As you may seen earlier this month, I read and reviewed Sangu Mandanna’s debut YA, The Lost Girl and absolutely loved it! So when I was able to send Sangu some questions for the blog, I was incredibly excited to do so. So without further adue, here we go:
Could you tell us a little about your writing journey please? Was The Lost Girl your first completed novel?
No, not by a long shot! I finished my first full-length novel when I was fourteen. It was terrible, but that didn’t stop me from writing two and a half sequels straight after. I sometimes go back and read them now. They’re not examples of great writing and they’re very derivative epic fantasy in some ways, but I still remember how much I loved those characters and how much I loved writing those books – I think one of the pitfalls of being published is that sometimes writing can start to feel like work and not like pure, unadulterated fun. It was exhilarating being able to write exactly what I wanted to, to not worry about age or audience or what was or wasn’t appropriate!
Anyway, sorry, that was slightly off-topic. But I guess it speaks to my writing journey in a lot of ways because that’s how it was for me. Pure fun. Just writing whatever I felt like writing. I did it because I wanted to. I wrote in my spare time because I couldn’t not do it, not because I wanted to be published. Eight years and eight books (and many half-books and abandoned chapters and ideas) later, I wrote The Lost Girl. It wasn’t the first book I had tried sending out to agents and publishers, but I’m sure it’s obvious that it was the first that made it!
Between starting The Lost Girl and completing it were there a lot of changes to the plot and characters?
There were a fair few changes between my original outline (which is more like a vague idea of the story that I store in my head, rather than an actual outline) and what the book turned out to be when I’d finished a whole first draft. The plot twisted and turned. But it wasn’t until I actually worked on edits with my editor at HarperCollins that the characters changed. You probably wouldn’t recognize my original draft if I showed it to you now! Eva had another guardian in the original, for a start (Erik’s best friend Dec) and she also had an older friend called the Teleporter who was an echo, too, and I do still kind of miss him…
What was your inspiration for The Lost Girl?
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Rereading it at university, I found myself awfully fascinated by the idea of stitching together a human life from scratch and I also became very wrapped up in the Creature’s plight. I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of that kind of stitched-together monster. But then I’m a little too empathetic like that. Give me a sad story and I’m boo-hoo-hooing all over the place (and thinking about how I can make that story end happier somehow…)
The Lost Girl poses some very difficult questions about the soul, life and humanity. How did you find incorporating this into your novel and how important was the message to you?
To be honest, I didn’t really try to include those questions. They came very naturally and I think that was only to be expected given the nature of Eva’s existence and world. Exploring those questions, however, was important to me. I didn’t want to just let them come up and ignore them. So yes, we do have the scene where Eva doubts her own soul – I thought it was important to show how much doubt the Weavers and ‘normal people’ had planted in her and how wrong those doubts were, because, of course, she’s every bit as human as the rest of them.
Who was your favourite character to write about in this book?
I think Matthew was probably the one I enjoyed writing most. He’s dark and mysterious, but he’s also quite funny and there’s that deep, terrible conflict inside him. Which is beyond fun to explore! I’d start writing about him and he’d take off on his own little tangent. It was great to watch him go.
What are you planning on writing next and will there be any more books following Eva’s life?
At the moment I’m writing a dark-ish fantasy about a girl looking for her mother’s lost memories. But it’s just a new project, it’s not an official book or anything yet (and it may never be)! And I would love to write more about Eva. I always wanted The Lost Girl to be the first of a series and I don’t think Eva’s story is over, so maybe in the future I’ll have the opportunity to write about her again.
What is the most important thing you would like readers to take from The Lost Girl?
I don’t know! I suppose I’d like readers to step into the book and kind of absorb Eva. To really feel what the characters feel. Because I think this book works when it’s a sucker-punch to the heart – at least, this is what readers have told me (it’s not me being really arrogant or anything, I promise!)
What has been your favourite experience in this process so far regarding The Lost Girl?
Obviously I loved the actual writing of the book the most. But if you mean the publication process, I’d have to say I’ve loved hearing from readers. I adore every single email or tweet a reader sends me. I’m so grateful for them. It amazes me every time because I can’t believe people are talking to me about a story that once lived inside my head. I love hearing from them – from you, all of you!
Did you have to do a lot of research about the science and logistics behind the concept of echoes?
I probably should have done a great deal of scientific research, but I didn’t. It was because I knew, almost straight away, that I wanted the focus to be on Eva the Frankensteinian monster, not Eva the kind-of clone. While writing I wanted to imagine the eerie, creepy stitching together of dust and bones, the vague and mysterious process that Eva never really learns about – not test tubes and DNA.
I know it’s horrible to pick just one favourite book, but which five books would you say have been the greatest inspiration to you as both a writer and reader?
Frankenstein, of course, and also Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (for showing me how beautiful writing and a gut-wrenching emotional impact can make for an astounding book), Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (which has made me want to be brave and bold in my writing and subject matter too), Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books (which remind me of how much fun it is to just be alive and laugh a lot) and On the Jellicoe Road (for being the first book in a long time to really take hold of me and turn me inside out). I’d also say anything by Georgette Heyer because she’s just so darn funny.
So there you have it. Frankenstein has definitely been pushed up my TBR now! Thanks to Harriet at Random House for arranging the Q&A and Sangu for answering the questions 🙂