Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome Romesh Gunesekera: a booker-finalist author with an illustrious writing career spanning decades, and a very kind, insightful teacher.
I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Romesh Gunesekera’s Monkfish Moon, (a slim, but as remarkable a book as I’ve ever read) collection of short stories. I’m re-reading it after a span of years, and find the prose almost hypnotic in its efficacy and beauty.
1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
As a child, I enjoyed escaping into books. The idea that someone wrote them was not important to me. Even when I became aware of authors behind books, I didn’t appreciate that they were among the living. I was probably about fourteen when I realized that some people spent their time writing stories and turning them into books and that these people were writers. As soon as I discovered that, I wanted to be one.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Do you have an ideal reader in mind as you write?
When I first started writing, it was mostly for myself and a few close friends. I wanted to put what I felt into words and communicate through a written language. When publishing became a goal, I was still writing mainly for someone like me: a reader seeking both distraction and meaning from a page.
3. For someone new to your work, which of your works should they read first?
I don’t think it matters. Whatever they find first, or appeals most. Hopefully it will be love at first sight. If not, find another. I try to write books that can be approached from different angles, but here is a simplified guide, if you need one.
If you like short stories, start with Monkfish Moon.
If you want a short novel, try Reef.
If historical fiction is your thing, then The Prisoner of Paradise might be the one.
For those keen on speculative fiction, and dystopia: Heaven’s Edge.
Cricket fans, and maybe photographers, should give The Match a go.
Family drama: The Sandglass.
For a glimpse of post-war Sri Lanka try the most recent: Noontide Toll.
4. Who are your writing influences, the authors whose work has inspired you?
Everything you read influences you. Sometimes even the books and authors you don’t read, but hear about, influence you. Some of my biggest influences might surprise those who might have read my books and liked them, as the influence may not be obvious and there may not be much of a trace in the writing e.g. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, V S Naipaul, Graham Greene among novelists; Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Coleridge, Keats, Walcott, Ginsberg among poets. Shakespeare, of course, influences everyone. The list can go on and on.
5. From the vantage point of decades of experience, what advice would you give to someone starting out on the writing life?
Find your special pleasure in writing and try to return to it. There isn’t a fast track, or a slow track; only your own track.
6. What is your writing routine like?
It varies by book and by year. Nothing stands still. At the moment, mornings are better for writing than evenings. But there was a time when it was the other way around. The routine also varies at different stages in a story. Little and often is good to begin with, but at some point it becomes almost all consuming and everything else gets relegated. I try to establish a routine for each book otherwise it will not get written. But the discipline is also important to allow yourself to live the rest of daily life.
7. As a writing teacher, what qualities do you appreciate in your students? Where are you teaching next?
I would hope for the same qualities one finds in good readers: (a) An open mind (b) A sense of humour (c) An interest in the imagination (d) An engagement with language (e) Respect for others. A student also needs to have a willingness to share opinions and the products of their writing.
I am teaching a fiction module for the MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London from January to March 2017.
Later in the year (30 Oct – 4 Nov 2017) I will teaching on a one-week residential course at Moniack Mohr, the writing center in Scotland, focusing on the short story. My co-tutor will be Michele Roberts.
8. You write both short stories and novels. Do you find either form more challenging than the other?
They are both equally challenging, but they work to different rhythm and offer different pleasures — once you get over the hurdles. I often find the one I am involved in too challenging and yearn for the other.
9. Your books are very character and language driven. Do you begin writing a book knowing some of the events in it in advance, or do you discover them as you write?
The answer is not clear cut. I begin thinking I know some of the key events but I discover how little I know as I go. Everything is there to be discovered: the events, the characters, the beginning, the end. Just as well too … Part of the joy is in discovering a more interesting character than you had first imagined and then finding the language you need to handle the situation.
10. Could you tell us more about your forthcoming publications?
There are many things in the pipeline — stories, novels, poems — as always, but I don’t know how long the pipeline is at the moment. Keep an eye on my website or Facebook, and you might know even before I do.
Are you a reader, a writer, or both? Have you read any of Romesh’s books before? Do you read more short stories or novels? What is the ‘special pleasure’ you take in your writing?
As a reader or writer, do you have questions for Romesh Gunesekera? He has very kindly offered to respond to comments. From his workshop I know him to be a very thoughtful answer-er of questions. I asked him a fair number at his workshop. Please ask yours!
Using a random number generator, I’m going to give away a signed copy of Monkfish Moon to one of the commenters on this post, so have at it!
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