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She has written India's answer to Harry Potter

By Anita Aikara
Last updated on: February 18, 2016 19:10 IST
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Farah Oomerbhoy's debut novel, The Last Of The Firedrakes, was read half a million times on Wattpad, where it was first published.

Farah Oomerbhoy

As she sat in her grandmother's home staring at an antique tapestry, Farah Oomerbhoy imagined a magical world filled with adventure and fantasy.

She delved into this imaginary world, slowly, page by page, and her first novel The Last Of The Firedrakes: The Avalonia Chronicles took shape.

The book, which has struck a chord with teenagers, was read over half a million reads on Wattpad, where it was first published.

The Last Of The Firedrakes is the tale of Aurora, an orphan kidnapped and dragged into a magical world where she travels to beautiful kingdoms and bumps into mythical creatures, supernatural powers and an evil, selfish queen.

Oomerbhoy spoke to Anita Aikara/ about her book, how she created such a fantastical world, her journey as a writer and the sequels in the pipeline.

Magic, fantasy, adventure... How did the idea to write The Last of the Firedrakes: The Avalonia Chronicles come about?

When it started about 10 years ago, I knew I wanted a young girl to be the central character, but I wasn't sure about her age.

I finally decided she would be 16 because it is a coming-of-age romance; first love sort of stuff.

When I started the book, I wanted it to be a trilogy. I had a vague idea that, in the first book, she would learn more about the world and about herself.

Then, of course, as the world is so large and there's so much to travel and learn about, I knew there would be two more books.

Was it a conscious decision to have a female lead character?

Yes! I wanted to show that girls are as good as boys in everything.

Aurora is way too mature for her age. She transforms from a weak girl to being such an admirable character. How did you create her?

A beautiful tapestry hangs at my grandmother's house and, one day, I wondered if I could enter that world. That's when Aurora came into my mind. Aurora means 'dawn' in Greek mythology. She is the 'light' that comes into the land of Avalonia.

She grew as the book proceeded and, halfway through, Aurora completely took over. Now, I don't tell her what to do, I just write and go with the flow.

She fits well into the cliche of an orphan who steps into a magical world. A lot of the times, Aurora does exactly the opposite of what I would have done.

Through Aurora, I can explore being courageous, riding around in the woods, which I would probably never do on my own. Fighting demons is a fantasy for me.

Was it easier to have a lead character who was an orphan?

I think it is easier for a writer to develop the story because you don't have those things to cling too like 'I have to come back to my mother.' That makes it difficult to get the story to move forward.

The character has to be believable. It cannot be that the character is away for 3, 4 months and is not missing her mother.

Aurora is whisked away to an imaginary country which has been detailed beautifully in the book. Was that as simple as it looks -- to actually flesh out the places in the form of a map?

I love creating different kingdoms and I drew the map from scratch. Each kingdom has its own towns and cities. I have notebooks filled with details about each of these towns, its shops and markets...

I created the world of Avalonia 10 years ago. But then, as I had three kids, I never finished the story. That only happened after I had my third child.

When I was writing about a castle, I'd research castles across the world on the Internet. I'd research everything from the geography to the history -- along with basic facts like how far a ship or horse can travel in a day.

All the names used in the book come from different inspirations, from names that make me feel something.

I'm now researching different ships from the (medieval) period because, in the next book, Aurora will travel by one. And these ships are very different from what ships are like today.

The tapestry that inspired Farah Oomerbhoy's debut novel, The Last Of The Firedrakes

IMAGE: The tapestry that inspired Farah Oomerbhoy's debut novel, The Last Of The Firedrakes.

Some parts of the book remind me of The Chronicles Of Narnia. Reviewers have said it reminds them of Harry Potter in bits. Were there any books which inspired you?

I think that is the case with every author. There's something about the books they have read and liked that stays with them.

In my case, the whole thing of going into a wardrobe and finding Narnia has been one of my oldest fantasies.

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe was one of the first fantasy books I ever read. Then, there's The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

Diana Wynne Jones' books Howls Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series are fantasy driven -- you go to a corner and end up in another world. Or, for that matter, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I like books with magical, happy parts. Like a magical school -- that was the part of the Harry Potter series that I enjoyed the most. It has been one of my favourites. I have read all the books many, many times each -- 50 times probably for some of them.

Then there's Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth's Divergent and the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas.

Reading fantasy is what I enjoy the most. Finding this whole imaginary, magical, world was what I wanted it to be!

You have described the food in the book so beautifully that one can literally taste and smell it.

Yes, a lot of people said the description of the food in the book made them hungry. I made a conscious effort to see that the readers feel they are really there and can taste the food.

I have always found that, even in a book like Harry Potter, one of the things I loved was the fact that the food would magically appear in front of them in the Great Hall. And the description of the food was something that I always liked.

In The Magic Faraway Tree, when they'd go away to the Magical Land of Birthdays, there would always be wonderful food on the table. Reading about it always made me hungry.

Did the book end the way it was planned?

No! The end changed. It was quite different from what I thought it should be. Just one character changed the whole ending.

A lot of people get irritated about why Aurora is so stupid. 'Again she is going off on her own,' they would say.

But that's how she is. That's her character. She is courageous and wants to do what she thinks is right.

In the second book, she will realise that she has been a little hard-headed and maybe she should listen.

If you could be a character in your book, which one would you be?

I'd like to be Aurora. She has a lot of potential, she has got everything going for her.

Who was the first person who read/reviewed the book for you?

Shweta Bachchan Nanda. She is a dear friend. She also read at my launch (see the video here).

Her daughter Navya also read the book. She finished it in one day and loved it.

Will all the characters from The Last of the Firedrakes: The Avalonia Chronicles return in its sequel?

There will be many new characters in the next book. Some characters from this book will not be there. I am also planning something sad.

I don't want to go back and do what I did in the first book. It will be different. It will turn towards more high fantasy.

My character's name will change too. In the first book, she is known as Aurora Darlington, her name in this world. In book 2, she will be Aurora Firedrakes.

I am hoping it will be out by the end of this year.

Photographs: Kind Courtesy Farah Oomberbhoy

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