What goes on inside a writer’s mind while creating a story? How do they survive the ending, and move on? Cluster travels into the psyche of one of today’s intriguing contemporary writers, Lang Leav who recently visited Manila to launch her first novel, Sad Girls.
Do you read your book reviews?
I read the first few that came out, but no I haven’t read the rest. I hear they’re really good so I’m happy.
How do you deal with bad ones?
I think like when you write a book you get it out there. This is the fifth time I’ve done it now. I suppose the whole feedback, it’s really wonderful to have it at the same time, you are not so caught up in it as you were, as how I was with Love and Misadventures where every review was so important to me. But now I think you know, I just send my book out to the world and just hope for the best.
Who reads your books before it goes to the publisher?
My partner, Michael and his 14 year old son has to look at it as well.
Did writing Sad Girls make you cry?
Yes absolutely. I don’t want to tell you which parts because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. But yes there were lots of tears shed in writing that book.
What inspired you to write Sad Girls after a series of poetry books?
I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Most people want to write a book or have dreams of writing a novel. I suppose I am in the position to say I could write a novel and I didn’t want to give myself any pressure or any deadline. I thought I’m just going to keep this as my own little secret project, and I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time. I didn’t even tell my agent. I announced it when I think it was about 40,000 words in, I announced that I was writing a novel and everyone was really excited. I was almost halfway through with the book before I announced it.
Which among the characters did you spend the most time with?
I suppose that would be the protagonist Audrey because she is quite a complex character. She is quite divisive. Some people love her, some people don’t. That’s the way I intended to write her. I wrote her as more of an anti-hero. I didn’t really want to write the girl who was so good, and so moral. I wanted to write someone who was quite real. Someone who was very flawed, who is inconsiderate of how her actions impact on her life and the lives of those around her. The character came to me quite fully formed and she was this person who almost had her own life force. I just went with it. Even though I know it would have been probably a safer option to write someone who did everything right, and everything was happy, and everything was good. I love those books, and a lot of my favorite books are in that genre but I just wanted to write something that was authentic.
What do Audrey’s life choices represent to you?
I suppose she was like her own character. I gave her the freedom to choose what she wanted to do, but I think what she was looking for was a sense of empowerment because there was a line about how she said that anxiety took away, you know, something from her so that sense of freedom or that sense of self, anxiety took that away from her. She just wanted to go somewhere and really learn how to stand on her own and cope with her anxiety and know that she could do it, and find that inner strength.
Were there real life characters that were part of this book?
No actually. No no. I can’t think of a single character that was inspired by anyone I know. But that’s the thing, it feels like they’ve got lives of their own, if that makes sense. They seem so real. Yes I mean I read this quote somewhere it’s a really great quote, “There’s no such thing as fiction, just non-fiction in a parallel world,” and that was my experience of writing Sad Girls. I felt like there was this world in my mind but it didn’t feel like it was a made up world, it almost felt real and I was writing about it in a way.
Is it difficult to get out of it sometimes?
Yes! My partner was quite involved in the world as well. He is a writer. So the two of us would be talking about it all the time. So was Oli, he was like just you know, at the dinner table. It was there. They were always present, the characters were always around us. It was quite sad when it came to an end. We felt like we were saying goodbye to, almost like family. It’s really strange. It was a really strange kind of…it was almost, I wouldn’t call it a phenomenon. I think if I had not gone for the experience then I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like, my connection to the story and the characters.
Is this a more intense connection, more than what you experienced writing the first books?
I suppose the difference between writing poetry and writing the novel. The novel is more immersive, but I think the emotion and intensity is still present. With poetry it is pure emotion, and it’s the emotion that really drives the words when you are coming up with a new piece of poetry. Writing the novel was incredibly, like I said it was a 3D kind of effect. You’re just lost in the world…
Wouldn’t it have been fun to watch you guys on the dinner table discussing the book.
Oh the conversations! I remember reading it aloud to Michael and he would say, ‘It’s good. I think you have a good base there, but I don’t think Audrey would be saying that after finding out something so shocking.’ So what we did was, we stood there and acted it out. Some of the dialogue actually went into the book.
Looking at the other characters, Candela is interesting. Is she still a sad girl?
Candela is very much her own person. She’s probably one of the strongest characters of the book. She does what she wants. She doesn’t live her life according to any other person. She’s a little selfish, but she’s got a good heart underneath it all.
For me the saddest girl is Lucy, what do you think?
I think Lucy is the one everyone falls for. She’s innocent and she’s really sweet. She is a happy person, but I think what happened to her was very unfair. It’s horrible.
How come the nicest person ends up with the worst situation?
That’s what happens in life sometimes. That’s what I wanted to show. Because if there was some sort of formula, if you’re just a good person and nothing bad will ever happen to you, and if you’re a bad person, only bad things happen to you. I mean life isn’t like that. I wish it was but that’s really not the formula for life and I know lots of wonderful people that get the worst luck, and that’s not fair. And the worst people get like great things! Sometimes you wonder why that is, and I think a lot of those ideas were playing around in my head when I wrote it.
(During this part of the interview, Many parts of the book were discussed that may be spoilers for those who are still planning to read this).
I really cannot classify where this book falls under.
I suppose they find it hard to classify initially. They wanted to make it younger. I wanted to stick to the story because I thought that was how the story should have been. So now it’s finding an older audience. My younger audience are still reading it.
I want to read this book again.
Well it doesn’t really fit into a genre if that makes sense. It’s a coming of age dark story. It could be a bit of a thriller. I wouldn’t say it’s a romance book, because there is a lot more going on. I wrote it to be above all else an entertaining book. Something that would make you want to keep reading. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, isn’t it?
Would you have an alternate ending?
Initially I would want it to end (off the record). I remember going to bed one night, and I was saying to my partner, “Look, I am going to write the last chapter tomorrow, but I’m not really happy with it. I don’t think it’s the right ending.” So we just talked about it, and then we arrived at the current ending that it was and I couldn’t sleep last night. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. In the morning, I sat down, and I wrote it and I said that’s it. That’s the end. That’s what it should be. It just felt real and right to me.
I’m really hoping the second one comes out soon.
I am not sure if I’m going to write a sequel but I am not ruling it out. Because I left a few things untied like the relationship between Candela and Anna, and a couple of other things. So we will see.
A special edition of Sad Girls which comes with a free bookmark is available exclusively in NBS for P785. You may also order it online on their website (www.nationalbookstore.com). For more updates, follow NBS on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube (@nbsalert), join their public chat on Viber, and visit their blog (blog.nationalbookstore.com).