If you’re been following my blog for a while, you will know that I loved Sangu Mandanna’s Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom, one of my favourite reads from last year, and probably my favourite middle grade read in 2021. I was really thrilled therefore when the author, Sangu Mandanna, agreed to an interview.
Thank you much for joining us here today, Sangu, and congratulations on the recent publication of Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse. Book 1, Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is your first middle grade story but not your first published book. Can you tell us about your writing in general, your other books, and then the inspiration for Kiki’s story?
Of course! I’ve been writing since I was a child, and almost every story I’ve ever written has been magical or fantastical in some way. In hindsight, I think I was writing the stories I wished I could read: stories in which young, shy brown girls could be heroines in folklore and fantasy. I don’t think that’s changed. These are still the stories I write, and there’s nothing I love more than to weave mythology, folklore and fantasy into stories with diverse casts.
Since then, in addition to the Kiki books, I’ve written a space opera (The Celestial Trilogy, which I like to describe as ‘the Mahabharata in space’), my first romantic fantasy for adults (The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, out this August), and my first graphic novel (Jupiter Nettle and the Seven Schools of Magic, which will be illustrated by Pablo Ballesteros and published in 2024). All of which have diverse casts, brown protagonists, and tons of magic.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom comes from the same place. Kiki is a British-Indian child with anxiety and OCD, very much like me, and it was important to me to allow her to struggle with, explore and ultimately embrace these parts of her identity while also getting to have incredible adventures in a magical world. The mythology in Kiki’s story comes from my own childhood in South India, where the folklore is rich and vastly underrepresented in western fiction.
The first Kiki book has so many fun, imaginative and fantastical elements: a Hindu demon king & his asuras, a group of orphaned kids locked in an endless battle with him, a world full of random things from Kiki’s imagination, a lion who drinks tea, a heroine with chronic anxiety and a desperate choice to make…how did you keep control of so many exciting and imaginative elements?
Honestly, I think part of the fun of writing these books was in not keeping control of the story! All worldbuilding and plotting has to have some kind of structure and logic, of course, but beyond that, the joy of Kiki’s world is that it comes from her imagination. The whole point of the story is that it springs from the creativity of a struggling eleven-year-old girl. So it’s whimsical, weird, wonderful and chaotic, which is very freeing as a writer!
I love that Pip is Kiki’s childhood invisible friend! I really wanted an invisible friend when I was a kid (my sister acted the part for a while). Tell me, did you have an invisible friend when you were a child? Or who/what inspired Pip’s character?
That’s brilliant, I wish I’d thought of making my brother play the part! I’ve always loved the idea of imaginary friends (especially one who might magically become real one day!) so Pip is, in every way, the dream.
Was Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom a standalone book originally or had you always planned a sequel? The story does lend itself to many sequels, especially with that hint at the end of book 2 (and now I want Kiki’s Dad to be trapped in her mother’s sketchbook!) Have you plans for more?
I always planned for Kiki to be a series. There’s just so much joy and fun in her world, and so much room for more stories and adventures. I would love to write more Kiki books, and I do have a couple of ideas and adventures in mind already (some of which are hinted at in Books 1 and 2!), but they’re on the back burner for the moment.
I’d love to read more stories with Kiki, she’s such a wonderful character! Of course, Kiki’s creative brain and artistic talent are so important to both Kiki books. Do you draw as well as write?
I do! Creativity in all forms has always been enormously important to me, and I’m less concerned with talent than I am with how much fun I have doing it. Honestly, I’m pretty terrible at bullet journaling (the pretty, aesthetic kind) and yet it brings me a lot of joy. I think that’s important for young readers too! It doesn’t matter how good you are at something, or how much or how little talent you have; as long as it brings you joy, it’s important.
When do you get to write? Have you a daily schedule, does it have to fit around other commitments, do you have to choose between it and sleep…?
Ha! Sometimes I do have to choose between writing and sleep, which is not at all sensible or healthy, but it does inevitably happen when I get close to a deadline. The rest of the time, I try to be flexible. I can’t make myself feel inspired to write with a flick of a magic wand, much as I wish I could, but I know now that when I am feeling uninspired, that tends to be a good time to get a lot of other, less creative, work-related tasks done (taxes! Emails! Social media! And so on…) I also have three children and ADHD, so being flexible is an absolute necessity.
You’re certainly kept very busy! I’ve read that you wrote first story at the age of four after being chased by an elephant. I’d love to read that story! Any chance you could share it with us?
My dad keeps it stashed safely in his desk drawer, and never remembers to take a photo of it for me, so I’m afraid I can’t share it! That said, you’re not missing much. As I recall, it involved me explaining that an “elefit” (elephant) chased us, that I was “sked” (scared), and not much else!
That’s brilliant! Sounds like even at four you had a great sense for a story! Finally what are you currently working on?
Right now I’m drafting my second romantic fantasy for adults, which is tentatively scheduled for a Summer 2023 release date. I’m also working on a new middle grade fantasy series. And, as is often the way in publishing, I’m not allowed to tell you much about either project just yet!
I’m so excited to hear a new middle grade fantasy series is on the way, The Celestial Trilogy is added to my TBR, and I will be watching out for The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches later this year, as well as Jupiter Nettle and the Seven Schools of Magic in 2024 (why does it have to be so far away!! 🙂 ).Thank you so much, Sangu, and wishing you the best of success with Kiki Kallira Conquers A Curse and all your other books.
Next week I will be reviewing Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse so be sure to check back.
You can see my review for Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom here.
Sangu Mandanna is the author of several novels about myths, monsters and magic. She lives in Norwich, England, with her husband and kids. You can find out more about her and her books at sangumandanna.com