Olivia Rana's debut novel Elastic Girl explores dark world of child trafficking
For her first book, Olivia Rana has chosen the birthplace of her Indian in-laws as the setting for a moving story of a young girl sold to a circus by her parents. She tells Joanne Sweeney why she finds it easier to write about distant lands than home
AFTER being sold to the circus by her destitute parents, the moving tale of how a little Indian girl moves through a life of poverty and despair is told in Olivia Rana's debut novel, Elastic Girl.
The book tells the fictional story of a girl called Muthu who is subjected to the horror of child trafficking when her parents sell her to a circus. The youngest of three daughters, she is thought 'cursed' from her birth, having turned out not to be a longed-for son, as the family's fortune takes a turn for the worse.
The child is nicknamed Elastic Girl after she survives a serious fall without breaking a limb. While she was lucky to have lived, the story follows her harsh life but shines a light on hope and friendship, and how the human spirit can endure and survive so much suffering.
It's based on real-life reporting of the child trafficking and poverty problem in India, birthplace of Olivia's in-laws – she is married to Rajesh Rana, director of Belfast hotel group Andras, whose dad is the chain's famous founder Lord Rana.
While she did not necessarily set out to write about her family's homeland, Olivia explains that she feels an affinity for India, having visited several times, and finds it easier to write about places other than home.
"In many places I find it easier to write about other places as I'm interested in people's lives and how they overcome hardship," explains Olivia, who is originally from Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, but now lives in Belfast.
"I'm drawn towards writing about people who are often marginalised, who often don't fit in, and I love to explore other countries and settings through my writing. My second novel is actually set in Iceland but the one I'm working on now is set in Ireland."
She got inspiration for the story while she was doing an MA in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast and heard a radio interview she heard about a charity called The Esther Benjamins Trust (now called the Child Rescue Trust). At the time, the charity was involved in rescuing children, some as young as seven, who had been sold or trafficked into circuses in India.
Olivia was horrified by what she heard and began to do some research herself. She came across many articles about trafficking of children in the region, particularly between Nepal and India. Since then, she has established a relationship with Child Rescue Nepal, which helps to rescue and rehabilitate children who are trafficked.
"I feel that it's important to highlight the issue of child trafficking but I was worried that I didn't want my book to be seen as exploiting the situation," says Olivia, who adds that it is estimated that up to 10,000 women and children are trafficked between Nepal and India annually.
"However, since I got in touch with the charity, its chief executive has been very supportive. I've also had some good reaction from people online who believe [the book] to be authentic so I'm really pleased about that."
Olivia has pledged to give 15 per cent of her proceeds from the book's sales to Child Rescue Nepal.
"I was compelled to tell this story, and the process of writing feels very cathartic to me. I'm drawn towards writing about people who are often marginalised."
Now a part-time writer and mum to her children Lucia (9) and Marcus (7), Olivia also teaches a novel-writing class at Queen's University Belfast. She says she loves to explore other countries and settings through her writing.
“That's the beauty of it – writing can take you on some wonderful adventures.”
:: Elastic Girl is available via amazon.co.uk (£7.99) and on Kindle (£3.99).