My writing process – Sonia Faruqi

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By Sonia Faruqi

The idea of an underwater world fell into my mind on January 1st, 2015. It was a freezing-cold morning, and I wished I could escape into tropical waters. But it was too expensive to book a last-minute flight, so I decided to escape in my mind. With a cup of tea in hand, I started inventing an underwater world. The result is my debut novel, The Oyster Thief. The novel features a setting, culture, and characters that I developed by relying on both my imagination and science.♥


Over the course of snorkeling, diving, and swimming with sharks, I’ve been fortunate to see lots of marine animals in their natural environments. But in addition to relying on my firsthand experiences, I read books and hundreds of articles relating to the ocean, honing in specifically on algae, animals, and plot-specific topics like oil spills.

Researching the ocean is not like researching things on land, I quickly realized. Of the millions of species thought to live in the ocean, the majority are unknown to us. Even those that we know of, we don’t know well for instance.


I found it interesting and enjoyable to develop merpeople culture. With regard to their clothing, I leaned originally toward flowing gowns and robes, but came to the obvious conclusion that such clothing would be cumbersome — the fabric would tangle constantly with the tail. I opted for corsets and waistcoats; they would end at the hip, and their fitted design would ensure the fabric did not fly up while swimming.

I decided on shells for currency and jewelry because some cultures on land have historically also used shells as such. The phrase “shelling out money” originates from such use.

As for light sources, bioluminescence is common in the ocean. The compound luciferin, found in many marine organisms, including bacteria, generates light in the presence of oxygen. For light, I devised that merpeople should use orbs filled with bioluminescent bacteria.

Character Names

During my readings about the ocean, I kept a running list of any words I liked that I could use as names. I decided that the names of most oceanic characters should relate to the ocean, though some could also relate to the universe.

There are two protagonists in the story, mermaid Coralline and human Izar. I selected the name Coralline because coralline algae play a disproportionately important role in marine ecology, cementing coral reefs together. In addition to being rosy and beautiful, their strata are strong and powerful. I chose the name Coralline also because coralline algae can be considered symbolic of the human effect on the ocean — tens of thousands of tons of these precious calcified structures are dredged out of the oceans every year.

The name Izar, meanwhile, refers to a binary star. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single point of light, but it is actually two different stars close to one another (about two hundred light-years away from us and five hundred times brighter than the sun). I can’t say any more about Izar’s name without saying too much.

Sonia Faruqi pushes the boundaries of imagination in her debut novel, The Oyster Thief, an underwater fantasy novel for adults and young adults with themes of ocean conservation. The book has been endorsed by Jodi Picoult, bestselling author of My Sister’s Keeper, and Dr. Sylvia Earle, the world’s foremost ocean scientist. Sonia is also the author of Project Animal Farm, a work of critically acclaimed investigative journalism about the world’s food system. A skilled storyteller and speaker, she lives in Toronto.

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