Nizrana Farook’s debut novel, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, has been thrilling readers young and old since its publication. The Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for January 2020 was also shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize.
Now Farook is back with her second adventure and we sat down to talk about both stories, her early fiction and the book she thinks would make a brilliant musical.
Can you tell us about your new book The Boy Who Met a Whale
The Boy Who Met a Whale is about a boy, Razi, who’s watching turtle hatchlings at the beach one day when he sees a boat drifting to shore. Inside he finds a boy, who’s full of fanciful stories about a shipwreck, sea monsters and a missing treasure he needs to find. After Razi accidentally leads two nasty villains to the boy, leading to his kidnap, Razi has to now go and find the treasure and rescue the boy. Razi’s battling his own demons, but with the help of his sister he needs to face the ocean and the biggest sea monster of all.
How did writing this story differ from your debut novel, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant?
I was writing this under contract, so I had a much stricter time frame to get things done. I plotted out the book before I started writing, which I didn’t do for my first. The story did change quite a bit as I edited, but there were some key points that were there right from the beginning. The Girl Who Stole an Elephant was a much easier book to write! The main character in this book eluded me for so long – I had to spend months figuring him out and understanding his inner mind.
Your titles are amazing and feel effortlessly brilliant. Did you know them both before you started the stories or did they come later?
Thank you! The title of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant was completely my editor’s idea, and because we had a sort of a formula to follow with the second one we came up with The Boy Who Met a Whale jointly. I had initially titled my debut The Thief of Serendib, and though I think it’s a great title I can see why my editor wanted to change it. The Girl Who Stole an Elephant has a hook right there before even opening the book.
What is the first piece of fiction you ever remember writing?
That’s a really hard question to answer because I think I was writing fiction from the time I was able to write. One thing I remember very clearly, and can even recall some of the sentences, is an Enid Blyton style mystery story I wrote when I was about nine or ten featuring me and my cousins as the sleuths. I was reading The Five Find-Outers at the time and tried to write something like that. I didn’t show my work to anyone though as I thought it was pretty rubbish!
Which of your minor characters do you feel deserve a book of their own?
In The Boy Who Met a Whale there’s a character called Zheng who’s the boy who arrives by boat and is rescued by the main character. He’s a really fascinating character and I’d love to know more about his life before and after my book. I think his adventures could fill up several books, especially as he has a tendency to embellish things a bit!
Which novel (other than your own) do you think would make a great TV adaptation?
There’s a book that came out last year called The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke. It’s set in 19th century Amsterdam and it’s such a visual delight. It’s about five orphans who escape their evil matron and go in search of the family they need. As I was reading I was picturing the frozen canals and the windmill and canal houses. I’d love to see a screen adaptation of it – I think it would make a great musical!