Who can forget Suhas Tandon from 3 Idiots? Now read a smashing children’s book by the French actor, screenplay writer, and critically acclaimed author Olivier Lafont.
About the book –
Oop and Lila: Lost in the Scarabean Sea is a middle-grade fantasy novel perfect for the fans for Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl. Featuring a cast of colourful characters, this pirate tale, woven with delicious morsels of history and written with plenty of humour and heart, will soon have you longing for life on the high seas!
Read the exclusive interview below –
1. Tell us about Oop & Lila. How did the idea of the adventurous book happen?
‘Oop & Lila’ came together from three different ideas : a bag of 99 wish candies ; adventures based on magical snow globes, with each snow globe having different scenes thatlead to different magical worlds ; and the desire to have a brother-sister pairing as my main characters.
The wish candies and the magical snow globes actually were on my ideas list, an ongoing list where I jot down any idea that comes to me. The idea could be a film or a book, a whole plot or theme, or just bits of dialogue or titles that I like. Over time some ideas come together quite spontaneously and bloom into a story – which is what happened with ‘Oop & Lila’.
I had wanted to explore the brother-sister dynamic in more detail for some time, and it fit with my other two elements perfectly.
With these main three elements together all I needed was an epic setting for a snow globe adventure, and the Golden Age of Piracy was perfect for that, with my own personal twist, of course.
2. How different are the plot-setting and story mapping in Oop & Lila from your previous book ‘Warrior’ as it is based on traces of stories from mythology?
They are quite different, despite some similarities.
‘Warrior’ is an adult fantasy novel, while ‘Oop & Lila’ is a children’s book, so there’s an immediate divergence of the rules and expectations in terms of themes, plot and tone. The mythological aspect of ‘Warrior’ also inspires a respectful approach in how I write about the gods and other figures involved, while with ‘Oop & Lila’ I gave myself a free rein to play with the different elements as much as I wanted. In that respect, in terms of pure creativity, ‘Warrior’ is more restrained while ‘Oop & Lila’ is more fantastical.
In ‘Warrior’, which has Indian gods and monsters hiding in our modern world, I wanted the fictional microcosm I created to cleave as close as possible to our sense of reality so that the reader would feel that all these extraordinary events and people could truly exist. Whereas in ‘Oop & Lila’ the world that our little heroes land in is meant to be an absolute fantasy and feels broadly unreal ( at least until they realize it’s an alternate version of our world, geography, and history ).
3. The names of Oop and Scarabean are quite unique. What is the idea behind this?
I wanted titular names that would have a particular ring, and also a certain musicality.
Oop is short for Upendra, and fit as a childhood nickname between siblings, while also having a nice sound pairing with his sister’s name Lila for the title of the book.
The Scarabeanevolved from the Arabian Sea as the geographic and historic inspiration, but was also influenced by the Caribbean Sea. Both have incredible pirating histories, although the Caribbean pirates are far more known. I was also looking for a multilayered name, and the name Scarabean immediately evoked the idea of the sea scarabs as these mammoth marine insects that are masters of the ocean.
4. The audience of your books is mostly young readers. Is there any particular reason for this?
There’s no reason in particular. ‘Oop & Lila’ and my last book ‘Rise of the Midnight King’ were more middle-grade fiction, but my first novel ‘Warrior’ was adult fantasy fiction, and I have also written a contemporary romance novel ‘Sweet Revenge’ and an international young adult fantasy adventure ‘Snowbound’ — so I actually have a varied audience. It depends on the story that evolves. ‘Oop & Lila’ and ‘Rise of the Midnight King’ naturally booked for younger readers, whereas as I created ‘Warrior’ it very clearly was for a slightly older readership onwards.
5. How much time did you take to write the story of Oop & Lila? Which was the most difficult chapter to write?
The creation happened in a few stages. I initially created the story and first chapter several years ago, but became busy at that point with the release of ‘Warrior’ so it stayed on the backburner for some time. I wrote a little bit here and there over time, and finally sat down seriously to complete it after I had moved to France. Even then it took a while, since I was simultaneously completing ‘Rise of the Midnight King’ and settling back in France after thirty years in India.
The most relatively difficult chapter to write was, I think, the first chapter. Not storywise, since the opening event was clear, but to craft and balance it in a way that I thought was simple but immediately engaging and would move the reader quickly into the adventure.
6. Is there any particular process you follow while writing the story? How do you pick your characters?
I don’t have a specific process. What usually ends up happening is I get into a writing flow, and if I need to stop and research or develop some arcs or characters I do that.
For me the main characters usually come as part of the initial idea, so for example Oop and Lila were there from the very start, as was Captain Angry. A lot of characters then develop organically, which is informed as much by the structure and direction of the story as by the actual writing. So in Oop & Lila I knew that the pirate crew would be inspired by real historical pirates and I had a list of the ones I liked most, but they entered the story and took form spontaneously as I wrote.
