Thursday, 6 December 2018


Canadian author, Elka Ray's Saigon Dark was recently read and enjoyed - on the blog here.

Elka was kind enough to humour me by answering a few questions about her writing......

Is the writing full time? If not, whats the day job?

As well as writing suspense and mysteries for adults, I work part time as an editor and write and illustrate kids' picture books.

Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

Elka Ray is a Canadian author and illustrator who lives in Central Vietnam.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I usually start work at 8 a.m., after my kids go to school, and work through lunch until 3.30 or 4 p.m., when I go for a swim in the ocean.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

While I've learned to plan my novels chapter-by-chapter, things change along the way. I'll go through most of Draft One convinced X is the culprit only to learn that Y did it.

Is it a different process writing a short story as opposed to a novel?

With a novel there's always that moment of blind panic. It's like being given a huge pile of scraps and spare parts, no instructions, and told to build a motorized vehicle.

I’ve just finished and enjoyed Saigon Dark, how long from conception to completion did it take? Was it a smooth process (if you can remember) or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

Thank you. It took about a year to write, with much of that time spent revising. As the title suggests, the story has some dark moments, involving grief, lies, and betrayal. Writing was emotional as the story grew from the death of my first child. I wanted to explore the irrationality of grief - and how pretending to be fine is self-defeating. In her despair, the main character, Lily, makes an irrational and morally questionable choice that forces her to live a lie.

Did it end up being the book you anticipated at the start of the process?

I think so but who knows? I've heard many people describe the same past event in contradictory ways. We edit our memories to fit our current beliefs.

From the bit of research Ive done, you had an earlier book Hanoi Jane published in 2012, a collection of short stories in 2016 What You Dont Know and next year a new book - Divorce is Murder drops. Oh and you also write (and illustrate?) books for children. Do you favour one of your books over than the other? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader?

Readers who like thought-provoking suspense should try Saigon Dark. Those looking for a mystery that's light and funny will prefer my upcoming mystery Divorce is Murder.

The kids' books are all about Vietnam - where I live with my family.

Your next book seems to break with tradition, with a setting of British Columbia, is it an area you are familiar with? I believe you hail from Canada (albeit via the UK)?

Divorce is Murder is set in Victoria, British Columbia, where I grew up. Vancouver Island is beautiful, quiet and pristine, making it the perfect setting for some mayhem.

Your adult books all seem to have elements of murder or at least mystery at the heart of them, though Ive seen a description of your debut, Hanoi Jane as a fine mix of mystery and chick lit.I dont think Saigon Dark could be any further from chick lit. Do you see yourself as a crime writer per se? Were you ever tempted to go the chick lit route with your fiction?

I write two types of crime: domestic suspense/noir and lighter, funnier mysteries. Divorce is Murder is somewhat chick litty, although the term makes me cringe, evoking dilemmas about as deep as a powder compact. The story involves a Chinese-Canadian divorce lawyer, Toby Wong, who seeks to clear a client charged with the murder of his nasty estranged wife, who bullied Toby as a teenager.

Whether I'm writing darker, heavier noir or light suspense, I'm exploring wrong-doing. If no one's behaving badly, there's no story.

Do you anticipate more Canadian based work in future, or will you be heading back to the familiar territory of Vietnam and South East Asia? I sense theres a strong connection with Vietnam from you. How long have you lived there?

Seventh Street, the publisher of Divorce is Murder, is angling for a series, which would mean more Toby Wong books set on Vancouver Island. I hope that pans out. A short story set in Thailand, titled One Hit Wonder, will come out in the anthology A Time for Violence in early 2019. I've lived in Vietnam for over two decades, so more stories set in Southeast Asia are inevitable.

Whats been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

I'm excited about Divorce is Murder. But I'm always excited about the next book.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

Unpublished, yes. Gems? I doubt it.

Any advice for prospective authors out there?

If you feel the need to invent stories, keep at it. Writing is a craft - like wood-working. You need good ideas but more than that, it takes grunt work: sawing, hammering, sanding.

Whats the best thing about writing?

That moment when a new story takes hold and you can't not write it.

The worst?

While rejection is never fun, it gets easier. If someone dislikes one of my stories I figure 'oh well, maybe you'll like the next one'. But even if you don't - someone else will.

I often compare writing to wood-working. Let's say I built a cabinet. Maybe you're looking for a table. Or else you're in the market for a cabinet but prefer antiques, while mine's modern. By not buying my cabinet you're not saying I'm a bad wood-worker, or - more importantly - that I'm a crap person. I think many new writers take rejection very personally.

What are the last five books youve read?

A quick check of my Kindle reveals:

Under A Dark Sky - Lori Rader-Day (now reading)

Tangerine - Christine Mangan

The Wych Elm - Tana French

Then She Was Gone - Lisa Jewell

In a Dark, Dark Wood - Ruth Ware

Who do you read and enjoy?

As the above list reveals, I read a lot of suspense. Many of today's best crime writers are women, including Tana French, Belinda Bauer, Sabine Durrant, Jane Harper, and Megan Abbott.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Scott Smith's A Simple Plan. A couple of guys find a bag of cash in a wrecked plane and do the wrong thing. Scott Smith - wherever you are - please stop writing screenplays and write another novel.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I love being in the ocean.

Whats the last film you watched that rocked you?

TV addict or not? Whats the must watch show in the Ray household?

I rarely watch movies or TV but am secretly and severely addicted to true crime podcasts. Below, in no particular order, is a list of ones I recommend:

The Teacher's Pet

Phoebe's Fall



Someone Knows Something, especially Seasons 1 & 5

Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?


Serial, Season 1

Up and Vanished


Death in Ice Valley

In a couple of yearstime.....

I hope to be as happy as I am now.


Many thanks to Elka for her time

Catch her at her website -


  1. Col, Elka Ray's writing schedule sounds like a full day's job, which, of course, writing is for those who have made a career of it. I also liked her definition of a novel, woodworking, though I myself liken writing to plumbing, going at the keyboard with a plunger. I'd like to read SAIGON DARK for I have read fine things about the book on social media (not counting your own review which I just read). I have been intrigued by Vietnam ever since I read Anthony Grey's 800-page historical fiction SAIGON published in 1982.

    1. Prashant, I think you could do a lot worse than reading Saigon Dark. I think I read the Grey book many years ago, It was a bit of a house brick as I dimly recall.

    2. It was a door-stopper. I like Anthony Grey's writing as he brings his experiences as a British journalist to his historical fiction.

    3. I might still have the book in my tubs, as I was loathe to part with any of my "Vietnam" books.

  2. Really interesting interview, for which thanks, both. I give lots of credit for writing different sorts of novels, both lighter and darker. And I know all about working writing in to a family life. Wishing you success.

    1. Margot, thanks. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

  3. Interesting stuff: Thank you, Ms Ray.

    Scott Smith's second novel, The Ruins, was published in 2006. I confess it's still sitting on my shelf unread. Like Ms Ray, I adore A Simple Plan, and I'm irrationally nervous of being disappointed by the later novel!

    1. I must read A Simple Plan soon, I loved the film. I looked up The Ruins, but it doesn't particularly appeal to me.

  4. Col – Thanks for posting this interview. Her lighter stuff sounds good to me. And I am keeping that list of podcasts.

    1. Elgin, I think in the new year I'll give a couple of podcasts a listen. I've not tried any yet.

  5. All of these books sound interesting. I like Elka Ray's outlook.

    1. I'm sure you can find something of hers to try!