CALL it buttonhole poetry, the type that’s shamelessly moored with mush and endless giggles in the circle. Lovebirds and hopeless romantics have pieces to share as well—a line or two that seem to speak to them. Such is the universal charm of the international bestselling poet and author, Lang Leav, who is yet again tugging our very faint hearts with her first novel, “Sad Girls.”
The Play! pool chatted with Lang who, contrary to her dark and tragic pieces, is bright and lovely in a floral dress. Excerpts of her works had turned social media sensation, proving her knack for penning complex emotions with simplicity. Her poetry collections have gained massive readership in the Philippines which was why she couldn’t miss another book tour for her Filipino readers.
Lang was set to visit Cebu for the first time back in 2014 but the event had to be cancelled due to typhoon Ruby. Last June 24, a thick crowd eagerly waited for her at The Northwing Atrium, SM City Cebu. Word is that the number continued to grow but they could only accommodate 500 slots for the book signing.
Lang Leav resides in New Zealand with her partner and fellow writer, Michael Faudet. Lang is the recipient of The Qantas Spirit of Youth Award and she received a coveted Churchill Fellowship. Her poetry collections, with her iconic sketches, topped bestseller charts in bookstores worldwide, and “Lullabies” was the 2014 winner of the Goodreads Choice award for poetry.
Now all eyes turn to the debut of “Sad Girls,” the story of Audrey tangled in her lie that inadvertently caused the death of her classmate and opened up to a new reality. It’s a dark, sad romance with a slight thrill.
Lang threads this enigmatic series of events—that in addition to finding unhappy souls on the pages—we also find, like it or not, a bit of our own. (BHQ)
From doing a lot of poetry books, what made you decide to do a novel this time?
A novel is something that happened quite naturally for me. I thought it was quite a natural progression. It was always a dream of mine to write a novel, and one night Audrey’s voice quite whispered to my head, and she had such a compelling story to tell. I followed the thread of that story. And I’m glad that I did. I’m really happy with “Sad Girls,” my first novel. It’s so wonderful to see it getting out into the world, and my readers really taking it into their hearts.
We’ve read that you don’t really have similar characteristics with Audrey …
I think because I come from a poetry background, and people think my poetry is confessional. I actually think that my poetry is more observational, than confessional, if that makes sense. It’s the same while writing fiction. “Sad Girls” was my creative playground where I could write what I wanted. So the characters are all fiction. Nothing is real. I wish my life was that exciting, but no, my life is completely very boring in comparison! (Laughs).
I did ask my partner if there are any characters in the book that are similar to me. He said the most similar one is Lucy. And she’s really lovely. She’s someone I would love to have as a friend.
What about the places Audrey and Rad have been to like the West Coast, Colorado, the snow-capped mountains, do these have significance in your life?
I’ve always had a thing with snow-capped mountains ever since I was a little girl. I haven’t actually been to Colorado but I did go to Queenstown which is this beautiful city in New Zealand with my partner and my stepson last June, probably around this time last year. We had the most amazing time. I wrote a part of “Sad Girls,” the Colorado part of it there. We actually came across a path selling chestnuts, and that’s where the story came in. (Laughs). It was really cold and everything and we got a bag of chestnuts. It was wonderful. I loved it.
Which among the characters was the most difficult to write?
Well, they’re all quite complex. I mean, I’ve probably spent the most time on Audrey, and I also felt that her mother was a really interesting character as well, and I would’ve liked to have written more of her and that relationship. That was something I would’ve liked to have done more but I was running out of time. (Laughs).
Maybe at some later stage if want to revisit the world, that’s something I could do. She’s quite complex and that she’s a very unhappy person, and I think a lot of that tells us why Audrey is the way she is, why she does all these things despite being a good person, really. I think she has a lot of good in her but she does these really awful things. She’s so destructive. She caused so much pain and suffering to people who are good and whom she loves.
So yes, Audrey’s mother was probably—not the character that I had the most difficulty with—but the one I just wanted more of her, if that makes sense. She’s such an interesting complex character.
Based on their personalities, would you say Audrey is a mix of her best friends, Lucy and Candela?
There are a lot of symbolisms in my work. The thing with Candela, she’s a different person, she’s unapologetic. She’s a strong character. She does things always on her own terms but I named her Candela because Candela means luminous and bright, and Lucy means a bearer of light. Because Candela is inherently good, she’s a good person and innocent in the story, I suppose what I wanted to show in her overall part of the story was Audrey choosing between the dark side and the bright side. Even Gabe I named after an angel. Audrey had all these markers in her life which was stirring her toward the light. Rad —whose eyes are stormy gray, the other summer blue—every time he comes into her life, it’s quite chaotic. She wears that rubber band again. There’s just a lot of destruction in her life around Rad so I felt that he represented more of the dark side. But she was given a choice in the book and it was what she wanted. And she did make a choice in a way that she’s being punished for it.
How did you come up with the name Colorado Clarke?
It was actually Michael. He decided because we were thinking of a name for Rad. It’s really easy doing girls’ names but for boys’ names it’s really difficult. It was hard coming up with a male name. We were agonizing over it for a long, long time. And then Michael said, just call him Rad. I was like, okay, well, I’m not sure about that but I’ll let that sit for a while. I mean, who has a name like Rad? And he said, it could mean something and then he said, Colorado. He pulled out one of his favorite books which was the Kerouac book, On the Road. He said, well, why don’t you have that back story with the reason why his mother named him Colorado. And so Rad was born! (Laughs).
Would you agree with what Rad said that your story is already written, that everything is predetermined?
I think you do make your own life but at the same time there are things or coincidences that have happened in my life which I suppose make me believe that there is some greater plan. These are just some metaphysical ideas that I’m interested in, and want to play with in the novel.
