The last time National Book Store brought Lang Leav to the Philippines to meet her fans in 2019, some devoted readers lined up as early as 3 a.m. to make sure they got to see the bestselling author.
This time, at the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival 2021 which was held virtually, there was no need to get up in the middle of the night. Everyone had a front-row seat to the author’s appearance and reading through National Book Store’s Facebook page.
Leav’s first book “Love & Misadventure” came out in 2013, making it to the bestseller lists and earning her a passionate following all over the world. Since then, she has come out with nine other books of poetry and fiction, the latest of which is “The Gift of Everything,” published by Simon & Schuster.
The pretty hardcover book brings together some of Leav’s favorite pieces along with new poetry and illustrations.
We had a fun time catching up with Leav through Zoom (she was at home in New Zealand) and talking to her about her new book, her favorite memories of the Philippines and her life during the pandemic.
How have you coped with the pandemic?
I think the worst thing about it is just the sense of not knowing. As human beings, that’s the biggest thing, isn’t it? But I think it’s really taught me just to live in the moment, not to make plans. The pandemic has also forced everyone to sort of grow up a little bit and really figure out what matters to us, like family, love, time, time with family so precious . . . I’m spending far less time on social media. I’m hardly on it at all, except for TikTok, which I’m really addicted to.
I need to know, what have you been doing on TikTok?
I got my stepson to set a limit on TikTok just because I’m so addicted to it. It’s almost like a safe space for me just because I know I’m not going to run into anything horrible about myself or anything. I think that’s one of its appeals. It’s so addictive. It’s got this thing called the For You page. Anything that you interact with, anything that you enjoy, it will just keep showing you like nonstop . . . I have a lot of cooking clips, really cute puppies and things. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not really a platform that I’m putting a lot of my work on . . . I mean that could change but I’m just really enjoying it at the moment.
What were some of your favorite memories from your book signings in the Philippines?
Gosh, there’s so many. My last trip in February 2019, I got to bring my mom. It was such an amazing experience for her . . . she was following me around with a camera, it was so cute. When I was going through the malls and I had all the security around me, she was just like, “Oh gosh, you’re like a celebrity.” She got pulled aside for selfies and things so she had her own little bit of stardom. That was a very precious memory. But you know, there are just so many. I think my my first trip to the Philippines, I really did feel that my life was going to change and it’s something that’s always been been quite intrinsic in my journey. Everywhere I go around the world, I always have a crowd of Filipinos and it just really feels like home. I get this a sense of belonging and I just love it so much. I just loved my time there.
I feel like we’ve kind of adopted you.
Absolutely. And I love it.
How do you continue to find inspiration?
I think inspiration just comes to me naturally. I’m always thinking about the next project or what I’m going to do next. [Before the pandemic] I didn’t really have any time to sit down and process it all, everything was happening in real time . . . Looking back, it’s been such an incredible journey and such a happy wonderful time in my life and I wanted to create something that was like a celebration that encapsulated that time and that’s how “The Gift of Everything” came about.
How difficult was it to decide which pieces to include in the book?
I think in the back of my mind there were pieces that were always my favorites. They were never far from the back of my mind. I had that sense of discovery going through all my old books again and I was able to find pieces, I was able to edit some pieces. I say time is the best editor . . . It was a really fun process and really emotional and nostalgic. That’s why it’s got that confetti . . . It’s a celebration, that’s what it is.
What are you working on next?
I’ve almost finished my third novel which is something that I haven’t officially announced yet. It’s based in the migrant town where I grew up, it’s Cabramatta. It was a really strange time because my family and I were living in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over. It was absolutely brutal and we had to escape to Australia. When we arrived, it was just a few short years after the White Australia policy was abolished so we were growing up in the backdrop of the first wave of Asian immigrants to live in Australia. It was a pretty tough time for us because as you can imagine, the racism was really really terrible. That’s what I’ve been working on and I’m just really enjoying it. So there’s another novel on the horizon. There’s a lot of love in it. I think it’s something that my readers are gonna love. So I’m super, super excited about it.
What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Oh god, so much. Being really the first generation of writers to do my career to the backdrop of social media, I guess I would just say don’t take it too seriously. Don’t take it to heart. I think I was for many years trapped into the prism thinking that social media is the real world. I would say to my younger self, just chill out. Don’t worry about social media. Just enjoy it for the fun and the connection you have with your readers and just ignore the rest.
You have a lot of young female fans, what would you like to tell them?
I have so much love for all my readers. I just want to give them all a hug and tell them that they’re amazing. I wish that I could just give them magical goggles where they could just see the world as it really is. I think it takes a lot of time just to see through all the horrible stuff and just to know that people are inherently good and the world will always try to make it so that things work out for them. Things genuinely do work out for the better, especially if you have that positive attitude and you have that optimism and faith. You guys are so young and you’ve got so much ahead of you and there’s no rush, just take your time. Everything’s going to work out and you’re gonna have the most amazing experiences.
Your fans want to know—are you coming back to the Philippines for another signing?
Yes! Can you imagine how amazing it’s gonna be when it finally happens? Absolutely. I can’t wait. I think I want to stay a little bit longer this time as well. The day that I can actually be there and see everyone and hug them is gonna be the best day. It’s just the vision that I’m keeping in my mind and I hope it happens soon. INQ