Leanne Yong, Author

Author Banner: Leanne Yong, Author
An Asian female with short hair and arms crossed
Image credit: Myles Kalus

Leanne is an Asian-Australian author of Singaporean and Malaysian heritage who loves writing the diaspora experience into contemporary and fantasy fiction.

She started her career as an IT business analyst (boring) and is now an escape room creator in Sydney (much more interesting). She has designed award-winning games with her partner that weave unique puzzle mechanics with narrative.

Her debut, Two Can Play That Game, was short-listed for CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers.

Represented by Andrea Cascardi (Transatlantic Agency

Leanne is an Asian-Australian author of Singaporean and Malaysian heritage who loves writing the diaspora experience into contemporary and fantasy fiction. Growing up as an avid reader with books such as the Baby-Sitters Club series, Enid Blyton, John Marsden, Emily Rodda, and age-inappropriate books—in hindsight—nabbed from her parents’ shelves, but it took her till her early 20s before she realised books could have protagonists that looked like her and had families like hers.

Despite writing stories since young, she struggled with the literature studied in high school and gave up on the idea of being a writer. Instead she chose to study Mechatronic Engineering in university and then became an IT business analyst. It wasn’t until after graduation, when YA books were coming into their own, that she decided to seriously pursue writing once more.

The book that would eventually become TWO CAN PLAY THAT GAME is her seventh completed novel after many years in the query trenches. This book is a love letter to indie video games, escape rooms, supportive Asian families, and of course, meddling Asian aunties and uncles. It’s also about navigating expectations from two cultures while finding your own path, dealing with changing friendships, and all the doubts and anxieties that come with a creative career, and is the book she wished she had as a teenager finding her way.

Her previous stories vary in genre between contemporary and her first love SFF. They’re inspired by an eclectic variety of hobbies ranging from video games and esports to anime and manga and Chinese webnovels, to musicals, (watching) winter sports, historically accurate swordfighting, and trying and failing to learn Mandarin properly.

She is currently an escape room creator at Next Level Escape in Sydney, and together with her co-owner has created internationally recognised games that weave unique puzzle mechanics with narrative.

The initial idea for this book came to me many years ago as I was watching Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, where two teens bond over indie music. I had two thoughts at the time: Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were characters into indie games instead of music, and also, no self-respecting Asian parent would EVER allow their teens to be running around outside all night. From there came a story about two Asian teens bonding over indie video games, while avoiding the gaze of Asian aunties and uncles, attending family events where they’d inevitably get questioned, and generally dealing with teenage life from an Asian perspective. This was quite a while before Asian media such as Crazy Rich Asians, Turning Red, or Everything Everywhere All At Once had come out, so there wasn’t much in the public eye when I first started writing.

As the daughter of Malaysian immigrants, I wanted to see my experiences reflected in a YA novel. But on top of that I also wanted to challenge the common narrative of the tiger parents who pressure their children to become high-achieving professionals. Growing up, my parents were always supportive, even when I jumped from interest to interest, and career to career. Their unwavering faith in me is a large reason why I’m able to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m not an exception, either—I know many other Asian friends in similar situations.

That said, I also wanted to explore the different kind of pressure that intersection of supportive parents and traditional Asian values brings. Instead of an external force, it’s internal. The guilt of knowing all your parents sacrificed to give you more opportunities; the sense of responsibility to provide for them in their old age; the shame of not being a child your parents can easily boast about when others in their community are talking about their successful children.

If your joy lies in a creative field where success can be fickle and fleeting, the pressure to make something of yourself can be overwhelming. The collective culture means you bear not only your hopes, but your family’s as well. Whether in Australia or America or anywhere else in the world, these sentiments remain the same.

Following this chain of thought, it can be so easy to find yourself fixated on one specific path. I remember nearing the end of high school and thinking that the uni course I picked would determine the rest of my life. Looking back, I realise that it was only the doorway to many other paths, and that there were also many options out there beyond ‘go to uni and get a job’. My life’s taken so many unexpected twists and turns, from studying Engineering to graduating and working as a business analyst, to jumping headlong into creating escape rooms.

I wish I could have told younger me she didn’t have to follow the path laid out before her that everyone was expecting. I wish I could have told her that uni is only a means to an end, that there are other, lesser-known paths which are just as valid, and not to be afraid to explore them instead. In a way, this is also a book to teenage!Leanne, and I hope it’s one that will speak to other teens facing similar choices as they reach the end of high school.

Another big inspiration for this book was my love of indie games. I’ve been a gamer since I was four and typing out commands in DOS to get to games on floppy discs. The indie game scene took off with the incredible success of Braid in 2008, and the rise of Steam as a digital distribution platform for games, circumventing the need for physical media. There are now a plethora of small studios creating games that explore unique mechanics, push the boundaries of what we define as games, and take risks that AAA studios with multi-million dollar budgets would never dare to. They create art.

This novel, then, is also a celebration of the extraordinary games that deserve a wider audience—and my library of over 300 indie games!