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DateLine Sunday, 23 December 2007

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Christmas @ writer's Den

Hello!

This is the caretaker of Writer's Den, alias your literary editor speaking... at the risk of sounding like an announcement at the Fort railway station... but I do not know of any other way, since this is something novel - literary editors are mostly seen (at book launches with a review copy tucked under their arm and a worried how-do-I-write-nice-things-about-this-#$%^&*-book look on their faces) and never heard...well not till now. Having broken the silence let's rejoice in the fact that Writer's Den survived like an island, here at the Sunday Observer, in a sea of other feature articles ranging from crime stories to Up-Close-and-Personal columns, with a full page every Sunday, though in black and white, through out the year. Now is the time to say thank you.

Beginning from the top of the page, Mahil Wijesinghe, gets full credit for creating the logo. Mahil, along with Roshini Ranweera, J. Punchihwea and Dissa in Production, are the ones who helped in scanning the covers of the books featured on Writer's Den.

I am grateful to Chintaka Balasuriya, Dhammika Mendis, Naveendra Merinnage and Rajitha Udawatta (given in alphebetical order) who took on the task of "making the page" as they say in newsroom jargon. Bouquets are also offered to Maryanne Perera and "Dear Ana" for running their eyes through the completed page to check headline mistakes and to all the 'girls' at the Visual Display Terminal for typing endless paduru reviews.

And, of course, nothing would have been possible if not for the Editor - Dinesh Weerawansa who gave me the freedom to be in total control of what goes on inside Writer's Den.

And how many writers there had been at Writer's Den! The number is uncountable. For, in spite of the invasion of television with ever so many golden, silver, bronze hours and stars, almost out numbering the real ones in the night sky, throughout the year there has been an unending flow of books; some written by genuine writers and some, sad to say, by people who ought to know better.

But the doors of Writer's Den have been open to all of them, and every writer has been given as much space as possible regardless of their language, reputation, gender or age.

The applause has been heart warming, the criticism - enlightening, but the occasional post review silences- unbearable. It is hard to understand how a writer who has been calling everyday wanting to know when a review will be written and published on Writer's Den tends to fall into a coma after the review is published. Conclusion: if something is perfect except for a handful no one bothers to say so.

If on the other hand, there is the slightest of mistakes, there will be an endless number of calls, emails, letters.

As the artist Vincent Liyanage reminded me once, most of us tend to see only the black dot on the white page.

Now that I have got this off my chest - I can tell you what my plans are for Writer's Den in the year ahead.

As in the past months, in the new year too, Writer's Den would like to introduce to you, old fashioned criticism; the kind known during Martin Wickramasinghe's time, when critics were not afraid to call a spade a spade.

You will get to know what books are good, and which ones are not so good, and why. You will be guided in deciding which you should buy and be told what is inside expensive books so that you need never buy them! You are going to like Writer's Den so much in the year ahead that you will yearn for the page, from Sunday to Sunday.

Lofty ambitions!

Hakuna Matata. Carry on reading. Enjoy.

Aditha

****

2007 in Retrospect

The doyen of English studies in Sri Lanka

In 2007, I was able to garner a bumper harvest and great pleasure (shared by my family) from my dedication to scholarship - as well as serve my country.

The month of May saw the publication of my anthology of Sri Lankan literature - titled "Kaleidoscope" and issued by Vijitha Yapa Publications. It is my seventh anthology and different from my earlier efforts in the field. It includes both recent writing and inaccessible earlier writing; established writers as well as emerging writers.

It is also unique in that it covers every genre - fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. It also conveys an impression of the history of the 20th and 21st centuries - this is the main connecting thread of the anthology.

August saw the publication of the 2nd edition of my landmark book "Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People 1917-2003" by Vijitha Yapa Publications. It includes a new Appendix: 'Leonard Woolf's Divided Mind: the case of The Village in the Jungle'.

The first edition was compared to Srinivasa Iyengar's "Indian Writing in English". Writing the whole history of a literature from its beginnings to the present is a formidable task and I felt a keen sense of fulfilment in performing a valuable service for the literature in English, which has not yet been done for the literatures in Sinhala and Tamil.

Moreover, the book has served a whole spectrum of readers ? from scholars here and abroad, teachers in schools to undergraduates and students in G.C.E. Advanced and Ordinary Level classes.

September saw the reprinting of my highly acclaimed and widely used (especially in Canada, U.S.A. and the U.K.) edition of "Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness" published by Broadview Press in Canada. To survive in the West 'for 12 years so far' in the highly competitive Joseph Conrad textbook market is an achievement.

October saw the simultaneous publication in London, New York and Canada by Routledge of my book "Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness", which is differently conceived from my edition of the masterpiece.

This book covers every aspect of the novella - the author, literary, cultural and historical contexts, the text, critical history and adaptations, as well as includes five (new and reprinted) critical essays by different authors.

