Gunarathna Ekanayake’s literary journey | Sunday Observer

Gunarathna Ekanayake’s literary journey

Gunarathna Ekanayake dreamed of being a novelist during his youth, spent in the Kandyan hills, and today, is an accomplished and award-winning writer and drama producer. A fast writer, with over 50 books to his credit, his quest is not yet over, writing being a compulsion and passion in his life. Many of his characters are people he has encountered in life, but often, reinvented in his own way.

Gunarathna Ekanayake is an accomplished and award-winning novelist, writer, and drama producer who writes in Sinhala. As a child, in a village off Kandy (Elamalpotha), the only thing Ekanayake wanted to do was, publish books. With over 50 published books, Ekanayake’s quest for writing is not over yet.

Over the next three years, he plans to publish five more books. That’s not all; Ekanayake also plans to help a few novice writers with good writing skills to get their books published.

In 2000, he won the top award for his novel, ‘Thaegi Godai’ aimed at young readers, at an All Island competition. He won third place at the D. R. Wijewardena Novel Competition in 2003, for his book titled ‘Yaapanaya Thavamath Aethai’. He has also won top awards at several other competitions organized by Godage Publishers and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

In this interview Ekanayake discusses his childhood dreams of reading and writing, and how his rural background helped build the characters in his books, over the years.

Q: How did you discover you were a writer?

A: I think I was born to become a writer. It is a compulsion and a passion in my life. I started as a writer when I was a kid. I was fascinated by books and used to read a lot. At that young age I dreamt of becoming a novelist and a writer. It was my biggest dream. There were always different characters in my mind that I cherished, thinking of bringing them out as characters in my own book, one day. I just wanted to see my books in print.

Q: What were your first writing experiences, like?

A: After writing numerous short stories, I managed to publish my first novel – Dahasak Pathum Pathala - while in my GCE A/L class. But, that would have been the end of my writing career, as I found it difficult to continue to be a writer in my village.

Although I wrote several other novels during the time, the facilities available to get them published was limited.

Travelling to Colombo to find publishers was a difficult journey and took time to travel, in several buses from my home. Moreover, I didn’t have enough funds.

Therefore, I chose to work and earn, and eventually joined a state sector organization in Kandy, and kind of put my writing career on hold. But, after several decades, in 1998, I got a chance to come to Colombo to take up a new job. This was the turning point and the rebirth of the novelist in me.

Q: What is it that makes you a good writer?

A: When I write a book I write about the characters I have seen and met in my life, whom I usually nurture in my mind. They are remarkable and quite strong at times. There are also instances when I write stories simply because I want to give life to some of these characters, through a book.

Q: What sort of relationship exists between you and the characters you create on the page?

A: I think I am obsessed with my characters. It is not that I am just bringing out a few features and qualities in a real character into my book. I reinvent them with my own thinking as a creative person. Obviously, my relationship with the character is strong. Some of the characters are historical, while others are modern.

Q: You have published quite a number of books within a short span of time. What drives you to write so fast?

A: I missed out writing for nearly three decades. During that period, I nurtured a lot of characters in my mind. What I am doing right now is placing those characters in different story books.

Q: Do you have a routine when you write?

A: Well, I don’t have a particular routine. Sometimes, I work on two books at the same time.

Q: After your draft is done, how do you judge the quality of your work? Does it go through a panel before being published?

A: I am afraid there is no such panel to go through our books in Sri Lanka, right now. It would be better if we could get a national panel consisting of people with literary knowledge, prior to publishing our work, to ascertain the quality of the work.

At present, I do not submit my drafts to any individual, because I am afraid that such individual ‘criticism or suggestions’ may deflect me from my path.

I have also not shown my drafts to family or friends, because I am not sure about the way they would judge my work, objectively, and how they would want me to rewrite the copy. So, the first person to see my draft is my publisher.

Then, it goes through their panel. So far, I have found some excellent publishers who have given me valuable advice and suggestions.

Q: In your opinion what are the main qualities of a good writer?

A: A writer should have a good knowledge of political, social, and religious issues of their own country and also about the world. He or she should be aware of sensitive religious and social issues, and understand how best to tackle such topics. A writer can create a huge impact, be it positive or negative, on society, through their books. We need to be subtle and creative when we write on certain ultra sensitive issues in societies or countries. In my opinion, an author should give a message to society through his writing, although it doesn’t mean that every book or publication should convey a positive message to society.

Q: What is the response from readers? Do you get a useful feedback?

A: I always interact with my readers who would tell me about their experiences and also give comments about my books. They often phone me- and I take time to speak to them. Although there’s modern technology and eBooks entering the publishing world in a big way, those who want to read books and experience the pleasure of reading a book physically are aplenty. I want to encourage youngsters to read books physically - although modern technology has changed their lives to a great extent, with convenient reading material.

It is also encouraging to see how book fairs make a huge impact on the young crowd, as they throng book fairs, especially, the Colombo International Book Fair. At least, it is a time to talk about books and draw attention to the literary world, by people in all walks of life.

Q: As a writer, where do you get your inspiration from?

A: I am inspired by renowned writers, such as, Martin Wickramasinghe, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Piyadasa Sirisena and W. A. Silva.

Q: What’s the best advice you would give budding writers, to help them develop their own style?

A: I want to encourage youngsters to bring in new ideas and write books that inspire their generation and nurture the literary field. It is essential to contribute to the growth of Sinhala literature. They also should understand that a writer cannot be created overnight; you need to write continuously to hone your skills. 

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