Meet Ann Liang, author of This Time It’s Real!
Celebrate Valentine’s Day and the release of This Time It’s Real with Ann Liang! We chat with Ann about writing, romance, fake dating and, of course, her brand-new novel.
Tell us about This Time It’s Real
This Time It’s Real is a YA fake-dating rom-com set at an international school. It’s really fun and self-indulgent and has all the things I love: C-dramas and Beijing street food and dramatic scenes in the rain.
How would you summarise the story in a couple of sentences?
The plot basically follows Eliza Lin, who’s moved around her whole life and has just started at a new school in Beijing. For one of her assignments, she makes up an essay about falling in love—despite having never been in a relationship before—but then that essay ends up going viral, and suddenly everyone’s invested in her fictional love life. So to cover up her lie, she begins fake-dating the popular C-drama actor in her class, Caz Song, but things get messy as their fake romance feels increasingly real.
What inspired you to write this book?
My earliest form of inspiration for This Time It’s Real actually stems from this bad habit of mine in high school. I’d sometimes exaggerate details in my essays to make things sound more interesting, and then the teacher would share it with the class, and I’d find myself having to continue the lie when my classmates asked about it afterwards. I quickly learned my lesson there, but years later, I found myself wondering what would happen if someone didn’t just exaggerate, but completely made up a story for an assignment, and it received attention on a much bigger scale. That’s kind of how the initial premise for This Time It’s Real took shape.
The C-drama/celebrity part of it was inspired by an internship I did for this entertainment news source focused on the Chinese film industry. I’d do a lot of research and write up articles every day on things like trending variety shows, the most anticipated C-dramas and the latest celebrity scandals.
The ‘Fake Dating Trope’ is hugely popular in the BookTok community. What made you want to write about ‘fake dating’, and why do you think people love storylines like this so much?
I feel like fake dating is so fun to read about because we all know roughly where the story is going—that at one point, the fake relationship becomes real—so it’s really about the process of getting there, the uncertainty and second-guessing of ‘did they do that because it’s for show? Or did they really mean it?’, the way two people who might never cross paths under normal circumstances are forced to spend time together and understand each other on a deeper level.
For me, when I started writing This Time It’s Real, I didn’t necessarily think to myself: oh, I’m going to write the fake-dating trope. I just had this premise of a girl who’s lied about having a boyfriend, and so finding a fake boyfriend seemed like the natural solution to that. But once I had the general plot mapped out and started filling in the details and planning the scenes, I was able to ask myself what I would want to see, as a reader, in a fake-dating book, which then helped shape the romance in the later stages.
The story speaks a lot about Eliza’s desire to be a writer. Do you identify with Eliza in any way, and do you have any tips for aspiring writers who might be reading this book?
I definitely do identify with many aspects of Eliza’s love for writing—but even beyond that, I just love characters who are really determined to go after what they want. I guess that would be one of my tips for aspiring writers, too. Pursuing writing as a career can be incredibly daunting and discouraging at times, and it can be scary to put your work out there, but if it’s something you love with your whole heart, then you owe it to yourself to try.
What’s your favourite thing about being a published author?
Connecting with readers! I’ll get these incredibly sweet messages from readers telling me that my book made them feel seen, but the reverse is also true—I feel so seen when readers connect with my characters or tell me their favorite lines or understand the heart of the story.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, we’d love to know what are your top three romantic books of all time?
I’ve read so many incredible romantic books in the past year alone that it’s impossible to narrow it down! But three books that instantly come to mind are Beach Read by Emily Henry, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, and—this isn’t a romance, but it’s very romantic—Last Violent Call by Chloe Gong.