Pooja Puri first tasted publishing success with her short story Chess, and later graduated from King’s College London with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature. Whilst at university, she read for a publishing house and has since worked in the education sector. In 2014, she was chosen as a winner of the Ideas Tap Writers’ Centre Norwich Inspires Competition. Recently, she successfully completed the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. The Jungle, her debut novel, has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018. She is currently working on her second children’s book, a work of historical fiction set during the Tudor era.
Why did you want to write The Jungle? I wanted to write The Jungle after reading an article about the discovery of a body on the Norwegian coast. Subsequent investigation found that it belonged to a young man who had started his journey from the camp. He had tried to swim across the Channel but his efforts tragically resulted in the loss of his own life. The thought of someone risking everything for a second chance really stayed with me. When I undertook further research, I realised how many of those living in the camp were, in fact, teenagers and children. I thought it was important to show another story to that presented by the media. Refugees aren’t all the same. Each one of them is different. The book was, in part, about making readers think of the person behind the word ‘refugee’.
How did the Mico’s story go from idea to page? Did you have to do research? (Tell us a little about your writing process.) There were a number of sources I used to recreate the setting of The Jungle, including newspaper articles, interviews and documentaries. The stories I uncovered were distressing. Many of the children in The Jungle had faced terrible difficulties even before arriving at the camp. Yet I was constantly amazed by their resilience and strength. One photograph which really struck me was a group of children playing football in the dirt. A few hours later, some of them would be jumping trains in the Tunnel. How these two worlds could sit alongside each other is something I’ve tried to explore in my story
Best and worst things about being a writer? One of the best things about being a writer is that you can spend your time dreaming up stories. Though it may sound strange, one of the hardest things is actually getting down to writing! Often, I can spend ages looking at a page without writing a single word. One of the worst things is when you take a wrong turning in your story and you have to start all over again – it’s all part of the learning process but it can still be very frustrating.
Is there something you want readers to take away from The Jungle? I hope that readers will have a better understanding of the dangers faced by those making the journey to Europe. The nature of the media means that refugees are sometimes presented as a single group. But they are all individuals, each with their own unique dreams, hopes and fears. It’s important for us to remember that.
Do you have a character or moment in The Jungle that has special meaning to you? [If required I’ll include a spoiler warning]. My favourite character in The Jungle is Leila. She is bold and determined and never gives up, even when everything seems hopeless. I’d like to think that her spirit captures, in some way, the spirit of the children who lived in the camp.
What’s it like to hold a finished copy of your book? It’s a surreal feeling – and makes a change from seeing your story as scribbles in a notebook!
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know: I prefer to write my stories out by hand (a tad old-fashioned, I know!)
When you were growing up where did you find the books you wanted/needed? I was very lucky to have books in my home when I was growing up, but I’d also visit the library as often as I could. We also had a mobile library that would stop off around town. I can remember walking into it for the very first time and being amazed that someone had invented a library on wheels – genius!
What are you looking forward to for YAShot 2018? I’m looking forward to meeting readers and other authors and soaking up all the book buzz!
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do? What is your favourite writing fuel? (Answer – it varies depending on what I’m writing, but if all else fails a cup of tea never goes amiss!)
There was a story Jahir used to tell me. About how the first humans were born with wings. Can you imagine what that would be like? To fly anywhere in the world without worrying about having the right papers?
Mico has left his family, his home, his future. Forced to set out in search of a better life, he instead finds himself navigating one of the world’s most inhospitable environments – the Jungle. A melting pot of characters, cultures and stories, the Calais refugee camp seems like its own strange world. It has a wildness, a brutality all of its own. Unable to buy his way out, Mico is alone, desperate, and running out of options.
But when Leila arrives at the camp one day, everything starts to change. Outspoken and fearless, she shows Mico that hope and friendship can grow in the most unusual places, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll show you the way out as well.