Five Questions with… Ovidia Yu

Ovidia Yu, author of Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Who was the inspiration for Aunty Lee?

Ovidia Yu: The “originals” of Aunty Lee are an aunt and a good friend of my mother’s, and I’ll explain in a moment why I won’t say more. They’re both lovely, lively, large ladies who are great cooks and love feeding people with food and advice. They’re also among the many who have told me they Know who I based Aunty Lee on (and it wasn’t themselves!) but that her recipes aren’t as good as their own… a total Aunty Lee trait! Yu, Ovidia

IFOA: Do you have a favourite mystery writer?

Yu: One of my all time most favourite writers on the page and in person is Louise Penny, and her being Canadian and writing about Three Pines is one of the reasons I’m so excited about the IFOA and visiting Canada.

IFOA: What time of day do you get the most writing done?

Yu: I generally start in the morning (alarm goes off at 7am) and write in 25-minute pomodoros (interspersed with dog walks, meals and laundry) and go on until I’ve done 8 pomos/reached 1500 words/it’s 5pm. Then again, I find it’s when I’m lying in bed about to drift off to sleep with the dogs finally settled in to their satisfaction that I suddenly see how I can tie up things I’ve been struggling with. So the note pad by the bed may be where the “real” writing knots get unraveled.

IFOA: Why do you think readers are so fascinated with sleuths and their unraveling of mysteries?

Yu: I think it’s because it gives us a chance to see what we would do in extreme circumstances. And the mystery story structure often presents us with someone trying to make sense of a mass of confusing and conflicting circumstanceswhich we’ve all encountered at a more mundane level in our lives—and we enjoy the challenge of working things through and the thrill of (safely) experiencing threat and danger and the happy dopamine release of a good ending.

IFOA: What is next for Aunty Lee?

Yu: I’m afraid poor Aunty Lee may find herself in hospital for a while. My father is in hospital at the moment so I’m learning more than I’ve ever needed to know about hospital food and I suspect Aunty Lee will have her own views on the subject!

Ovidia Yu is the author of the Singapore Mystery novels, an award-winning short-story writer and a playwright with over 30 plays performed. She is the recipient of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Singapore Foundation Culture Award, the National Arts Council Young Artist Award and the Singapore Youth Award. She presents the second book in her Singapore Mystery series, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials, in which her feisty titular character returns to solve another delectable mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite.

Five Questions with… Veronica Gaylie

Veronica Gaylie, author of Sword Dance: A Woman’s Story – A Celtic Poem and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What was the inspiration for Sword Dance: A Woman’s Story – A Celtic Poem?Gaylie, Veronia

Veronica Gaylie: The inspiration was the stories I grew up with in my ears. Glaswegian people tell storiesthey’ve a story for every possible life situation. My mother, grandfather and uncle told these stories, over and over. It occurred to me that other Canadian children did not grow up hearing stories about headless ghosts in graveyards, or doomed pig-raising schemes, so I thought it might be fun for people to read. From there, the poems sort of spilled out my fingers.

IFOA: These poems are written in working-class vernacular. Why was it important that your story be told this way?

Gaylie: I would not really call it “working-class vernacular”I think that’s more like a label to help identify the work for potential readers. It’s written in Glaswegian dialect, which originates in people who moved to Glasgow for work, from places they might not have wanted to leave (i.e. Ireland or the Scottish highlands). So, people naturally developed their own way of speaking, which was not the Queen’s English. Two hundred years ago, Robbie Burns was the first poet to write in Scots dialect, and he was pressured to change it. Thank goodness he didn’t or the world would not have known about that “wee mousie” turned up by a plough in the field.  For me, it’s just important to tell the stories and honour them as I heard them.

IFOA: Your other work includes The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change. Tell us a little bit about that project.

Gaylie: This is a project for environmental learning and climate change education, which I’ve been very involved in for the past 10 years. I’ve been the poet at the side of the riverbed with the scientists. To me, science is poetic. I think we encounter nature through the heart. So, I’ve made these little materials called The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change to help people to connect with the natural environment. I teach workshops for school children, community and action groups, in gardens, forests and beaches. I led some groups into Pacific Spirit Park with The Poet’s Companion this past summer. More at

IFOA: Is there an author you are currently reading who you could recommend to our readers?

Gaylie: Yes, poetry in Canada is alive and well! I am now reading Philip Kevin Paul, Taking Names Down From the Hill; Pierre Nepveu, Mirabel, and Marco Melfi, In Between Trains. These are all from great independent bookstores in Canada. I am also reading The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save us by Diana Beresford Kroeger.  You can dip into it, like poetry or prayer, and come away feeling better. You will learn the most mind-blowing things from this book, for example: oak trees have their own sunscreen.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Gaylie: Poetry, children’s stories, Words Aloud in Durham, teaching/learning organic agriculture in Kenya and whatever else is good for the soul!

Veronica Gaylie is a poet, writer, teacher and environmentalist. Her work has been published in literary journals around the globe, including Poetry Review (UK), Crannog (Ireland) and the Canadian journals ELQ/Exile Quarterly, Geist, Grain, Geez, Lake, Ditch, Room, Carte Blanche and Filling Station. S​he is the author of The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change. She has read her essays for CBC Radio Sunday Edition. Gaylie’s heart belongs to Glasgow, though her soul wanders on Canadian mountains and Irish peninsulas. She presents  her first poetry collection, Sword Dance, a memoir-style poem that profoundly embodies the classic Canadian immigrant tale.

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