Yu's fresh chance for fame at 52

Ovidia Yu's fresh chance for fame at 52

At an age when some might give up on their dreams, Singaporean writer Ovidia Yu, 52, has found a fresh chance for fame.

International publisher William Morrow has just brought out her new mystery novel and took her on a promotional tour in the United States.

Aunty Lee's Delights, about a Peranakan cook with a nose for spices and justice, is her third novel to be published overseas in two years. Last year, her book about a young Singaporean girl coming to terms with her heritage, The Mudskipper, was published by Scholastic India, just as her 1989 first mystery novel, Miss Moorthy Investigates, was acquired and republished by India's Westland-Tata group.

The William Morrow deal puts her in the rarefied ranks of Singaporean writers established overseas, such as Catherine Lim (Orion Books), Shamini Flint (Little, Brown) and US-based Kevin Kwan, author of this year's best-selling ode to bling, Crazy Rich Asians (Doubleday).

Yu is seeing the payoff from a 20-year slog since she won Singapore's first major award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1993 with the play, The Woman In A Tree On A Hill, followed by a National Arts Council's Young Artist Award three years later.

Acclaimed in local theatrical circles for hard-hitting feminist plays, she paid the bills by writing corporate training manuals. And she could have been a doctor - she gave up a place in the National University of Singapore because she refused to experiment on animals.

When she turned 50, she gave up corporate gigs to concentrate on fiction.

"When I hit 50, it was now or never," she says in conversations held before and after her recent US book tour. The gamble worked - Aunty Lee's Delights is being hailed by the influential Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews as "engaging" and "buoyant".

The book has already sold close to 900 copies in Singapore since it was launched three weeks ago. This is a substantial achievement given that sales of 2,000 copies annually can put an author on local bestseller lists.

No wonder then that at our most recent meeting, two Saturdays ago, the writer bubbles with delight. It is just after the conclusion of her overseas book tour and the day she launches the novel in Singapore at Books Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City.

She speaks breathlessly of seeing her book sell out at Barnes & Noble, the last copy gone as soon as she autographed it.

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