Welcome, Shirani, to my blog couch this morning!
Hi Shirani! Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you like to do when you’re not a writer?
Hi Julie and thanks for the interview. I’m a poet and short story writer from Sri Lanka. I wasn’t always a writer but I’ve been writing on and off for the past 20 years. My collection of short stories, “Breaking News” was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award and published in 2011. I also began publishing poems and fiction in literary journals and anthologies. In August this year, I published “Chant of a Million Women” a collection of poems.
When I’m not writing I like to read. These days I’m spending every moment I can devouring every book I can find. I think it’s because I didn’t do much reading for some time as I was busy with writing, then editing and getting my book ready for print. I also like gardening, sewing, and hanging out with
What inspires you to write? Everything that happens around me is a potential story waiting to be written down. I am inspired by a variety of things, from music, watching the rain, the birds or squirrels in the garden or just reading a book. Watching the news about something happening somewhere even in a remote corner can be a potential trigger for a story or poem. Sometimes listening to music can inspire me to write something, although what I write is totally different from the type of music I am listening to at that moment.
Tell me about your journey as a writer. When did you start and how do you keep the creative juices flowing?
I started writing in the late 1990s as a means of trying to tell a story in a different way. I was working as a journalist and wanted to tell a particular story from a different viewpoint and I felt the only way to do this was by fictionalizing the story and creating a whole new world.
I don’t write all the time, there are days when I don’t feel like writing at all. I’m not a writer who can write X number of words daily. I tried it and found that although it is possible the results aren’t good as I have to spend more time re-writing to get the story to be the way I want. It’s also very uninspiring to write for the sake of writing or to make those numbers for the day.
I prefer to write when I am inspired or when there is something so good that I just can’t ignore it. This sometimes means having to stop what I’m doing to get the idea out of my head and onto paper before I forget it.
Give us the elevator pitch for your book.
Identity, values and women’s role in society are explored through the poems in Chant of a Million Women. The concepts of beauty and the standards imposed on women to conform are also addressed as are power and the quiet force that keeps half the world moving even when there is no hope.
Do you have a favourite character in your story? Who is most like you?
I’ll talk about Chant of a Million Women since it’s the most recent. My poems are little stories in verse. They don’t have characters and dialogue like a story but there is a story happening in every verse. I like creating little worlds within a small space with a few words. The main characters of my ‘stories’ are women and what they go through, the positive and negative. My favourite ‘character’ is the woman who doesn’t give up although the odds are stacked against her but finds a way of letting her individuality show even for a brief moment.
Do you have a favourite time of day and place to write? Do you have a routine?
I don’t sit down at a particular time and write like most people. I write when I am inspired to write. Sometimes it can be while I am at home, sometimes while travelling, or while I’m sitting talking to someone. I tend to jot down the ideas or the lines that come to me and leave it until I return home to put down on my computer where I then develop the story or poem. I tend to be inspired at night and find myself getting up to scribble things down before I forget it by morning.
I have to see the story or sequence in the poem in my head play out like a scene from a movie before I write it down. If it doesn’t play in my head then I can’t write it and forcing myself to see a sequence will not benefit the writing as it will be dull and boring and even I will be uninspired to continue with it. The only routine I have is when everything is written down, when all the movies in my head have made it to the computer and I get down to edit. Then I start in the morning and work until I can no longer think about it anymore or my eyes need a rest. That’s the only routine I have.
What do you do to market your book?
My first book of short stories was published by a traditional publisher and I didn’t have to do anything, but with “Chant of a Million Women” I’ve had to think of many different ways to market my book. One of the hardest things is to market poetry. I’ve done a short movie of the theme poem, had my work featured on a blog post radio. I sent out copies of the book for review and have done a couple of interviews. Two reviews have been published and I’m waiting to see the responses from the others.
“Chant of a Million Women” was nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award from TCK and the voting is still taking place. That was a big thing as being nominated has given the book some extra publicity.
Who are your three top author crushes? Who would you most like to meet?
More than author crushes I think I probably had character crushes. I find that getting inside the world of a book is as fascinating because it gives you an opportunity to live in an alternate universe as it were. I’d probably like to meet Rhett Butler and maybe James Bond.
Great choices! What are your future plans for writing?
I will re-release “Breaking News” as an ebook soon. It was published through a small local publisher in 2011 as a print book and I think it’s time to turn it into an ebook.
I also have more poems and short stories that can be included in collections and I want to publish at least one book a year. I haven’t decided if I want to alternate between short stories and poems but I definitely know I want to keep writing more.
There are stories I started that have been left in various stages of writing and editing and I want to finish these and wither add them to a collection or create new collections.
I also want to continue to submit to literary journals and anthologies as I did earlier. This was temporarily halted this year as I spent time learning about publishing and everything to do with self publishing. So it will be nice to get back to writing for literary journals as most of them ask for themes and I find this is not only enjoyable to have to write something to a particular theme or set number of words, but it’s also a challenge as it helps me develop my writing.
What words of wisdom would you share with aspiring authors?
I think everyone should write their story the way they feel comfortable and not write because the theme or genre is popular. Some writers select a genre because it is popular and sells well but they don’t really like the genre. Our stories are unique to each one of us. We may see the same incident in different ways and that is what’s important. Our view, our voice should come out strong, and genre or theme should not have to define what we say or how we say it.
Thank you for joining me today, Shirani! Dear Readers, please check out Shirani’s links.
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