Also Read: I am a Lazy Writer per se: Shravya Bhinder
7. Writing a fantasy & adventure story is a tiresome job. How do u deal with the pressure you face when you encounter a writer’s block?
I don’t find it tiresome at all, to me every aspect of it is exciting, engrossing and energizing! The truth is I’ve never experienced writer’s block. I’ve heard other writers describe it, so I know what it is and what it feels like, but fortunately it hasn’t happened to me.
8. How do you rate the myth-fiction books that are making rounds in today’s literature in the country?
I can’t answer this question because I haven’t read any of the mythological fiction books, I don’t have any basis on which to venture an opinion. But I love that writers are giving fiction-life to our mythologies and histories!
9. But, how did writing happen to you?
It happened once upon a time, in a land far, far away… I’ve always been into stories, as most children normally are, but it took a particular turn with me quite early. Around age nine I began writing stories seriously: I still have handwritten notebooks and what I’m sure I thought were professional-level typewritten manuscripts. My family had moved from France to India when I was seven years old, which was a big cultural change for me, not knowing any English or Hindi. I think the writing was a very meaningful creative outlet for me as an adventurous/curious kid in a foreign land.
10. If you want to change something in this world what could it be?
I would want to have more honesty — which really means a world with less social fear in it. I think most people move into dishonesty because they’re afraid of censure, of appearing negatively to people who matter to them and the imagined consequences of that. It’s one of the reasons why writing children’s books is so appealing to me. Children are extremely honest and direct, either they like something or they don’t, and they go for what they want with a wonderful innocence. Things soon get socially complicated as they grow older, and adults live in a relatively complex and difficult world. When I was a preteen, walking around with 600-page fantasy books elicited strange looks from my peers who were into the more popularly-accepted music and television. At least this much has changed since Harry Potter came around. Now it’s cool to be into fantasy, and even adults don’t have to feel shy about saying they like Marvel movies, which are essentially fantasy stories!
11. What is the major difference you found between Hollywood and Bollywood?
Hollywood has bigger budgets, and a more structured and dedicated focus on screenplay development before shooting. That said, one of the mysterious strengths and qualities of the Indian film industry is the type of pressured creativity that comes from smaller budgets and spontaneously shooting a scene because the script isn’t as developed… While these are rather generalized differences, the practical functioning of both industries didn’t seem to differ much more to me. People in both are as passionate, as dedicated, and as willing to go the extra mile.
12. Are you working in or for any new movies?
I acted most recently in Le Bureau des légendes, a spy thriller which is widely considered one of the best French TV shows ever, and has been a popular and critical success internationally. It was nice to play a deadly serious spy, especially after having done so much comedy in India. Right now I’m quite busy with writing, but there are some interesting projects on the horizon, we’ll have to see!
13. If you are asked to rewrite a book of any genre, which one would you pick?
That’s a tricky question. I simply wouldn’t, on principle, rewrite a great book ; the thought of it is antithetical to my notions of art and intellectual property! And a ‘bad’ book probably doesn’t have much in it to inspire a rewrite, so I’d avoid that too. If you’re talking rewiring a story across genres, however, that’s an interesting idea ( assuming the original author has approved an adaptation, of course ). Rewriting The Godfather in the universe of, say, Narnia could be fun. Or Moby Dick as a space opera with migrating space-whales and aliens. Or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea into Twenty Thousand Light-years Into The Planckoverse ( check out the Planck lengthhere ). The sky ( and beyond! ) is the limit… These may sound fun, but if I’m going to invest myself in writing a book, frankly I’d prefer to stick to my own creations : it’s a lot of work to put into someone else’s story when I’ve got a bunch of my own!
14. An actor, a basketball player, a writer, and now an author. Wow! What was that one thing that kept you strong and aligned with life?
Passion, I think. You can’t be truly dedicated to something unless it means something to you. All of these meant a lot to me, whether as a teenaged jock, a young screenplay writer or a more mature actor-author.
One liners/One word-based answer questions
Please respond to these questions in one line or one word wherever possible –
- Your all-time favorite author/writer?
Lloyd Alexander ( The Chronicles of Prydain ), for making this young reader want to be a writer
- Do you believe in writer’s block? Did you have it anytime or not?
I believe it happens, but I’ve never had it
- Your favorite place to write your book(s)?
At home in my sofa ( where I can jump up and enact a scene and declaim epic dialogue without getting strange looks, unlike a café )
- Research and then write or research while writing? Which one do you prefer?
Research while writing
- What do you do in your free time?
Watch films and sports, hang out with friends, and try new food whenever I can
- How many hours a day do you write?
When I’m in a writing phase usually 4-10 hours
- Do you Google yourself?
Hasn’t everyone? To be honest I don’t do it often, but I know I have at some point in the last decades
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No – no secrets from my readers!
- If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Well, just acting, of course. But barring that, which I think is what you mean, the one thing I had considered as a potential ‘serious’ profession when I was young was architecture
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