Nov 22 2023.views 110
Children’s author Nizrana Farook is the author of the award-winning The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, The Boy Who Met a Whale, The Girl Who Lost a Leopard and most recently, The Boy Who Saved a Bear. She was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka – the landscape of her Serendib series. Her debut book The Girl Who Stole an Elephant was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for January 2020 and was shortlisted for the inaugural Joan Aiken Future Classics prize.
Nizrana’s Serendib series is a delightful read for both children and adults. Set in ancient Sri Lanka, the stories are full of action and adventure featuring Sri Lanka’s most beloved wildlife while subtly educating on human-wildlife conflicts and our role in protecting them with creative storytelling. Ahead of her appearance at the Galle Literary Festival 2024, Nizrana chats with the Daily Mirror about her books and her work.
Q Hi Nizrana! Let’s start at the beginning, tell me a little about yourself as an author.
It started when I wanted to write a set of books for my own children, and somewhere along the line, I thought maybe I should think of writing for publication. I’ve always enjoyed writing and storytelling and I’m lucky that I now get to do it for a living. I wrote my first book, then called The Thief of Serendib (published as The Girl Who Stole an Elephant) and got my agent and book deal with that.
Q I read The Girl Who Stole an Elephant and The Girl Who Lost a Leopard some time back and loved how even though it’s primarily for children, as an adult, even I got wrapped up in the whole story– what inspired your works on the land of Serendib and its wildlife?
I’m glad you enjoyed it as an adult! Children’s books could be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I think the richness and potential of the Sri Lankan landscape led me to these stories. I didn’t intend for the elephant to play such a big role when I wrote the first book. But it eventually did, and I decided to go with the format for subsequent books. It gave me a blueprint to carry on and I chose an animal character for each. These aren’t animal stories in the traditional sense but adventure stories featuring an animal alongside the children as one of the adventurers.
Q Even though the human-wildlife conflict themes we see in your stories are very apt even today, you’ve chosen to set your timeline of Sri Lanka a few centuries ago, under the rule of a Queen – any particular reason?
The reason I set these books in the past is to do away with technology! I didn’t want the characters to have access to technology to get them out of situations or to inform anyone of their whereabouts. I wanted to make things as hard as possible for them, so they have lots to overcome. The past was also a more dangerous place, making for a better adventure story, I think. The reason for the Queen? Well, I’m as fed up as anyone about the state of current politics in Sri Lanka and in contrast chose a wonderfully capable and just woman to be in charge.
Q All the Serendib stories are intricately linked with wildlife, what inspired you and what kind of research goes into them?
The fact that these books were set in the distant past meant that wildlife came naturally into it. During the pre-European colonisation, we had forests teeming with wildlife and that’s what the stories reflect. I think there’s something wonderful and exciting about having an animal adventurer on a quest. And all the better if it’s a wild animal. I research the animals I’m writing about by reading about them, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries and so on. With The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, Gihan de Silva Wijeyeratne fact-checked it for me. Asha de Vos read The Boy Who Met a Whale. I am very grateful to them.
Q The books are full of action and adventure; are you also adventurous?
Not at all! I think I live vicariously through my characters, who are generally reckless and always up for anything dangerous. It’s so much fun to write them.
Q If you could live the story of any of your books – which one would you pick?
That’s a question I’ve never been asked before! If I could live in the story of any of my books I’d pick The Girl Who Stole an Elephant. The characters overcame a lot, and what better than that to cause a revolution?
Q I read in an interview that The Boy Who Saved a Bear is the last of the Serendib series, what’s next for you?
I’m currently writing a fantasy series, probably a trilogy. It’s quite different to the Serendib books, but there’s a thread of similarity running through them as well. Expect to see more animals!
Q What are you looking forward to at the Galle Literary Festival?
I’m looking forward to meeting readers. I’ve never done a literary event in Sri Lanka before so I’m thrilled to be a part of this. I’m also planning on taking in some of the other events and listening to other speakers.