Guest Post by Nizrana Farook
What do you do when it’s the middle of winter and you’re writing while yearning for some sunshine and warmth? In my case, you write The Girl Who Stole an Elephant!
It was December 2016/17 and I was writing a piece for my MA. I immediately set it somewhere hot, with the sun beating down and the surroundings as tropical as can be. My heroine was bold and daring, walking off with jewels in her pouch in broad daylight while looking down at lush greenery from the King’s mountaintop palace. I imagined I was watching the scene unfold on a large screen as I typed, thinking about the music and the sights and sounds. Something felt vaguely familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I was quite excited when I finished and sent it off. The world felt fresh and new, and full of possibilities. That was when I came to a realisation. I had been describing a place I know and had been to, set in my home country.
Once I had the place pinned down, the setting became the easiest part. When I needed my main character to go into hiding, the jungle immediately beckoned. I also had an array of tastes ready for the picking; the sweet juiciness of jambu, the comforting softness of breadfruit, the crunchy bite of coconut.
I looked up pictures for the different locations in my book – the children’s village, the city, the surroundings for the carpenter’s workshop. I tweaked them slightly where necessary, and used a mixture of the real and imagined in my story.
When my protagonist, Chaya, breaks into a rich merchant’s house for example, I had a visual of what she might see from her position on the roof.
The jungles scenes I wrote completely from memory. I went on a school trip a long time ago to the Sinharaja Rainforest, and it still evokes an aura of awe and mystery for me. There was something magical about that trip; going deep into the jungle with torches, dealing with leeches and seeing all sorts of weird and wonderful jungle creatures but having an exhilarating time through it all. I’ve tried to convey some of it in those scenes. Nour’s wonder and dismay were very much my own!
I did go on a safari again when visiting family in Sri Lanka during the writing of the book, saw loads of elephants and other wildlife, but I’d say very little made it into the story from that. I think seeing it with a young person’s eyes worked much better for my book!
As I write this now in another winter three years later, I see my book next to me and smile at the thought of welcoming readers to the warm and exciting world of Serendib. Now where’s a jambu fruit when you need one?
The Girl Who Stole an Elephant is out now with Nosy Crow and currently Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month.
The views expressed may not reflect those of the FCBG.