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Lost Women of Essex and Singapore with Neil Humphreys.

  • Submitted: 19th April 2023

Lost Women by Neil Humphreys

Lost Women’s locations are unique in the sense that they are essentially the darker parts of London, Essex and Singapore and Inspector Low is equally at home in all of them. He was raised in Singapore, but educated in London.

Neil Humphreys – tell us more!

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Lost Women Neil Humphreys

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Basically, he’s me in reverse. I grew up on a council estate in Dagenham, went to Manchester University and then, through a series of unlikely events, ended up in Singapore and became one of the country’s best-selling authors, which is as bizarre as it sounds.

In my previous novel, Bloody Foreigners, Low returned to London after many years away, and struggled to understand a post-Brexit city in search of a new identity. It was a bit autobiographical. When I returned after several years away, I was struck by the cultural and political changes.

The Met Police HQ

I explore this further in Lost Women in two ways. First, Inspector Low goes to London to help an old colleague/lover and is stunned by the misogyny, sexism and racism within the Metropolitan Police (he might be stunned, but I’m not sure the readers will be.)

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Lost Women Neil Humphreys

And second, his old colleague – Inspector Ramila Mistry – then follows him to help with the case in Singapore. She’s now taking my journey in reverse. Having been born and raised in Dagenham, she now visits Singapore for the first time in 20-odd years and, as a British-Indian woman, is struck by the hypocrisy of a ‘clean and green’ city. Scratch the surface and Singapore can be as grubby as any other city.

singapore flag

Visit the locations in Lost Women

The underlying theme, I suppose, is the shocking sexism and the treatment of women in general, in both countries and cultures. In England/Essex, the women are seen as objects and potential sexual conquests – and little more than that. In Singapore, they are seen as domestic slaves. In the case of the foreign domestic helpers – or maids – they exist to serve.

Essex in relation to London

Visit the locations in Lost Women

In England/Essex, Low struggles with the hypocrisy of a ‘liberal’ country still treating women so poorly, particularly those in positions of authority, like Inspector Mistry. And in Singapore, Mistry struggles with the hypocrisy of a conservative country still believing that “family values” essentially means exploiting young, foreign women and making them domestic slaves.

The sea front at Clacton

Visit the locations in Lost Women

So I take the readers on two journeys. The first is through the market towns of Essex – areas that I grew up around and know very well to show what really goes on behind the cream teas – and how women’s roles can still be defined in very sexist (even puritanical) terms.

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Geylang Road

And then in Singapore, I take the reader away from the gleaming skyscrapers into the decaying shophouses of the red-light district, to show the other side of Asia, the one where sex workers are paraded through the street like cattle, the one rarely seen in the guide books. As a journalist and an author, I have explored and written about these areas for two decades. Even now, the hypocrisy still rankles.

Singapore National Gallery

Visit the locations in Lost Women

The locations in Essex, England and Singapore are either real places – or based on places I’ve visited. Naturally, any specific places that involve murderers and nefarious deeds are fictionalised. I don’t want to be sued! My stories are all entirely fictional. But the settings must be real – or at least feel real – to me. My journalistic background and my first non-fiction, travel/social commentary books were hugely helpful in this regard. My novels need to be grounded in real times and places. Whether it’s an Essex golf course overlooking the Thames Estuary or a cafe at Singapore’s National Gallery, the readers’ have got to believe in the setting.

(And by the way, I have actually eaten at that cafe featured in the novel with some VIPs in Singapore, more than once!)

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Frinton Golf Course Essex

If a reader went for a walk around the Asian-run supermarkets of Dagenham, or played golf at any Essex golf course, or took a stroll along the seafronts at Clacton or Canvey Island, they’d meet and know the characters in the first half of this novel.

Geylang Road, Singapore

Visit the locations in Lost Women

Similarly, if they took a 2am stroll around the back alleys of Geylang (Singapore’s red-light district), they’d meet some of the faces featured in the second half of the novel. And if they visited either of Singapore’s two casinos, they’d probably meet the rest.

All my characters – every one of them – also contain autobiographical elements. I need to understand and empathise with their situations, no matter how dire or extreme. I need to know where they live, eat, drink and make their money. I’ve either visited all their homes and hangouts or I’ve met people who have. I’m a classic ‘write what you know’ writer. If I don’t know the characters or settings, I can’t write them. But if I do, they start talking to me. It’s marvellous!

And that’s what Lost Women tries to do. Whether it’s a scruffy haulage firm along the River Thames or a Singaporean massage parlour in a rundown shopping mall, I know the places well enough to take my readers with me. I’m a tour guide for some of the dodgiest places in Essex, London and Singapore!


Thanks so much Neil!

BookTrail Boarding Pass: Lost Women

Twitter: @NeilHumphreys

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