From the largest council estate in Dagenham, England to Singapore as a teacher, Neil Humphreys would become a prolific author with 22 books under his belt, a humour columnist and as Sir Stamford Raffles in Talking Cock. His latest Inspector Low series, Bloody Foreigners, is an international seller; we sat with Humphreys to talk about his career and his love for the written word. Here are a few takeaways.
The dread of looking back at your earlier work
The book that launched Humphreys' career is a collection of essays about Singapore living, Notes From an Even Smaller Island. The travel book gets a 20th anniversary updated reissue this year as Humphreys sheepishly recalls the pain of re-reading his earlier writings. "That's the fundamental question that all authors would ask about previous works, 'what if it's shit?'
Everyone needs to start somewhere
Still continuing on the tangent of revisiting older writings, Humphreys admits that his earlier work is "raw, abrasive and sometimes simplistic". But the best part of Notes From an Even Smaller Island was the parts where there was an honesty, a visceral element that Humphreys isn't sure that he could recapture today.
The worst part of writing
While for some writers, it's the reviews, Humphreys, without missing a beat, says that the hardest part about writing a book is "starting". Even with the number of books that he had put out, Humphreys still finds the beginning to be a "psychological barrier" to overcome.
Using social media
Humphreys used to be active on social media, often posting funny musings and what-nots. But during the midst of the pandemic, Humphreys wrote about his experience in getting a TraceTogether Token, a bluetooth device that tracks the carrier whom they have come into contacted with. It was supposed to be an innocuous account, about how Singapore was able to utilise bluetooth devices for contact tracing.
And then the comments starting flowing in about how Humphreys was a government stooge. A lackey. Commenters railed about how the government can now track your whereabouts. Humphreys pointed out the irony in the situation that the commenters probably commented via a phone that knows where you are, what you eat, what you do.
When asked about what book should people read other than his own, Humphreys replied, "Sue Townsend. The Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾." Touting it as one of the greatest book that is ever written, it is a coming-of-age book whose central theme is about puberty but it touches on the politics in the 1980s, the class structure… "And it is the funniest book that I've ever read," Humphreys adds.
Hark! There are a lot more content to be found at Esquire Neighbourhood 2021.