Addressed to university/school staff and students, it will engross general readers and writers as well. The book is available at Vijitha Yapa Bookshops.

I hope to devote myself to one or two books next year, but I do no like to talk about projects until these are solid fact.

The message I want to convey to writers is that it is possible, while residing in Sri Lanka, to find reputed publishers, local as well as international, given the necessary commitment.

Regarding international publication, the problem is not in finding a publisher but in hitting upon the right quality in one's writing. My message especially for creative writers is for them to express fresh and genuine rather than merely professional reactions to their times and surroundings whether local or foreign.

****

Professor Yasmine Gooneratne

What did I achieve as a writer in 2007?

First: Lots of satisfaction in seeing several fine books in print that were edited by The Guardian Angels Literary Editing Service.

Second: Some delightful news came my way when my new novel, The Sweet and Simple Kind, was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was good to know that readers overseas can respond warmly to a book set in a genuine Sri Lanka! (and not in some imaginary paradise or equally imaginary hell-hole).

Third: Enjoyment in taking part in three readings in Colombo, one for the Alliance Francaise, one at the Goethe Institut on behalf of the English Writers Cooperative, one for the SLAS Book Club: all were most enjoyable, all advanced the cause of good books.

What do I plan for 2008?

I have a date with the Galle Literary Festival in January; a novel to edit for the Guardian Angels starting February; and a new novel to think about of my own that is in the planning stage at the moment, but will, I hope, take shape early in the New Year.

****

Daya Dissanayake

I could say that I received the blessings of Goddess Sarasvathi in the year 2007.I was recognized as a bilingual novelist in our country. My Sinhala novel 'Chadraratnage Bhavantara Charikava' was short listed for the Swarna Pusthaka and also for the Godage Awards. Then I received the State Literary Award for the Best English novel for 'Eavesdropper'.

This is the best kind of encouragement for any writer, specially with the publicity given by the Sinhala Media for the Swarna Pusthaka.

I have not published any work this year, but a book of Sinhala poetry and the Sinhala version of the Eavesdropper is expected to come out next year. My novels till now, have been about our past and our present. Right now, I am working on a novel placed somewhere in the future.

***

R.S Karunaratne

Now that he has retired from the Daily News R.S says he will continue to write and teach on a freelance basis. "When I was young I had two aims. One was to become a journalist; the other was to be a lecturer. I am happy I could fulfill both wishes."

Having published In the Land of Nowhere in 2007, in the year ahead he is planning to write a book on Sri Lankan folk tales which would be published by Dayananda Jayakody.

His one aim is to remain a writer and a teacher for the rest of his life.

***

Padma Edirisinghe

"Looking Back and Beyond" incidentally is the name I have planned for my next book.

Only this morning I began to do a review of a book "Healing anxiety" and had the audacity to mention in the course of this review that this country predominated by followers of Buddhism a religion much involved with the inevitability of death and the fragile nature of life has become one of the most accommodating theatres in the world to demonstrate this truth to the optimum.

We begin the day today not sure whether we would end it with our bodies in tact and we set out of home not sure we would come back in the same live form.

In this season of good cheer celebrating the birth of a great son and the New Year, just dawning an honest request is made here to those above to focus on this very unfortunate psychological impact of the present situation of the country and ensure peace on this island once known as Serendipity, meaning the land of serenity and peace."

****

Vivimarie Vanderpooten

"I am wishing everyone a joyous Christmas and a peaceful New Year. A season which will remind everyone of the power of forgiving and of loving kindness. May 2008 hold hope for our country which has been torn apart by violence.

2007 has been tremendous for me as a writer. It began with the first ever Galle literary festival where I presented a few of my poems and got the most amazingly encouraging response from both local and international participants. Then the following month, I launched my first book of poetry "Nothing Prepares You" the sales and reviews of which have been awesome.

I feel honoured by the fact that so many people have bought my book, read it and bothered to send me their feedback. I want to say thank you to all of them for their kindness.

I am not quite sure what 2008 has in store for me as a writer, but I will be presenting my poetry at the 2nd Galle literary festival in January next year, and I hope to keep writing, if only as a means of holding on to my sanity as I try to finish my postgraduate research studies. Have a great holiday season."

****

Lishan Perera

"2007 has without a doubt been an eventful and prosperous year for me. By early February I finished writing Time to Die and Pure Evil which I had begun working on, the previous year.

August saw the publication of these two novels. My short story titled In the Hands of Fate was selected to be published in a Daily News anthology Nothing Grows Under the Banyan Tree and other stories released in October.

My three books were also published in Singapore and I had the honor of flying there and releasing them in early December. So far 2008 looks to be another busy and very demanding year, no doubt full of activity.

I hope to publish a collection of short stories I have just finished penning and also endeavor to complete the novel which I am currently working on..."

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