Meet Maxine Mei-Fung Chung Author Of The Eighth Girl

We're delighted to welcome Maxine Mei-Fung Chung as this week's interviewee. Published at the beginning of March, her dramatic debut The Eighth Girl is a twisty thriller focussing on Alexa, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder, who becomes involved in an effort to bring a criminal down in the sleazy world of London's nightclubs. 

Maxine herself is a psychotherapist and she tells us why she decided to write about London's underbelly, the biggest challenges in representing Dissociative Identity Disorder on the page and her most treasured possession. 

Download the ebook of The Eighth Girl from Amazon or buy the newly-published paperback from Thriller Women's list at NB: if you buy books through this link we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops. 

Book cover of The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

TW: Maxine, many congratulations on the release of your debut novel The Eighth Girl. Can you tell us about your journey to from your initial ideas, to finally getting to see the book in print?

MMFC: It took me four or five years to finally accept that I was writing a novel. I’m not a writer who naturally riffs on plots and beats—I much prefer to work with character development. All I had was an idea that involved a young woman who was living with multiple personalities. As I got to know her more intimately and fleshed out her character she seemed to invite and show me the way regarding storyline. My agents encouraged me to think and take seriously the possibility of publication. They also invited me to contemplate the time and effort to get it right. To enjoy as much as possible the journeying of my first novel. I’m so grateful for this now. The process wasn’t rushed and I learned a lot about myself as a person and as a writer in the process. I am a naturally introverted person, a psychotherapist who listens to other’s people's stories so being the one telling the story felt different for me. I still remember the call, both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure, from my agent to say we had interest in The Eighth Girl, and that was when the conversations began with editors. I feel very grateful for all of the learning leading up to publication.

TW: Your main character, Alexa Wú, has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). What were the biggest challenges to accurately depicting Alexa on the page?

MMFC: The biggest challenge was to do justice and honour those living with a diagnosis of DID. My experience of working with people healing from trauma-related dissociation was very different to what I was reading and watching in the culture and I wanted to try a different kind of storytelling that was respectful and compassionate. Accurate and thoughtful representation along with research and informed understanding of the political and socio-economic landscape, I think, was key. 

Perhaps any writer venturing into the unquiet mind of a protagonist suffering with mental illness is met (hopefully) with questions and concerns about stigmatization, exploitative tropes and the likely mention of ‘sensitivity’ readers. If it’s our intention to write about someone who is ‘other’ to ourselves I think it’s necessary to be in conversation but not to expect that person, or community, to educate us. This conversation and understanding can inform accurate portrayals of characters in storytelling and not the ripe, bloated stereotypes that are damaging when the culture misrepresents— this ill wind only colludes with the already oppressed culture concerning diverse stories.

TW: Your novel has been described as unique, disturbing and ambitious. What made you want to write about London’s seedier underbelly?

MMFC: It’s always intriguing to have notes about one's storytelling, thank you. I hadn’t set out for The Eighth Girl to be unique, disturbing and ambitious but they’re interesting descriptions of Alexa Wú’s world. I chose the setting of London as a vehicle and location because I currently live here and was able to research areas whilst writing. This felt important in terms of visualising a scene and then creating it on page. However, what felt more important was creating a storyline that invites readers to witness the heartbreaking furies for those who have had crimes commited against them. I decided on The Electra nightclub as a nod towards Freud’s theories of The Electra Cpmplex, and like the idea of psychoanalytic theories that existed more than one hundred years ago translated to a current place in the East End of London!

TW: As a professional clinician, what are the myths about DID, and what do you feel is important for the wider public to know about the condition?

MMFC" I’d like the public, readers, to know that people living with DID are more likely to be victims of crime and not the ones who commit them. Those who stand in different spaces, have alters, switch, have survived heinous crimes and those who seek psychotherapy are brave and hurt and frightened and not the usual lunatic trope that the culture has previously exploited.

TW: In 2021, are we more accepting of mental health conditions? Is there more work to be done to remove the stigma?

MMFC: For sure. Whilst we’re increasingly more accepting of mental health issues, we still have a way to go (particularly in the UK) with regard to the suppoort made available. The stigmas have to go and this will not happen unless our leaders and policy makers begin to make mental wellbeing a priority. We only have to see the devastaion of the last year to fully acknowledge that people’s mental health is of the upmost priority. 

I suspect the world will take considerable time to heal, especially those who have lost loved ones, who have been affected mentally, physically and economically and who have been working front line. Moving forward we need more funding for those who have previously been considered ‘unsuitable’ for psychotherapy, longer treatment within the NHS for those seeking psychotherapy and platforms whereby mental health can be discussed more openly, without jugement and misunderstanding.

TW: How was 2020 for you, both as a mother, and a writer?

MMFC: As a mother, it was another year of listening, learning and encouraging an open heart. And as a writer, it was the same. 2020 was an incredibly challenging year, personally and politically for me, though perhaps the two go hand in hand.

TW: What have enforced lockdowns taught you about yourself?

MMFC: To take each day at a time.

TW: As a writer, what are your bad habits?

MMFC: Escaping to the garden with the false hope that those words will take care of themselves.

TW: What is next for your writing career?

MMFC: I’m currently working on two projects: one non-fiction and another novel. Both are demanding my attention and it seems the one with least bidding gathers my attention!

TW: What are your favourite works of fiction and what books do you like to read to relax?

MMFC: I Know Why The Caged Birds Sings, The Street, Beloved, Another Country, The God Of Small Things, To The Lighthouse, The Girls, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Fates And Furies, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Little Birds, A Secret History, Tess Of The D’urbervilles, Rebecca, and, and, and…

To relax I read poetry. Always.

Quick fire questions: 

TW: Your favourite author

MMFC: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Mary Gaitskill, Siri Hudsvelt, Patricia Highsmith and Virginia Woolf (sorry, impossible to name just one!)

TW: Your favourite holiday escapes

MMFC: Fethiye and Italy.

TW: Your favourite restaurant or food

MMFC: J Sheekey for a tower of shrimp!

TW: Your most treasured possession

MMFC: A jade heart that I keep with me at all times, a gift from my grandmother, Constance.

TW: Your greatest achievements

MMFC: My birth as a mother and getting to a place where I can honour that it's none of my business what anyone else thinks.

Thanks Maxine!

Image of Maxine Mei-Fung Chung, credit Sarah Cresswell

More about The Eighth Girl:

One woman, many personas. But which one is telling the truth?

Alexa Wu is a brilliant yet darkly self-aware young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her therapist Daniel; her stepmother Anna; and her enigmatic best friend Ella.

When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman's club, she is gradually drawn into London's cruel underbelly. With lives at stake, Alexa follows her friend on a daring rescue mission.

Threatened and vulnerable, she will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her biggest obstacle.


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