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Alumni of the month: Nam Cheah (MSci Geology)

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

It's a Match - when Geology meets Sci-Fi!

With an upbeat energy and enthusiastic personality, Nam has a special charisma of turning daily-life trivia into an engrossing story when our editors asked about her interesting experience of being a writer.

Turns out that not only is Nam a freelance travel blogger, she is also an author. By the time she graduated from Imperial, she had already self-published a Sci-fi trilogy - The Protectors of Earth Chronicles. It garnered a combined 2 million views on Wattpad with an audience base in the US, Canada, the UK and India, just to name a few.

Her upcoming novel, It’s a Match, is set in the 2030s in London. The story follows a final year Imperial student, Sarah, who tries to find a boyfriend through online dating with the help of Artificial Intelligence, only to discover something more influential.

Why did you want to become a writer?

I have always loved to read since I was young, and I always find myself imagining different scenarios and endings when I read or watch TV. I’d see something I like and then the author might take it in a completely different direction, and I’ve always felt like there’s a lack of internationally set Sci-fi stories that’s not space opera. So I ended up writing my own stories, inspired by these books, TV series, and movies, and eventually spinning them into my own tales.

Can you tell us why you went to Imperial and what it was like to study Geology?

I had been studying in the UK since I was 11 and my father is also an Imperial alumnus. My first trip to Imperial was when I first went over, but I really fell in love with the RSM department and IC on the open day I went to when I was in sixth form.

Geology was a fun subject to study and very different, in a good way, to a typical university experience. Every year, we got to go on field trips to places like Spain, Scotland, and Sardinia. It is rare to be able to get to know your course mates on weeks-long excursions, being in the middle of nowhere, and bond. However, I soon realised that to pursue a career in Mining or Oil and Gas, as is typical of Geology graduate, requires a PhD degree. After exploring mining as an option, I decided that I wanted to pursue a different career to what I was studying.

But studying Geology has equipped me with a lot of skills which help me as a writer. From the grand scale of the geological time table that stretches back billions of years, the ability to think in 3-D to consider the minute details, to being able to appreciate the vast evolutionary history of the world’s species certainly came in handy when I write. Not to mention the scientific and analytical ways of writing and thinking.

What was the inspiration for your new book It’s a Match?

I was inspired by the books of Yuval Noah Harari - Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow, as well as the documentaries Facebook Dilemma and Connected. “What if AI can communicate with each other? How will that change the scene of online dating?” This very idea from Homo Deus sparked the idea for this novel, which had floated around in my mind for two years before it finally materialised into the version it is today. I ended up writing it all in four months after I had decided on its settings.

I originally wanted to set it in Hong Kong, but I was drawn back to my time in the UK, somewhere that I had spent 12 years of my life. I wanted it to reflect the university life that I know, of the international crowd and the diversity of London.

I also wanted to write a more coming of age story, of people finding their own voice and coming out of their shell. Our heroine, Sarah, is an introvert who has a group of close friends and feels like she finally wants to find a boyfriend, but doesn’t know how. There are already so many extroverted and strong characters in young adult novels, and I think it’s time for someone different. It’s also fun to incorporate some of my personal and funny stories from meeting people through online dating apps.

Do you have any tips for other aspiring writers?

Finding like-minded individuals

I’ve been writing for many years but it is not easy to publish a book. Find a writing buddy, join a writing group or community, have an accountability buddy can do wonders! The reason why I started and kept posting on Wattpad was because of the sense of community and the support! Without encouragement, it can be hard to keep writing.

Finding an appropriate publishing method

There are different publishing methods that an author can use - Self-publishing, Traditional Publishing and Hybrid Publishing.

Self-publishing, which I have tried through my Sci-Fi trilogy (the Protectors of Earth Chronicles), means that you find your own editors, cover designers, and handle all the marketing on your own, and self-fund the costs. This does mean you have full editorial control and retain all the copyright, but finding the right freelancer can be tricky.

Traditional Publishing is a lengthy journey for writers. A finished and relatively polished manuscript must be readied before any queries, the official term for finding an agent and publisher, can be done. And the waiting time for a reply often ranges from months to a year. If your book is signed, the publisher also owns the copyright with editorial control.

For my new book It’s a Match, I am using the Hybrid Publishing approach. Through crowdfunding, the publisher will help the writer to perfect the story with development editing, copy editing, proofreading, and cover design, along with marketing support. The most distinguishable difference from traditional publishing is that the writer can retain the rights and the final changes, and take a fraction of the time traditional publishing requires.

Using Scrivener to write

Apart from picking which publishing method you want to go for, my other advice to budding writers is just to get started – you can always go back to review or edit your story later. I also recommend using Scrivener to write, it is a digital writing app that functions like Microsoft Word but is a lot more user-friendly for an author.

How can we get a copy of your new book?

It’s available for pre-order on Indiegogo from now until 6th September. I’ve also made a secret perk exclusively for readers from ICAAHK. Click here and choose the ICAAHK option for a signed paperback, plus a free ticket to a group talk in February, where I’d be happy to meet with other Imperial alumni, and share my experience in creative writing and publishing! See you there!


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