Monday, 13 August 2012

Interview with Shirani Rajapakse

Today's another day for an interview and we're going international with author and poet Shirani Rajapakse, who stops by to discuss her new book and her writing...

Interview with Shirani Rajapakse

  1.     Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

Hi I’m from Sri Lanka. I write poetry, plays and fiction. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years but only started publishing recently. Last year I published my debut collection of short stories titled Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011). It was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award 2010 in manuscript. Since then I’ve been submitting work, mostly poetry, to various e-zines and anthologies.

  2.     You are a poet, a playwright and a fiction writer.  Do you find shifting between different writing styles to be a challenge or does it come easily to you?

I first started writing poetry way back when. A few years later I began experimenting with fiction and liked that too. Playwriting is a more recent addition. I saw something on the web about a playwriting competition and although I hadn’t written a play before I thought I should try to write one even if I didn’t submit it to the competition. It seemed like a challenge – an exercise in writing to see if I could make it work. I began writing the play and enjoyed it so much that I decided to write another. It was extremely stimulating to do something different in terms of writing; to tell a story in a different form. In a play unlike in fiction you can’t show the atmosphere through narrative. Everything rests with the characters and you have to be careful what words you give them to speak as the spoken word is crucial. One wrong sentence and you lose the momentum. So this was a challenge. 

Strange as it may seem I don’t find it hard to move from one writing style to another. I don’t sit down at my computer and say, now I’m going to write fiction or poetry. It just comes out the way it does. I usually write in my head first and then put it all down in the computer. Writing in different styles is also helpful as I don’t get stuck with writer’s block and whenever I’m stuck writing poetry I can move to prose and vice versa. I don’t write as many plays, just written two, but when I was writing I didn’t have a problem getting through with it.

  3.     Which do you enjoy doing most, writing poetry, plays or stories?

I think I’d answer that with all. They are all different and pose different challenges. For instance an incident that takes place on a rainy can be written in different ways as a story, a poem or even as a play. You can say three different things about the same incident and it is interesting to be able to create different types of art with the same situation or incident. It’s also interesting to see what comes out in different styles and this is what I enjoy the most. Similarly if you use the same incident and fit it into different genre you can also have something different.

  4.     Where do you find inspirations for your poetry?

I’m inspired by just about anything and everything around me. Something I read about could set off words, or an incident on the road or a picture. It’s not hard to get inspired to write poetry. I think poetry is one of the few mediums you can work in where you never get bored. I’m sometimes surprised I can write more poetry than fiction as I don’t really consider myself a poet but more of a fiction writer.

  5.     Could you tell us about your book of short stories, Breaking News?

Breaking News is a collection of nine short stories. It is of mixed genre. Four of the stories fall into the “living under the threat of terrorism” genre or category. The Sri Lankan government was locked in a war against terrorism for 30 years and most of the time people lived in fear of being attacked. It was like living in a 9/11 scenario for 30 years. The four stories set in different parts of the country and portraying the lives of people in various social milieu and ethnic background depicts life during these turbulent times. Six of the stories are told from the woman’s perspective or have women as central characters.

  6.     What do you enjoy most about writing?

I enjoy the freedom to write what I want and how I want. I enjoy being able to move from fiction to poetry to drama and back and I enjoy juggling ideas for stories or poetry in my head and seeing how they turn out on the page. It’s also the ability to work with words, choosing different words to suit the context as it were. Somewhat like doing a crossword where you have to find the appropriate words for the story.

  7.     What’s a typical writing day like for you?

Sometimes it can be quite boring with nothing to do but edit what I’ve already written, and I do spend a lot of time editing or going through my work before I submit anything. But when I start writing it is sometimes nonstop until either my brain tires out or my fingers stop working the way they are supposed to. I think you tend to be busier when you are a full time writer.

  8.     Who are your favourite writers?

I have many favourite writers. The strange thing is some of the writers I considered as favourites in the nineties, when I was studying literature at the University, like Thomas Hardy and E.M. Forster are no longer my favourites. I’ve outgrown them like I’ve outgrown most others. I used to think this was strange but then realised that perhaps the reason I liked them at that time was due to some reason which is no longer relevant now. Presently I’m reading Orhan Pamuk, and Paulo Coelho. I just finished reading Simone de Beauvoir.  

  9.     Do you have any upcoming projects or books?

I’m submitting poetry and fiction to e-zines and anthologies regularly. Some of my poetry is expected to be published in Contemporary Poetry from India, a poetry anthology featuring Indian and Sri Lankan poets. I’m not sure when it will be due. I’m editing a novel that I want to submit to publishers and I’m also involved in promoting an anthology called Song Of Sahel that brings together artists from around the world to create awareness about the plight of the people living in the Sahel region in Africa. The anthology will include poetry, prose, art, photography and music and will be in the form of a multi-media book and will be launched worldwide on the web on September 15.  Apart from this I’m trying to put together some of my poems into a collection to be published sometime in the future.

You can find more about Shirani Rajapakse and her books on her website:

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