Arlene Chai grew up in Manila and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Maryknoll College. She began working as a copywriter in 1976 and continued with this career after she emigrated to Australia. Although her immediate family settled in Sydney in 1982, Chai alternated between Sydney and Manila for three years before permanently joining them in 1985. Seven years later she abandoned copywriting for twelve months to pursue other interests. With the encouragement of Bryce Courtenay Chai devoted herself to writing fiction on a full-time basis. Her best-selling first novel was shortlisted for the Ethnic Affairs Commission Award at the 1995 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.