Welcome everyone! In today’s post, co-hosts Wendy and Shenwei have an interview to share with Sangu Mandanna, discussing her newest book, a middle grade fantasy novel, Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom. More about the book below:
About Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom
For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life–including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.
Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years.
One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds–the real and the imagined–from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?
Trailer for Kiki Kallira
About Sangu Mandanna
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. She is the author of YA novels The Lost Girl, A Spark of White Fire and its sequels, and has contributed to several anthologies. She lives in Norwich, in the east of England, with her husband and kids. Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is her first middle-grade novel.
Welcome, Sangu! Thank you so much for joining us at Lit CelebrAsian.
Q: Kiki Kallira is your middle grade debut — what drew you to writing for this age group, and what was it like transitioning into this in terms of your writing process?
Hi Wendy and Shenwei! It was quite a surprising transition, actually, but in a good way. My YA tends to skew very angsty and is on the darker side, so it was both a surprise and delight to find that I was drawn immediately to the lighter, funnier side of MG! There’s so much joy and fun in books for this age group, and you can really dig deep into feelings, so I absolutely leaned into that and tried to make every plot point as dramatic, silly, funny or emotional as possible. The fact that Kiki’s voice is naturally dramatic was a huge bonus too!
Q. In your book, Kiki has to face the consequences of accidentally “playing god” and creating sentient people and a living world. Some of the gaps in her artistic worldbuilding lead to funny or even disastrous consequences. If you had Kiki’s power of bringing a world to life, what would be one of the little things you’d make sure to include in your design?
Oh, like Kiki, I would absolutely make sure I included electricity and plumbing in my design! It wouldn’t matter if my imaginary world was futuristic, contemporary or based on ancient mythology; I like my modern comforts too much to go without! What would I do without all the books I have stored on my phone?!
Q. Kiki is such a well-developed character in terms of her struggles with her anxieties, and her attempts to be brave and do things outside her comfort zone, and how this is linked with the worldbuilding of the mythical kingdom. What’s something you’ve done in spite of feeling afraid at the time, and how did things turn out?
Sending my very first submission to a publisher. It was when I was fifteen, and it was a manuscript that was, in hindsight, truly terrible. I was absolutely terrified of taking that leap, but I wanted so badly to be an author that I made myself address the envelope and send it off. To Tor, no less! It was a rejection, but the editor at Tor included a handwritten note telling me I had potential and not to give up. It was one of the kindest things anyone’s ever done for me and it absolutely gave me the confidence to keep trying.
Q. Kiki comes up with incredibly creative ideas and is an artist, as well as struggling with anxiety. For writers and other creatives, it’s always interesting to think about the links between mental health and our creativity: how our creations can be empowering, allowing for self-care and escape, but also a source of struggle. Could you speak to this topic, and any advice you have for young creators who might be struggling with writer’s or artist’s block?
I know there are a number of creative people who believe there’s no such thing as writer’s or artist’s block, but honestly, I disagree. As someone who is both neurodivergent and who struggles with my mental health, there are absolutely times when my creativity feels like it’s been completely extinguished. And that, essentially, is what the “block” is: it’s the absence of ideas and motivation, the struggle to conjure up that spark. The best advice I can offer a young creator is to give it time. Look after yourself. Allow yourself to rest, and recharge, and do other things. Creativity always comes back, but sometimes it just needs that time and care.
Q. What was your worldbuilding and research process like for the fantasy aspects of Kiki Kallira? Was most of the mythology drawn from stories you’d known growing up, or mostly informed by your deliberate research prior to drafting?
I would say that almost all of the worldbuilding in terms of the mythology came from my memories of the folklore and stories of my childhood, and I actually leaned into that because so much of the plot hinges on the idea that our cultural folklore can be interpreted in many different ways and a child’s perspective is necessarily different from an adult’s. So I wanted to use my memories, to capture the feelings I had when I was younger, to make Kiki’s interpretation feel more real and relatable to young readers. That said, I did do a little research while drafting, mostly to remind myself of historical and geographical details that I needed to include.
Q. Related to the above, a lot of times, when authors of color draw on their own cultures for their writing, they’re held to unfairly high standards of “authenticity,” even when the story is fantasy. However, creativity is one of the joys of the fantasy writing process. What was your favorite part of Kiki’s alternate world to create?
You know, that was very much in the back of my mind when I was writing this book! Kiki’s world is exactly the kind of patchwork hodge-podge of sense and nonsense that I would have come up with at the age of eleven, but I really ratcheted that up because I think I was absolutely rebelling against the idea that I would be expected to be perfectly, impossibly “authentic”. I think Kiki’s world is true to the stories and culture I love, but it’s absolutely not “realistic” and that was a deliberate choice. We are all made up of the places we go, the people we meet and the art we love, and those things are almost always incredibly varied and diverse, so I wanted Kiki’s world to reflect that.
Thank you so much for joining us, Sangu!
Find Sangu on:
Buy Kiki Kallira:
US edition (Viking)
UK edition (Hachette)
More of Sangu Mandanna’s books:
Color Outside the Lines anthology