A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Writing Essentials by Sangu Mandanna

The topic this week is “essential writing paraphernalia”. And let me tell you, the word essential is a thorn in my side.

See, I love reading posts like these. I love glimpses into authors’ desks, I love the gorgeous textured photographs with cups and coffee stains and stacks of notebooks, I even follow whole blogs devoted to photos like that on Tumblr. #bookporn is my most favourite tag ever.

I love writing these posts too. So I was really excited about this one.

I had a mental image of the incredibly stunning photo I’d take. (Think arty shot of a chai latte topped with whipped cream, an open notebook filled with intelligent scribbles, a laptop screen that sneakily shows you an exciting sentence but cuts it off halfway, etc etc.)

I pondered with unseemly joy the list I’d put together. (Obviously I would be listing the very same things that were in the photo, which some might say makes the list redundant, but I disagree. Lists are never redundant. I love lists more than one might consider entirely sane. I even make lists of lists. I spend more money on list apps for my iPhone than I do on cake. AND I LOVE CAKE.)

Skip to two days ago, when I sat down to write this post and plotted with glee how I would arrange my desk for the stunning photo in question.

And then the word essential started to make itself felt.

The first hurdle: my desk was not essential. I have a toddler who is in childcare only two days a week. I have a baby who is two weeks old and is therefore with me almost 24/7. WHERE IS THERE TIME TO WORK AT A DESK?! (Answer: such time does not exist. It dwells in a beautiful fictional world with Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and a Sangu who does not have stretch marks.) Writing and work take place in a corner of the sofa at the moment. Where I can balance a sleeping baby in the crook of one arm while simultaneously balancing a laptop on my knees while simultaneously having possibly one finger, maybe two, to spare to reach over and help my toddler with the puzzle he’s playing with on the rug beside the sofa.

So no desk.

The second hurdle: where am I supposed to stage my beautiful photo if not on my desk? I can’t use the sofa! It’s a squashy, unstable surface. Better people than me would struggle to balance a chai latte on a sofa, I think.

The third hurdle: Chai latte?! WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I EVEN HAD ONE?!

I am, however, nothing if not stubborn. I will have my list.

Here is a list of things that are not essential for my writing, but I so wish they were for photographic purposes:

1. A desk (see why above)

2. A vanilla chai latte topped with whipped cream (ditto. Also, quite frankly, I forget to eat and drink when I’m writing at the best of times. I forget to even get up. The only things I don’t forget are my children and that’s possibly due to their persistence/power of their lungs rather than to any spectacular mothering on my part. So I don’t know why I thought a beverage that requires actual time to prepare would ever be a writing essential of mine.)

3. A beautiful shiny stack of hardcovers that I look fondly at for inspiration. (Have you tried reading a hardcover while tethered to a newborn? If you have, I need say no more. If you haven’t, I will say only this: I read on my phone these days.)

4. A notebook filled with intelligent scribbles and an artistically arranged pen. (My scribbles are not intelligent. Notebooks and pens also require the use of both hands, which is a luxury I now reserve for eating and washing my hair.)

5. A pretty bookmark. (I could make this an essential, I suppose. Like a talisman I carry around. It would not, however, be marking any books so that would be cheating.)

6. Research. (All my research is in Evernote. As in, it’s in cyberspace. Which means Evernote kind of is a writing essential. But it does not a gorgeous photograph make.)


What are my writing essentials?

1. The sofa. Which I would absolutely take a photo of, only I’m sitting on it.

2. This.


Literally a blank screen and a keyboard to punch the words in. I write. That’s it. That’s all there’s room for.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a craving for a chai latte…

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 book about death and love and the tie that binds the two together. The Lost Girl is out now. Sangu lives in Norwich with her husband and two sons.

About Sangu Mandanna

YA author of THE LOST GIRL and A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE. Also a wife, mum and Netflix addict.

5 comments on “Writing Essentials by Sangu Mandanna

  1. barbarahenderson
    August 11, 2014

    Very funny post! Loved it. Good luck with the writing, with that baby in two – and all my admiration! I remember how hard it is! Bea x

  2. barbarahenderson
    August 11, 2014

    Er.. that should say ‘baby in tow’ – and I don’t even have the excuse of a 2-week-old!

  3. elenashart
    August 11, 2014

    Sofa: check, pile of books with stylish covers: check (have you beheld the beauty of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase in hardback?) Cup of tea (going cold): check, and of course the necessary paraphernalia three children on summer hols creates that clutters every inch of sofa I’m not sitting on: check, check, check… Oh and a laptop to actually write on, when a couple of minutes presents itself at the same time an idea sparks. I’ve an art space too but that’s a whole other kind of Essential (read: mess). I empathise, Sangu. Good luck!

  4. Sangu Mandanna
    August 11, 2014

    Thanks, Bea 🙂 It is hard writing with tiny ones in tow, isn’t it? I honestly don’t think I’d ever get anything done if I couldn’t do at least some of it on my phone!

  5. Sangu Mandanna
    August 11, 2014

    Thank you! Ha I laughed so hard reading about the tea going cold. That’s another staple of writing with kids around: never being able to drink or eat anything at the temperature it’s supposed to be!

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