Interview with Sangu Mandanna (THE VERY SECRET SOCIETY OF IRREGULAR WITCHES)
Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids. She is the author of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches and more.
Welcome to the Hive, Sangu! Congratulations on your latest release, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches. What can readers expect from your book?
Thank you very much! Readers can expect something like Practical Magic meets a grown-up Kiki’s Delivery Service: a warm, cosy fantasy with a diverse and quirky cast of characters.
And for fun, could you describe it in five words?
Cosy, romantic, magical, kind, welcoming.
You have such a fantastic cast of diverse, and delightfully quirky characters. Can you tell us more about them? What inspired Mika Moon’s heart-of-gold personality?
Thank you! I love the idea of a found family, so I wanted very much want to bring together a ragtag group of people who know what it is to be excluded and marginalised; people who shouldn’t fit together, but do; people whose kindness and love is so warm and welcoming that there’s room for everyone. As for Mika in particular, honestly, I think she represented a ray of sunshine and hope that I needed when I started writing this novel in lockdown.
Which of the side characters were your favourite to write and were there any you found particularly tricky to craft? I personally loved Ian and the three children!
I love them all so much, but I do absolutely adore Ian. He has such a wonderful, effervescent, mischievous energy that I could very much do with in my life! The children were also a lot of fun to write, but they were also the hardest to craft: while I’m very used to writing children’s fiction, and in particular children from a child’s point of view, I found it surprisingly tricky in this book to make them feel vivid while also making sure they didn’t take over the story.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I have a weird relationship with music while I’m writing. It’s either extremely helpful and inspiring, or it’s extremely distracting. So I suppose it depends on my mood and the kind of scene I’m working on! I do typically have a playlist for each book I’m working on, and they tend to be a mixture of instrumental music and songs that feel right.
As for the rest of my process, I’m a very “all or nothing” kind of writer. I think it might be my ADHD, but if I’m not in the right headspace, nothing in the universe can make me get the words out. On the flip side, once I’m in the right headspace, nothing can stop me! What this means in practice is I spend a lot of time letting things simmer in my head at the start of the draft, and by the end of the draft, I’m usually writing or sleeping 24/7 until it’s finished. (Which is neither healthy nor sustainable, but I have yet to find a different method that works for me!)
Speaking of worlds, did you always plan to set your novel in Britain? How fun was it to incorporate all the magic and the inventive spells?
Oh, there was never any doubt that this book would be set in Britain. Norfolk, which has been my home for twelve years now, is such a big part of this story and inspired it in so many ways. I feel like there’s something a bit magical and arcane about the countryside in Britain: the whimsical town names, the lore, the peculiar local landmarks. It really lends itself to a witchy book.
I have to ask, which of Mika Moon’s spells and/or magical teas would you most like to use/drink? I really want to use the speed spell!
I’d pay good money for a speed spell! That said, I think the specific spell I’d most like to be able to use is Mika’s spell to ward off spiders and creepy-crawlies. Just think of all the time I’d gain back if I didn’t have to work up the nerve to approach and catch a spider lurking in the corner of the room!
[Editor note: YES PLEASE]
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
All of the above? I am a compulsive editor, so I edit every paragraph and page as I go along, which means that by the time I get to the end of a draft, it’s already more like a second or third draft. That means that, typically, the editing process with my agent or editor is just more of the same: it can be stressful when I’m stuck or on a deadline, but I take such tremendous satisfaction from feeling like a book is getting better and better.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover and both your US and UK cover capture the scene for your novel perfectly! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
Both of my publishers and their designers did such an incredible job! I’ve been very lucky in that I was able to work very collaboratively with both publishers on these covers, but I also know where my strengths lie and covers are not it! I remember I’d offer ideas like “here are some key images in the book that we could maybe use?” and “I think I like the warmer colour palette better” and of course I would answer any questions that came up, but I was more than happy for the designers and marketers to take the lead because they have a much better idea what they’re doing than I do!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I am not at all ashamed to say that I would be riding a very fast unicorn in the opposite direction of the battle?!?
Tell us about a book you love. Any hidden gems?
I don’t know if any of these count as hidden gems (and in fact, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t!), but I’ve recently read and loved Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher, Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco, and Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree.
What’s next for you, Sangu? Do you have any upcoming projects which you can share? In the future do you plan to do a sequel to The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches or a spin-off with any of the characters?
At the moment, I’m working on my next fantasy romance for adults, which will be out around this time next year. It’s not a sequel or spin-off of Witches, but has the same kind of atmosphere and explores some of the same themes. After that, I’ll be working on my next middle-grade fantasy series, tentatively titled Vanya and the Wild Hunt, which is out in 2024. I don’t have any plans for Witches sequels right this moment, but I do absolutely love the world and characters, so I’d love to revisit them!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
The thing I want most for any reader reading my writing is for them to feel something powerful. In Witches, specifically, I hope readers come away feeling a little happier, a little more hopeful, and a little more loved than they did went they started.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thanks for having me!