When Penguin Random House invited me to participate in Torontonian Sonia Faruqi‘s The Oyster Thief blog tour, I read the synopsis of the book and I was in:

Front cover - golf mermaid tail with silouette of fish and underwater plants.
Toronto resident Sonia Faruqi created the world of Coralline and the underwater world where the merpeople live.

Coralline is a mermaid who is engaged. But when an oil spill wreaks havoc on her idyllic village life, her little brother falls gravely ill. Desperate to save him, she embarks on a quest to find a legendary elixir made of starlight.

Izar, a human man, is on the cusp of an invention that will enable him to mine gold and diamonds from the depths of the ocean. His discovery will soon make him the richest man on earth – while threatening merpeople with extinction. But then, suddenly, Izar finds himself transformed into a merman and caught in a web of betrayal and intrigue. Meeting Coralline in the ocean, he decides to join her on her quest for the elixir, hoping it will turn him human again.

The quest pushes Coralline and Izar together, even though their worlds are at odds. Their pasts threaten to tear them apart, while a growing attraction adds to the danger. Ultimately, each of them faces an impossible choice. Should Coralline leave her fiance for a man who might betray her? And Izar has a dark secret of his own – one that could cause him to lose Coralline forever.

Magnificent and moving, set against a breathtaking ocean landscape, The Oyster Thief is a richly imagined odyssey destined to become a classic.

Unfortunately – for me – it’s been an incredibly busy month so I haven’t yet finished the book, but what I have read so far is beautiful. When the back says richly imagined, they aren’t kidding. The book is a beautiful read the moment you open it. It’s easy to imagine the world Caralline lives in. The writing is creative, rich and colourful. And I look forward to taking some time and immerse myself back into Caralline’s world.

Hi Sonia,

Congratulations on The Oyster Thief. People are billing it as your debut novel, but you have written one other book before, Project Animal Farm, a non-fiction book that looks at the farming industry. What were some of the differences and similarities between researching and writing these two books.

A. The two books are very different, but also similar in some regards. Both required research. For Project Animal Farm, my research journey took me from egg warehouses in Canada to dairy feedlots in the United States, from farm offices in Mexico to lush green fields in Belize, from villages in Indonesia to bustling cities in Malaysia. For The Oyster Thief, I snorkelled, scuba dived, swam with sharks and pored over books and countless articles about the ocean.

I enjoy research because it helps me learn. As for writing, I write with my ear, whether fiction or non-fiction. I love beautiful words and prose.

Q. Now that you have had a hand in both fiction and non-fiction writing, to great success, which do you prefer? Why? Do you hope to continue to write both styles in the future?

A. I find that both fiction and non-fiction can be tools for entertainment and enlightenment, and I would love to continue with both in the future. For me, story comes first, then I decide the form through which the story is best expressed, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Q. According to your blog, you came out with the idea for The Oyster Thief on Jan. 1, 2015 when, like all Canadians, you decided you had enough winter and wanted to escape somewhere tropical. However, it was too expensive so you “decided to escape in your mind. With a cup of tea in hand, I started inventing an underwater world.” I absolutely love this story. How do you create?

A. I wrote The Oyster Thief at my laptop. (My handwriting is practically indecipherable, so I can’t quite rely on it!)

I ascended up to my home library every day to invent my underwater world, just as Izar (one of the two lead characters in The Oyster Thief) descends into his Invention Chamber every night for his work.

I became so immersed in my underwater world, and so absent-minded in my external world, that I sometimes felt as though I was in a trance. In this trance, I lost my passport. I forgot hundreds of dollars in an ATM. I routinely forgot to put detergent in the laundry. I neglected to turn on the lights when it got dark (then I would look about me, mystified by the darkness). I was on land and in the ocean at the same time – both when awake and asleep. Even upon shutting down my computer late at night, I couldn’t shut down my mind. Sleepy but sleepless, I would lie in bed writing notes to myself =- an observation of Izar’s, for instance.

Q. Can you please tell the rest of your creative process? How long did it take to write the The Oyster Thief (you must be a fast writer)? What was the rest of your publishing journey like? What’s your favourite job about the entire process? Your least?

A. I spent about 2,000 hours over a period of two and a half years on the original manuscript for The Oyster Thief, but I decided to throw it all out, finding that I had no more than straddled the surface of my imagination. I wrote the next version (which you’re reading) in a year.

I feel grateful to my publishers, Pegasus Books in the U.S. and Penguin Random House in Canada. They are professional and supportive. I also feel grateful to my team of beta readers (who gave me feedback on The Oyster Thief) as well as my team of marketing managers, who are helping to get the book out into the world.

Q. The Oyster Thief has an environmental theme to it. What made you use your book as a vehicle to promote ocean awareness? Why was it important to do so?

A. I find that literature can be an important tool for social change. When I read a book, I want to be both entertained and enlightened. But I find that such books are rare; non-fiction is viewed primarily as a tool for enlightenment and fiction primarily for entertainment. In both my fiction and non-fiction, in both Project Animal Farm and The Oyster Thief, my goal is to create both entertainment and enlightenment for readers.

Q. Your blog post also mentioned you have scuba dived, snorkelled and swam with sharks. What is your favourite ocean memory?

A. Diving with sharks was beautiful because it helped me get over my fear of sharks, and see how graceful and lithe they are. Despite their size, unless you’re looking at them, you don’t know they’re right next to you!

Q. Did you have a connection with the ocean before your started researching for this book?

A. Upon writing Project Animal Farm, I started viewing the planet in a more holistic way. Two-thirds of the planet consists of water (much like the proportion of water in the human body), and I started thinking more about the ocean, albeit from a distance.

Fun fact: half of the Earth’s surface is the deep sea, which commences at about 5,000 below the surface (or one mile). Much of the deep sea is a greater mystery to humankind than the moon – and the deep sea is right here on Earth!

Q. If people needed to know one thing about the oceans what would that be?

A. Over the course of writing The Oyster Thief, I started to think of the ocean as not just a giant ecosystem, but a giant organism. We hurt this organism constantly, sometimes without knowing it. For instance, we lather on chemical sunscreen when we snorkel above reefs, but the chemicals in the sunscreen kill reefs. Solution: Let’s use mineral sunscreen instead of chemical.

A new area of peril for the ocean has opened recently. When I started The Oyster Thief, I construed the idea of underwater mining as fictional; it is now fact. Companies are starting to dredge the depths of the ocean for diamonds! This could have devastating impacts on ocean ecology.

Q. What is your dream destination?

A. Hmm…Perhaps Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Q. As mentioned you have written two very different books. What is your next project? What is your dream project?

There may be a sequel to The Oyster Thief.

#TheOysterThief
#PenguinRandomCA

Blog tour poster featuring the cover of Sonia Faruqi's The Oyster Thief with a gold fishing net and a silhouette of fish and underwater grass.
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