Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Eeleen Lee?
A denizen of the night. Seriously, I’m not a day person and function best after 7pm and during the wee hours.
But also seriously: I’m a Chinese-Malaysian who’s lived in a few different countries and had a peripatetic childhood and education.
Your new novel, Liquid Crystal Nightingale, is due to be published by Abaddon in March. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
An initial review compared the experience of reading the novel to Snow Crash and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because, like those two novels, Liquid Crystal Nightingale hurls the reader into the story with little handholding. Although I would introduce it as hard science fiction that’s not hard to read.
I would call it a space operetta: it’s not the usual wide-screen space opera but the events foreshadow bigger rumblings in the background, which will be covered in more detail in a second book.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The novel originally began as an exercise: write a few paragraphs about imaginary and improbable cities, à la Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. As soon as I started writing about a science fiction city that looked like a cat’s eye when seen from space, I had to develop it.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
When I was in primary school in London the Swiss Cottage Central Library had an excellent collection of children’s books: ghost stories, fantasy and a little science fiction. And then there was my brother who was into Star Wars and science fiction. He left his books lying around the house. One of them which made a huge impression on me was The Book of Alien (1979), a behind-the-scenes-look about the production of the film, and that’s how I discovered my love of science fiction concept art.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I work in publishing in Malaysia and now I teach writing in Kuala Lumpur. It’s like being a mechanic and a race-car driver: it’s reassuring to know that you can be useful behind the wheel and under the hood.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m scared of facing the blank page so during the drafting stage I use Google Docs but don’t turn on my laptop. I write on various devices such as phone or iPad since their screens are much smaller and less daunting.
I like going to bookshops and thumbing through the latest science and technology magazines.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
When I was seven years old I wrote a fictitious review if the film Tron (1982) because I wanted to seem cooler than the other kids in class. The teacher found the review so convincing she asked me to read it out in class. In that moment I realized I had a way with words.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
There’s no short answer to both parts of the question but I can say that the genre is quite exciting nowadays, if you read the lists of monthly new releases. Also, there’s the thrill of working for yourself as a writer.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a military science fiction novel at the moment, set in a different universe from Liquid Crystal Nightingale.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Fiction: Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi.
Non-fiction: The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
H Is For Hawk by Helen McDonald. It’s a beautiful, poignant memoir about grief, death, the place of humans in the natural world, and a diary about falconry.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a failed scientist — I didn’t qualify to study Science subjects because my Maths was poor. Researching for my writing is a way to compensate for that.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Travel, and getting back into dance now that my sprained tendon has healed.