The Sun Sets In Singapore
Kehinde Fadipe
(Grand Central Publishing)
Interview by Diane Slocum

Dara has been working for years to advance to partner in her law firm in Singapore and is almost there. Amaka is a banker with an addiction for luxury goods she buys with passion. Lillian was a concert pianist before she married Warren and moved with him to Singapore. The three expats are as diverse as the countries they came from – Dara from Britain, Amaka from Nigeria and Lillian from America but they are all in a book club with other well-to-do women of African descent whose lives intertwine with theirs. Complicating everything is a new arrival at Dara’s firm– Lani, a man from Nigeria who upsets all their lives in completely different ways.

AUTHORLINK: What was your first thought about this story? In what order did Dara, Amaka and Lillian come to you and how did you see them fitting together? How did Lani begin to fit into this?

“The characters came to me long before I decided to write a novel.”

FADIPE: The characters came to me long before I decided to write a novel. Amaka, a banker with a shopping addiction, came first, when I attended a dinner at an acquaintance’s apartment with a group of friends. At some point in the night, someone found her insane shoe collection and I was struck how unapologetic she was about it. She was actually really good with money, but it led me down a rabbit hole.

I met more women in Singapore, and I was drawn towards three distinct types. The appeal was in writing three different characters who might never have been friends but for the fact that they find themselves in Singapore. Lani was a very deliberate choice. I needed a catalyst, but I wasn’t
interested in all three women being romantically involved with him as I didn’t think that was realistic (and no man is that interesting!) Instead, I wondered how the same person could be viewed very differently: as a threat, a fantasy and a trigger.

AUTHORLINK: Each of your chapters is in the point of view of one of the three women, alternating between the three much of the time. How did you plan the structure of your story? What just happened as you wrote?

“There was a lot of planning, especially with my structural edits.”

FADIPE: There was a lot of planning, especially with my structural edits. Once I had a story from start to finish, I created a table with each chapter, the POV, word count and general summary of what I need to happen or how the character feels or what had happened since the last time we followed that character’s POV. Later my editor would ask me to add a timeline for the events in the book but also for the characters’ backstories. I like to know exactly what will happen in each chapter and to have a clear overview of the narrative arc; the only aspect that happens organically is the actual writing – the getting from start to finish in the chapter. I can only really relax and play with the how when I know what needs to happen.

AUTHORLINK: How did you get your understanding of each of the characters’ backgrounds and fields of knowledge – African, British, American, law, banking (and shopping), music?
FADIPE: A lot of understanding was formed from long conversations with people who worked in those fields, my own observations of the chokehold luxury and online shopping has on us as a society, and online research.

Most of the British and specifically Yoruba context I was familiar with already, but I had to research Tiv and Igbo culture by talking to friends and doing research online. That was one of my favorite aspects of writing the book because I don’t think Nigerians are taught enough about
other ethnic tribes in our country.

I am and have always been surrounded by lawyers so once I knew what questions I wanted answers to, such as what type of law Dara should practice, it wasn’t difficult to build an understanding of her life and challenges. I find lawyers to be some of the most miserable people, working in a profession that demands so much commitment for so little loyalty in return, so I wanted to develop a character, Dara, who had found a way to live a full life outside work.
The world of banking was more straightforward to research because few bankers I know talk about their work! So, once I understood the basics of what Amaka did, I could focus more on her life.

I play the piano and love classical music, so it made it easier to give Lillian the same passion. I needed to research the school systems she would have moved through and the conservatory of music she would have studied at.

AUTHORLINK: Tell about the significance of setting the story in Singapore and what you know of life there.

FADIPE: I set the novel in Singapore because I had recently moved there and I was learning and experiencing a new country and a new continent. What struck me the most was how much daily anxiety is removed when you live in a country that is well-run, but how that also can leave you
with a lot of time on your hands. It is a country where expats can bring as much or as little of their history with them as they like, and by following characters who are actively trying to put their past behind them, I thought I could write something entertaining and funny that gradually develops into a story with more meat.

AUTHORLINK: How did you get your title? Is there another title?

“For several months, we brainstormed every title imaginable…”

FADIPE: Yes! I had a different title, which my US editor told me had negative connotations in the States. For several months, we brainstormed every title imaginable – my US editor, my UK editor, my agent, my friends, my children! – until my US editor came up with ‘In Such Tremendous Heat’. My UK editor loved it but then the US team decided to go in another direction, and the same US editor came up with ‘The Sun Sets In Singapore’. It’s funny to look back on it now, but at the time it was frustrating, and I started to worry that I would end up with a title that didn’t capture the story I’d been living with for years and that had almost become another child. I love both titles now, for different reasons.

AUTHORLINK: This is your first novel, but you’ve written screenplays and even produced a film. How would you compare working in the two formats?

FADIPE: Because I love structure so much, I enjoy both formats. I do think there is more freedom in fiction – if I think of the pen like a camera, I can move around the room, jump into the past, into someone’s thoughts and memories, describe action, capture mood and sounds or voice my omniscient narrator’s musings. With film, I have to hit certain beats (I like “Save The Cat”) and I like the structure to be very tight. Ultimately, the challenge is the same which is a simple story, well told.

AUTHORLINK: Besides just enjoying the story, what lessons can we learn from your three women?

FADIPE: The biggest take-away for me is that running away from your problems is like running in a circle – it will smack you in the face eventually! On a deeper level, sometimes the very aspects of your personality and life that bring you a level of ‘success’ have to be dismantled and released to move forward.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

FADIPE: It’s called The Crescent and it’s about a group of matriarchs living on an affluent street in Lagos who go to great lengths to remove the young woman who has rented a house.

About the Author

Kehinde Fadipe trained with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as an actor. Her appearances include Misfits, Of Mary, and Ruined. She studied with the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers program and wrote and produced Spirit Children, which screened at two international short film festivals. The Sun Sets in Singapore is her first novel.