What were your thoughts when you were writing the plot twist toward the end?
It was tough. I was crying a lot. And it’s a shock for the readers going through it. The part where she gets a call from Candela and Candela never calls or texts back, she probably thought, oh well finally she’s gotten back to me. But Candela is crying and then she realizes that something’s wrong. I think that’s the point that sort of freezes you off a little bit. Why is it happening? Then it all comes to make sense in the end.
How fun—or how challenging—was it writing this book compared to doing poetry?
I absolutely loved it though it was the hardest thing I had ever done. You just have to be more disciplined when writing a novel so out of every creative project I’ve undertaken, this is the most ambitious. But I’m really happy with the results. It’s really amazing, actually, now that it’s out in the open.
Was it a conscious effort to not put any of your artwork somewhere in the book?
Yes, people wanted me to draw Audrey but I wanted to have a separation between my fiction and my poetry, so that was the reason I chose not to illustrate it. And I had another artist did the illustration for the cover.
Do you have a favorite part in the story?
Oh yes, but it’s not like a major scene or anything, but it is a pivotal scene. It was when Candela missed Lucy’s birthday. She was sitting by the stairs outside the house, the red balloon floated into the sky, and the three of them watched it float out. And that’s probably the last moment of innocence for the three of them together. That’s the scene I always picture in my mind when I think of “Sad Girls.”
What time of the day is the best time for you to write?
If it’s poetry, then it’s just when the inspiration strikes. But with the novel, I really have to be a lot more disciplined. I’d have coffee in the morning and then try to write a thousand to three thousand words in a day.
When you’re not writing, where can we find you?
Just doing regular stuff like cooking. I really enjoy cooking. (Laughs). It’s kind of meditative for me. Also hanging out with my partner. I sometimes don’t even leave the house for weeks.
Would you expect more pressure now that your readers are looking forward to your next novel?
I don’t have plans to write a sequel but I’m not ruling it out. Right now, the book is out there and it’s only been a few weeks. I’m just enjoying having it out there and having all the amazing feedback coming back in. I think I’ll just luxuriate in all that for the time being before I decide whether or not I want to do something else.
What about the book of poems, is it coming next?
Yes, I’ve got “Sea of Strangers” which is poetry and prose collection coming out, and it’s inspired by the sea. That’s coming out in February.
Are you open to the idea of writing short stories?
I do like short stories but I’ve never really shown many of them but maybe one day I will. I’ve just been experimenting a lot with writing.
Is it still going to revolve around love?
Yes, well, sort of but it would be something dark, but not as dark as “Sad Girls.” I think “Sad Girls” is probably the darkest I’ll ever go. I really love writing comedy but obviously, it’s very different to the work that I’ve put out. It’s just something that I’m writing for my own entertainment. (Laughs).
A lot of readers are curious why your compositions are sad and dark.
It’s just what I’ve always been drawn to in my creative playground. I mean, it’s not like that in my real life. (Laughs). A lot people who came across my work and meet me thought I’d be this sad, kind of depressed girl. But yeah, I try not to take life too seriously. We all go through good and bad times but I try to stay positive and happy in my personal life. I have a lot to be thankful for.
How did you meet your partner, Michael?
Michael actually bought a painting from me. This was about 8 years ago. He was living in New Zealand at the time, and I was in Sydney. This random person just bought one of my arts which happened quite a lot. I mean, I sold my artworks back when I used to paint. I don’t even know how it happened but I think he said that he was a writer or something like that, then he just bought a house and that he’s settling in. Ironically, it’s the one where we now live in.
He was meant to come to Sydney to pick up the painting directly from me but couldn’t do it because of something to do with the house. He said,” I’m taking off some time to write.” And I said, that’s really awesome, I think that’s my dream to be able to live by the sea and write. We had a conversation and then he sent me a piece randomly from Zana, a really beautiful graphic novella he was writing. He’s still working on it. It’s on Wattpad at the moment. You can read bits of it on Wattpad. So he sent me that, and I was like wow! This is really amazing! I really wanted more. I never showed any of my writings before and I sent him some of mine. And then he said, “Your writing is even better than your art.” (Laughs). So we started talking on Skype.
And when you finally met?
We met at this place in Oakland. I flew over which was a crazy thing to do on the hindsight but I felt fine. I stayed in a hotel and we met up at a restaurant. Yes, I remember walking in. I remember everything about it! (Laughs). It was a full moon and he was a bit dressed up, actually. Well, so was I though. (Laughs). We were like, let’s see what happens, and it went really well.
A few days later, I met Ollie, his son. He was six at the time. We picked him up from school. We’ve Skyped each other as well so we sort of knew each other but didn’t. I remember this little blonde boy coming out who was like, “Daddy!” And then he looked up at me and said, “Hi, Lang”. (Laughs). He’s turning 14 this year now. Time just goes by so fast. He’s the best. I’m so lucky to have him in my life. I’ve found my own family. I think I needed them, and they needed me. It’s all worked out.
How are the discussions with regard to your art in the house between you and Michael? Do you critique each other’s work?
Oh yes, absolutely. We’re very honest with each other. We’re very vocal and we’ve been like that from the very beginning. If we like something or hate it, we are each other’s worst critics, but at the end of the day, if I like something and I feel strongly about it, then that’s my work. The same for him, so we get the final say on our own works. We take the criticisms and you know, either improve it or just ignore it. (Laughs).
We live in a democracy, we always say in our house which is how we got our cat. Our first cat, Sake, because we were out at a pet shop. I said, okay this democracy, and Ollie said yes, and Michael said no! But because both of us said yes, we got Sake. And then he was too crazy so we went back to the pet shop the next day and we got another cat, Soju, to keep him company. And we’ve got a dog named Whiskey! (Laughs)