Sangu Mandanna Guest Post
I wrote a book about death. But, you know, I think it’s really about love. It’s about the kinds of things people will do to keep hold of the ones they love. Sometimes that means sacrificing everything to be with someone you’re not supposed to be with. And sometimes that means signing up to cheat death itself. (Well. In theory, anyway.)
I’ve been asked about the inspiration behind The Lost Girl more times than I can count. And I always say it was inspired by Frankenstein. The thing I don’t often say is that it was Frankenstein, but also timing. And also love.
My mother gave me a copy of Frankenstein when I was thirteen. It was a Christmas present, bundled together with matching editions of Dracula and The Count of Monte Cristo. I was still living in Bangalore then, and I’d throw myself down on my bed while monsoon rains beat the window and I’d read for hours. I read all three of those classics. I liked Mary Shelley’s best. I thought it was cool. I thought the tragedies in Victor’s life were horrid and dismal, I thought it was kind of sad about the monster too.
And that was it.
Let’s skip ahead, to me at university. I was twenty-one. I had a string of failed manuscripts and rejections behind me. I was reading a lot (as ever). I was doing a British Romanticism module and Frankenstein was one of our set texts. I had a new copy of the book, a ghastly green edition I bought for a penny. I read it, thinking I’d probably like it as much as I did eight years before, I’d probably enjoy writing about it for the course, and later I’d probably put the book away and let it get dusty.
Scoff. I was very wrong.
I read the book and couldn’t stop thinking about it. That ghastly green edition is practically my best friend now.
I wanted to write about the tragic, twisted Creature. I wanted to write about what life might have been like for someone like him. But most of all, I wanted to write about bringing the lost back. About a world in which, maybe, you never have to lose someone ever again.
So why did I care? Why did this book suddenly mean something to me?
We skipped ahead to university, so let’s go back now. Five years before, not even halfway between my first read of Frankenstein and my reread at university, I was almost sixteen. And I lost someone I loved very much.
It’s difficult to quantify love, but my aunt defined the word for me. When she died, it was all wrong. She was young. It wasn’t a nice death (if such a thing exists). It was the kind of thing that made no sense. I mean, you read about these things. You watch these things on big, glowing screens. You cry with skilled actors and sob over beautiful words on the page. But it’s not supposed to happen in real life. It’s just not. At least, that’s what I told myself. Over and over. I, ever the writer, imagined new ways for the story to go. I imagined she’d come back. I imagined walking into my house one day and seeing her there and she’d say “it was just a silly mistake” and laugh. Sometimes I still like to imagine that.
So you can see why Frankenstein suddenly looked different to me. Why it tugged on something it hadn’t even touched before.
I wanted to write about a way to not lose someone you love. I wanted to create a world in which the impossible was possible, and then turn it all upside-down. I wanted to write about how tempting that kind of hope could be. I wanted to write about stitching life from scratch, and using that new life to replace an old one; I wanted to write about the hope that one day it might be possible to transfer the soul from one body to another. All kinds of things rushed at me that day. All kinds of I-want-to-write-this thoughts. I wanted to write about a lot of things. About death. But mostly about love.
Of course, in the end, it wasn’t up to me. It was up to Eva. It was months before I heard her voice in my head. Until then, it didn’t matter what I wanted. I had ideas, I had I-wants, I even knew whose echo I, personally, would stitch if I had that choice (and if the system actually worked). But I had no Frankensteinian monster of my own. I had no story.
Then Eva told me hers. And I thought well, here’s my monster.
And then I wrote about death. But mostly, about love.
Sangu Mandanna was four years old when she was chased by an elephant and wrote her first story about it and decided that this was what she wanted to do with her life. Seventeen years later, she read Frankenstein. It sent her into a writing frenzy that became The Lost Girl, a novel about death and love and the tie that binds the two together. Sangu now lives in England with her husband and baby son. Find her online at @SanguMandanna, on her blog, and on GoodReads.
Please note that right now, The Lost Girl is a standalone, but the author hopes the novel will be expanded into a series at some point. She’s currently working on a few future projects, involving a steampunk Romeo and Juliet, a fantasy-fairytale, and tragic love story in a small seaside town.
Photos appear courtesy of the Sangu Mandanna.