‘Panhindaka Sanhida’ workshop for women writers :
Knowledge of literature essential for qualitative and indepth
Sumithra Rahubaddhe, celebrated novelist and writer speaks on the
novel at the Workshop for Women Writers ‘Panhidaka Sanhida’ sponsored by
the Norwegian Embassy in Sri Lanka.
There is the belief that like in any other fields, women as writers
also have constraints. Though women writers such as Gajaman Nona,
Punyakante Wijenaike, and Thaslima Nazarene were bold in expression,
some of them had to face the brunt of social inhibitions. Women writers
often speak out their hearts rather than printing the edited version of
their works. This would have been one of the grounds that Enokaa
Satyangani Keerthinanda thought of conducting this one-day workshop for
women writers - Sumithra Rahubadde.
Speaking on the women writers of Sri Lanka, veteran author Sumithra
Rahubadde states that there are basically three categories of women
writers; veteran women writers who have the potential of publishing
their work, women writers who had earned a name and enjoy a healthy
demand for their work and those writers who are willing to write but
unable to get them published.
However, a common feature of all three categories is that lack of
means to gain knowledge, particularly, of literary theory. The workshop
will open avenues for writers to share their experiences, for some of
them to develop their skills. Though a one-day workshop would not be
able to cover all these areas, it would be a good start. It would be
more beneficial if Enokaa or someone else would conduct a series of
workshops at least allocating a day, for instance, to discuss on
specific subjects such as the Short Story, the Novel and Poetry.
Q: How should a novelist select a subject to work on?
A: On what should the novelist write? About what novelist should have
to write? First and foremost, the novelist should be a keen observer of
everything that happens around him or her. Actually, as Balzac says the
novelist is someone who generates thoughts on human nature by
meticulously recreating things around him or her’ and ‘ to be the
chronicler of inner human drama’ and ‘to be an archaeologist of the
physical nature of society’ and ‘to be a registrar of good and bad’.
Though it is hard to say something about what the writer tells, the
writer narrates by observing society. However, if the writer becomes a
mere reporter, then a novelist becomes a reporter. If a novelist does
not want to be such a reporter, he or she should go in search of the
above mentioned phenomena. Balzac stresses that the novelist should be
able to dig up the meaning beyond superficialities of human perceptions
and incidents. Balzac considers it as the basis of reality.
The French journalist Edmond Durant says that the realistic artist
would only study the milieu they live in. They also take care not to
change anything in studying the milieu. Durant’s view is that realism is
that the writer should recreate truth in an aesthetically satisfying
manner by meticulously and intelligently observing the milieu. T.S.
Elliot emphasises that a realistic writer should treat subjects with
objectivity without being partisan to social life, on the lives of
workers and the social status of diverse segments of society.
Henry James who identifies the novel as a medium of art says that the
novel has a structure. According to him, the novel is an individual and
direct understanding of life.
Q: How do you perceive modernist writers?
A: It seems that modernist writers have understood the shortcomings
and weaknesses in the realistic novel. Modernism in literature commenced
in European nations such as the UK, France and Germany. Therefore, the
modernism in literature has been directly associated with
socio-political and economic modernism in those countries. However, it
does not mean that novelists from underdeveloped countries or developing
nations do not write modernist novels.
African literature is an example for this. It should be stated that
most of the time, the language and subject matter in African literature
show modernist characteristics.
One of the accusations against the realistic novel is that though it
recreates the world at large, it has failed to grasp the complex
mentalities and life. In the middle of the 18th century Richardson
reveals the inner soul of human being in his series of articles.
Accordingly, by the middle of the 18th century the novel began to
unravel the consciousness of human beings.
Stendhal led this movement which marks the birth of psychological
It is important to consider the fantasy novel. In the novel, “Hundred
Years of Solitude”, Remedies flies in the noon. The nature of Marquez’s
novels is that there is a possibility of anything can happen. In Gunter
Grass’s “The Tin Drum” (1964), the protagonist Oskar can explode glass
bulbs by using his eyes and throat. There are instances of fantasy in
Salmon Rushdie’s ‘Midnight Children’. Salem’s grandma can watch her
daughter’s dreams. The fantasy goes beyond convention. Realistic novel
does not go beyond convention. It should be mentioned here that there
are critics who look from different perspectives in examining realistic
and fantasy novels. Though realistic novel contains cause and effect,
beginning and end, today’s novelists have come out of these confines.
Breaking these barriers is needed to aesthetically reveal the human
Q: What are the factors that prospective novelists should consider
before putting pen on to the paper?
A: From where can you get material for creations? In which way can a
novelist compile his or her experiences? Though the novelist compiles
his experiences in the way he perceives life, the manner of expression
differs on the degree of maturity of the writer.
It is this manner that the writer builds up an identity. Writing a
novel is a complex process. It is not an easy task to imagine a world
and to create characters, their behaviours and mannerisms.
First of all, a novelist should be full of experiences.
Q: How can a writer find a theme for a novel?
A: According to Mario Vegas Lorca, it is not the novelist who selects
the theme. The theme will select the novelist. Sometimes, the writer’s
freedom may be confined. His vision will lead the theme. The style of
the novelist is an important factor in a novel.
It is the style which gives or not gives life to the novel. We have
writers who stick to conventional grammar and write in complete
sentences and there are others who would discard all the rules in
grammar. In most instances, such novels become brilliant creations.
A lot of work of fiction bear testimony to this. Balzac, James
Joyce’s work are examples. It is important for a novelist to build up a
distinct style of writing and a structure. Use of language is also