A jewel theft, an elephant and a runaway girl!
6th Jan 20

A jewel theft, an elephant and a runaway girl!

Three children are on the run, with jewels stolen from the Queen, and King's elephant! Author NIZRANA FAROOK tells us more about her brilliant adventure story, THE GIRL WHO STOLE AN ELEPHANT!

Look out for stolen gems, a runaway elephant and forest bandits in this brilliant story about friendship, hope - and adventure!

We asked author NIZRANA FAROOK to tell us more about THE GIRL WHO STOLE AN ELEPHANT:

Q: What sparked this idea about a jewel-thieving girl?

A: I didn't know she was going to be stealing jewels when I started writing, the situation came about one sentence at a time.

When I wrote the first sentence I wondered why the guard was pointing a spear at her, and so on. At the time I didn't even realise it would become a book, it was only meant to be a writing exercise.

I wanted to write something really visual and colourful and full of action, and Chaya's character was formed through that and what she was doing in that setting. I didn't know she was a Robin Hood-style thief in chapter one. I didn't know why she was stealing or for whom. When I wrote chapter two I worked out the answers to those questions.

Q: Where is the story set? Is it based in a place you know?

A: When I wrote the first chapter I wrote it in a clearly tropical setting but without a particular place in mind. It felt a bit Indian to me, I'd even referred to the queen as the maharani for instance. But the setting felt vaguely familiar and I could picture the mountaintop palace and surroundings vividly in my mind.

It was only after I'd completed it and sent it off that I realised something. I was describing a place I knew, set in my home country. So in my later edits I made it unmistakably Sri Lankan by placing the giant lion statue with the entryway between the lions paws. It's a historic location in a place called Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.

Q: How does your main character Chaya's childhood compare to your own?

A: It was quite different! I grew up in the heart of Colombo city. In some ways, though, my childhood would have a slightly old-world feel to a modern British child. I grew up in an extended family structure, with my grandparents and seeing my cousins on a near daily basis. I have 36 first cousins.

Q: The children use an elephant, Ananda, as part of their escape. Was Ananda always going to be part of the action?

A: He wasn't. Ananda was just there as a nice visual in the first chapter, and I liked the idea of him finishing off the chapter to show the chaos that Chaya had unleashed in the royal compound as she watched from afar. I got the idea for Chaya to 'borrow' him later during the prison incident, and it tied so perfectly with her being a thief that it felt right immediately.

I did some online research on elephants, and saw wild elephants on safari last year in Sri Lanka, but that was more for fun than research. I have ridden elephants a couple of times, but a long time ago.

Q: Were these the kinds of stories you enjoyed as a child?

A: Surprisingly enough, this wasn't the type of book I read as a child. I would have loved it, but I hadn't really come across anything similar. I read plenty of adventure stories though.

I've heard that the opening of a book is like a promise to the reader, and I wanted to keep my promise by delivering on the sort of story readers would expect from the opening. The pace was very much set by Chaya. I see her as someone quite impatient and quick-talking, so felt the story had to reflect that.

Q: There is quite a classic feel to this story, what kinds of books did you enjoy reading as a child?

A: Thank you, I did try to write it like that. I read lots of Enid Blyton as a child. Looking back as an adult, I didn't have a lot of variety though I read a lot of books. I've probably read almost every Blyton book going, and she's written a lot. I did enjoy the classics - Little Women, The Secret Garden and Heidi are favourites.

Q: When and where are your favourite places and times to write?

A: I write in the mornings when my children are in school. It's my most productive time. I sit at my desk, which has a window overlooking the street outside - I stare outside a lot as I'm mulling over things as I write! My writing epiphanies always come when I'm not at the desk though, mostly when I'm cooking.

At the moment I'm writing my next book, which is an adventure set in the same world as The Girl Who Stole an Elephant but with different characters. It has quite a different feel from book one.

Q: You introduce us to some lovely-sounding foods and sweets in your book; what are your favourites?

A: I think it's the Blyton influence that makes me write about food so much. I remember how much I enjoyed reading about what the Famous Five, especially, ate. Like Chaya, I think jambu is great! They're small fruits but nice; sweet with a hint of sourness. I also really like fried breadfruit chips frosted with sugar. Chaya and friends make a no-frills version of it in the jungle. Watch out for book two where more food will follow!

Q: If you were given a ticket to visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A: Oh that's tough, to pick one country. There are so many I'd love to go to. Possibly Peru, to see Machu Pichu, or Petra in Jordan. I don't mind really, I like going anywhere I haven't been before.

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