The Girl Who Lost a Leopard is the latest adventure from Nizrana Farook, whose books also include The Boy Who Met a Whale and The Girl Who Stole an Elephant.
Nizrana was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the beautiful landscapes of her home country find their way into the stories she writes. She has a master's degree in writing for young people, and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two daughters.
You can follow her on Twitter at @NizRite.
The Girl Who Lost a Leopard (Nosy Crow Books)
A villainous poacher, a determined girl and a race against time are some of the highlights in The Girl Who Lost a Leopard, the latest adventure from Nizrana Farook whose stories set in Sri Lanka bring to life a very different way of life in another age. We asked Nizrana to tell us more about her latest novel, and how she goes about writing her stories.
Nizrana Farook reads from The Girl Who Lost a Leopard:
Q&A with Nizrana Farook
1. Your previous novels have been adventure stories about children who connect strongly with nature. What is the starting point for you when you're deciding what to write next?
With these books, it's always been the animals! After each book I think about what animal I could pick next to adventure with the children. I then decide on my main character, and once I start the story I create other characters as needed as I go along. The adventure itself is always last!
2. Why did you decide to feature a leopard for this novel?
I chose a leopard because of its sense of mystery. Leopards are harder to spot in the wild as they're more elusive and solitary. You can't miss a herd of elephants or a great big whale! So I wanted to take this enigmatic animal and explore a bond with a human. I wanted to see what it'll be like if there was a girl who was quite like the leopard in some ways, and the leopard could sense it.
3. How do you plot your adventures, once you have everything in place?
It's been different with every book. I always tend to have certain images in my head, of key scenes I want to write. These aren't necessarily to do with action, but just beautiful scenes which I think are memorable enough to go in the book. I think very visually with these books, and I can see the stories played out as I write.
4. Why are your books set in the past?
Because of technology. It ruins everything when it comes to peril! No getting lost if you have Google Maps and no communication issues, even if you get separated from fellow adventurers. It's also because the past was a more perilous place in general. Children weren't treated more leniently when it came to punishment, for instance.
5. The Girl Who Lost a Leopard has a more environmental message than your earlier novels, why did you decide to focus on the clash between humans and wildlife in this book?
It just happened as I wrote. Since the leopard was in peril and the main character had such a strong bond with him, the story went in that direction. I didn't intend it, as I generally write adventure stories with an animal as a fellow adventurer. But this went in a different direction and I felt I had to fully commit to the environmental angle to do the story justice.
6. How much research did you need to do into leopards and their habits before you started to write? Have you ever seen a leopard in the wild in Sri Lanka?
I always undertake a lot of research before writing each book. This isn't just to keep things accurate, but also to give me ideas. Lots of the plot of this book is informed by my leopard research. During the writing of this book I was looking at so many leopard pictures that every time I closed my eyes I could see leopard spots!
Yes I have seen leopards in the wild in Sri Lanka. Thankfully there's still a small population of this magnificent animal left.
7. Selvi, your main character, lives a very different life from children reading this book today. How do you make sure the reader connects with her and her friends?
I think the main thing for me is feelings. It's easy to connect across all sorts of divides if you think about how something made you feel. Selvi's helplessness and her outrage in the face of injustice is something that most people would have felt at some point.
The mirroring of Selvi's and the leopard's lives through the book is quite poignant I think, and something that people would feel strongly. I think there's also a universal satisfaction in seeing a horrible villain get their comeuppance!
8. The setting is really atmospheric - were you thinking of a particular place when you wrote this?
Yes I was. The setting is once again a fictional Sri Lanka of the past, but this time we go up to the central mountains. I was thinking of how the place must have looked long ago when the mountains were filled with thick forests and prowling leopards, and I put in a hamlet or two here and there. Rather than the tea plantations of today, this is set in a time where it was all wilderness.
9. What was the most challenging part of writing The Girl Who Lost a Leopard?
It was showing how the main character was both wild and trapped at the same time. She really was both of those things, and I had to show it in a way that both aspects were convincing.
10. You touch on a number of themes through your story but, apart from a great adventure, what would you like your readers to take from The Girl Who Lost a Leopard?
As with The Boy Who Met a Whale too, and to an extent The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, I'd like readers to get a sense of the wonders of the natural world. I'd like them to be transported, to the wild mountains of a tropical island where leopards roam. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our world, and books are one lovely way to go about it.
11. The children in the story are passionate about helping their local wildlife. Do you have any suggestions for what your readers can do to support the environment?
The simplest one, that everyone can do, is don't spoil it. I've seen signs in national parks saying "Take nothing but your memories, leave nothing but your footprints", which I think is a lovely message.
12. Do you travel much to Sri Lanka? Where do you like to visit if so?
Pre-pandemic I used to visit every year, where possible. I haven't been since December 2019. I go mainly to visit family and not really for the sights. Having said that, we do go on family trips to different parts of the country sometimes too. But most of my writing comes from childhood memories rather than experiences as an adult.
13. Where and when do you prefer to write, and what are you writing currently?
I prefer to write in the mornings, right after I've dropped my daughter in school. But when I have a deadline on I write at all hours of the day and in all locations! I have a desk that overlooks the street outside and that's where I write the most. I'm currently writing the fourth and final Serendib-set adventure. It involves another brilliant animal and I can't wait to tell readers about it!