Sangu Mandanna joins us today to talk about her 2012 book The Lost Girl, which stole my heart when I read it for the first time last year. Inspired in part by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the book explores themes of life, death, and what it means to be your own person.
In The Lost Girl, Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her ‘other,’ if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready. But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.
The Lost Girl is available now.
I could go on and on about Frankenstein all day! There’s so much about it that is still so relevant and incredible today. Themes like scientific ethics and parental abandonment are still so important today, for a start, but then there’s also the fact that a teenage girl wrote this novel (and yet, almost 200 years later, we’re still dismissing and underestimating teenage girls!) When I wrote The Lost Girl, though, the thing that stuck with me most about Frankenstein was the nebulous idea of a monster. What makes a monster? Is someone who does bad things even if they have reasons you can sympathise with? Is it someone who has good intentions but ends up hurting everyone else? Or (the ugliest question of all and the one still so painfully relevant today) is a monster simply someone that someone else has deemed less than human? These were the questions I wanted most to explore.
How does it feel to look back on a book you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on the book evolved with time?
I have to admit it’s really strange to look back at a book after so long! I absolutely remember why I wrote it and why I made the choices I did, but it’s an odd mixture of being incredibly proud of it and also cringing slightly at things I wish I’d done differently. There are absolutely things I would do differently if I were to write the book now (a fuller, more rounded ending, for a start!) but I also look back and realise that so many of the themes I wrote about then are valid and important still.
How have readers responded to The Lost Girl? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
I’ve certainly read negative reviews of the book, as I’m sure every author ever has of their work, but I think I’ve been very fortunate in that all the readers who have approached me directly have always been very positive and enthusiastic about the book. And I would say that yes, absolutely, reader responses have a huge impact on me as a writer. Readers keep me going. I love hearing from readers who identify with Eva and feel like she speaks for them in a way that few characters have. I love feeling inspired to keep writing characters that readers (especially marginalised readers!) identify with that way.
The setting of The Lost Girl stretches from England to India and the ability of the Weavers to stitch near-perfect copies of human beings gives it a futuristic, or even fantastical, twist. How did you arrive at this book’s unique feel, with its mix of genres and globe-spanning backdrop?
It was always important to me from the start to tell the story across the two places I feel like I belong to. Britain is my home, but India is where I grew up. A British setting felt right to me, but the Indian setting felt right and necessary because there are so few YA novels told about cities in India with Indian characters living normal lives and I wanted to capture my own teen experience there. I was never going to write the novel without including these two places that are hugely important to me. The sci fi twist, on the other hand, was harder to nail down. Early versions of the novel felt much more fantastical, with more myth and magic involved in the Weavers’ work because fantasy is where my heart truly lies, but later versions skewed more towards science and sci fi because that felt like it would hit closer to home. I needed my monsters to feel real in a way that my early magical setting didn’t quite capture.
Has your approach to writing changed since this book? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
I think I’m a braver writer now. The fact that conversations have opened up in publishing about good vs bad representation, diversity, marginalisation and so on has meant that marginalised authors now feel a lot stronger and braver in fighting for our space on shelves and in fighting for the right to represent ourselves and readers like us on the page. I tiptoed around a lot of racial and mental health issues while writing The Lost Girl that I would tackle differently now because I feel more certain of the things I believe in and more determined to do right by my young readers.
What have you worked on since The Lost Girl? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
I can’t say too much about what I’m working on right now, but my current projects include a space fantasy trilogy inspired by Indian mythology and a diverse dark fantasy split between historical and contemporary timelines.
Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
Publishing is hard. It’s never going to go the way you expected it to and you may want to give up writing altogether (I want to give up writing at least twice a year!) but hold on to why you love stories and why you love to tell them. Be brave. Keep fighting for your space. You deserve that space and you will eventually claim it.
Who do you hope will find The Lost Girl?
The Lost Girl is about grief and death and love, so I hope readers trying to come to grips with these things find this book and find something in it that resonates with them. Also, I was once a young brown girl who never saw myself in dark adventures and exciting love stories, so I hope girls like me find this book and see that brown girls can star in their own stories. And finally, this is a book about how easy it is to dismiss someone as a monster so I hope the people who have been made to feel monstrous or even just less important find this book and see that they’re just as magnificent and important as anyone else.