Describe your latest book.
My latest poetry book, Sea of Strangers
, invites you to go beyond love and loss to explore themes of self-discovery and empowerment as you navigate your way around the human heart. Sea of Strangers
follows my internationally bestselling debut novel, Sad Girls
, an emotionally charged coming-of-age story, where young love, dark secrets, and tragedy collide.
What was your favorite book as a child?
The Green Wind
by Thurley Fowler was my childhood favorite. Other notable mentions include The Chocolate War
, Hating Alison Ashley
, The Ordinary Princess
, The Outsiders
, The Singing Tree
and Looking for Alibrandi
My family at the Thai refugee camp where we lived before starting our new life in Australia.
When did you know you were a writer?
English is not my first language, but it is my first love. My life began in a refugee camp in Thailand, where my parents sought safe passage from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. My family had to endure the harsh realities of living in an overcrowded environment, where food was scarce and the threat of disease was a constant worry.
Eventually we were sent to Australia, where I grew up in the small, predominantly migrant town of Cabramatta. As a child, books were my only escape. I suppose when you’re passionate about something, there is a natural compulsion to emulate it. Writing is something I have always felt compelled to do. The defining moment when I suddenly realized my passion had become my actual career was on my first book-signing tour to the Philippines. I stepped out onto the stage and was greeted by hundreds of my readers, accompanied by the blinding flash of photography. It caught me completely off guard. I think I knew from that moment that my life would never be the same.
Over a thousand people showed up for my book signing event.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I live with my partner, Michael Faudet, in a little house by the sea, along with our two crazy cats and a dog named Whiskey. When you live by the ocean, you tend to pay more attention to cyclical things like the seasons, the tides, and phases of the moon. In winter, it gets quite atmospheric. The fog comes in, thick and heavy, and blankets everything in white. Sometimes it feels like we’re the only two people left in the world. Most mornings, we wake up to the sound of the fog horn. Spring is signaled by the rowers training in the bay, often accompanied by their coach, barking instructions into a megaphone. On summer nights, we watch the party boats go by with their colored lights, music blaring loudly and laughter ringing through the air. From our little corner of the world, we have seen the most amazing things. We have seen dolphins frolicking outside our house, the end of a rainbow, and once we even saw a UFO, but that’s a whole other story.
The view from my house in New Zealand, where I have written five poetry books and a novel.
What scares you the most as a writer?
One day I want to write my mother’s story, even though it terrifies me. I will be confronting the horrific stories of war and genocide that my mother had to endure as a young woman. I think it will break my heart. Even so, I am convinced it is a story that needs to be told. I want to trace her journey, from the outbreak of war in the country she called home to finding safe passage in Australia. I grew up piecing my mother’s story together with snippets she shared or from snatches of conversation. There is one anecdote she shared with me that has always stuck in my mind. She, along with my dad and two brothers, were on the run, with the Khmer Rouge on their tail. She remembers reaching a point of exhaustion where she couldn’t go any farther. They found a place to rest and she laid down on something warm and comforting, falling into a deep sleep. It wasn’t until daylight that she realized she had been sleeping on cow dung.
My mother and I in our house in Sydney.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I am passionate about literacy and education, especially for women from disadvantaged backgrounds. When my family arrived in Sydney, we had nothing. We had to start from scratch, in a strange country, where the language and customs were so alien to our own. There weren’t a lot of opportunities in the town where I grew up. My love of books and literature set me on the path to become a strong, independent woman. I want to empower other women to do the same.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
Michael and I love collecting art. Our favorite artists include Amy Crehore, Handiedan, Kukula, Tinca Veerman, and Nour.
A painting in our collection: Vulnerable Seascape by Amy Crehore.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I think you should read Zana
, a work-in-progress by Michael Faudet. It’s a gothic novella, beautifully written and brimming with imagery. When we first met, Michael sent me a few chapters and I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe I had stumbled on such a unique and brilliant writer. To this day, it still amazes me. His voice is unlike anything I have ever read.
What's the most interesting job you've ever had?
When I was five, I got up on stage at a Chinese wedding and belted out "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Because it is customary for adults to gift you with red envelopes filled with money, it took me five minutes to earn a year’s worth of candy. Since that day, I’ve never skipped an opportunity to sing at a wedding. If you were to ask my parents back then about their daughter’s future career, they would probably have said, "wedding singer."
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title?
Love and Misadventure
Offer a favorite passage from another writer.
“'Let me just tell you this, Watanabe,' said Midori, pressing her cheek against my neck. 'I'm a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins. You're holding me in your arms and I'm telling you that I love you. I'm ready to do anything you tell me to do. I may be a little bit mad, but I'm a good girl, and honest, and I work hard, I'm kind of cute, I have nice boobs, I'm a good cook, and my father left me a trust fund. I mean, I'm a real bargain, don't you think? If you don't take me, I'll end up going somewhere else.'”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
"Your first love isn’t the first person you give your heart to — it’s the first one who breaks it." — Sad Girls
Watching the sun set while I write is one of my favorite things.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Apostrophes! I even wrote a poem about them once:
The Self-Appointed Grammar Police
He smiles an apology
For his misplacement of
Largely aware this topic
To him a minor catastrophe
To her most catastrophic!
Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is a dish I love to cook.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
I partake regularly in all of these things and I don’t feel guilty about them at all. If I was to add to this, it would be cooking. When I first moved in with Michael, I offered to make dinner. I opened up a can of spaghetti and dumped it onto two slices of toast. I still remember the bemused look on his face. I’ve come a long way since! My mother lives in Sydney, which means I’ve learned to cook all the comfort foods I crave such as Phnom Penh noodle soup, Banh Mi, and dumplings. Michael is a very good cook, so we find ourselves hanging out in the kitchen most evenings.
Phnom Penh noodle soup is another dish I love to cook!
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Someone once told me the only time you should ever give advice is when someone asks for it or if you feel their life is in danger. It’s a good rule and one I like to bear in mind. As Piet Hein said, "Those who always know what’s best are a universal pest."
If you could relive a memory, what would it be?
My mother used to pack my brothers and me into our old beaten-up Honda, and we’d drive out to the airport. We’d spend hours watching the planes take off, talking, laughing, and dreaming about faraway places.
Five books that made me cry.
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
÷ ÷ ÷
Among her many achievements, Lang Leav
is the winner of a Qantas Spirit of Youth Award, Churchill Fellowship, and Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award. Aside from her success in publishing, Leav is an accomplished artist, having exhibited her work in Australia and the United States. She was one of 20 contemporary artists handpicked to exhibit in the landmark Playboy Redux
curated by The Warhol Museum and Playboy Enterprises.
Her first book, Love and Misadventure
(2013), was a break-out success, and her subsequent books, including her debut novel, Sad Girls
, continue to top bestseller charts in bookstores worldwide. Leav actively participates in international writer’s festivals and her tours consistently draw massive crowds. Lang has been featured in various publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Straits Times, The Guardian
and The New York Times
. With a combined social media following of 2 million, Lang’s message of love, loss, and female empowerment continues to resonate with her multitude of readers. Sea of Strangers
is her most recent book. She currently resides in New Zealand with her partner and fellow author, Michael Faudet.