Novel writing cannot have a formula - Capt. Elmo Jayawardena | Sunday Observer

Novel writing cannot have a formula - Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

Capt. Elmo Jayawardena, known for his Gratiaen Prize winning novel, ‘Sam’s Story’ recently launched his latest novel, Kakiyan published by M.D. Gunasena (Pvt) Ltd. The protagonist of the novel is a crow. Readers are interested in the novel for its unusual narrative.

His novel, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay also earned him the Gratiaen Prize as well as the State Literary Award. Elmo, an airline pilot for 40 years, has won the prestigious Sahityarathne Award too. He is also the founder of Candle Aid Lanka, a humanitarian organisation. The Sunday Observer spoke to Elmo Jayawardena to discuss his art of novel.


Q: What is your definition for a novel?

A. A novel is something you create, but that has never been before. There are various types of novels, such as historical novels, political novels, love stories, crime stories and fantasy novels. It has to be creative.

Q: The starting point of a novel is paramount in novel writing?

A. That is true. First few lines in a book are important. If you can get them nicely, people will remember it. But you cannot depend on the first paragraph alone.

You need to have nice second, third, fourth paragraphs too. If those paragraphs are no good, readers will sail away from you.

You have to begin with a good first paragraph and keep the standard till the end.

Q: Do you have any formula for writing?

A: No. I just write what I feel. A novel is a creation. You cannot have a formula. Everything is newly discovered in a creation. A formula is an already discovered thing.

Q: For some writers, the whole novel is established by the first sentence?

A: I don’t care about those techniques. A novel has to have a powerful story. You can go further with the story.

Q: Do you follow any ritual or warm up games to start writing?

A: Certainly not. But if my sketches or notes for the novel are full, I wonder whether I am going to write this much or include these things to the chapter.

Q: You write with the computer, not by hand?

A: Yes. I write with the computer. I write and edit on the computer. I send the computer version to the publisher.

Q: Do you plan the story before writing?

A: I have a plan. You cannot write a good story without a plan. But the plan is not rigid. It is changed with the content you include.

Q: How about the ending?

A: I never plan the ending before writing. The ending comes about with writing. When I started the novel, Kakiyan, I never had an idea of how to end it. When a writer enjoys writing, ending comes about automatically.

Q: Do you write chapter by chapter until the end of the novel?

A: Yes. I write chapter by chapter and never write the final chapter or mid chapter first.

Q: How do you select a title for a book?

A: That is difficult, because it depends on the book you write. Kakiyan, the title of my recent book was easy one, because it is the name of the crow I was writing about.

‘Sam’s Story’ was also an easy title as it’s Sam’s story. But, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay was a difficult title.

I wrote about the Kandyan kingdom and the colonial system in the novel.

Its title had to be a good one, especially because there were many books written on that subject.

But the title I selected is good, because by Sinhalay we mean Ruhunu, Pihiti and Maya or the whole country.

Q: Haruki Murakami, a Japanese postmodern novelist said he started his new novel, Killing Commendatore by its title. The title inspired him to write the novel?

A: I never have had that kind of experience. I write the novel first and find a title for it. The titling method depends on the writer.

Q: How do you start a fiction? Is it from the images or from the concepts or ideas?

A: First, you have to have an idea about what your story is going to be. When you are writing it, you find new ideas.

You change your formats and add up the tracks. There is no easy way to write a story. But you must have a basic plan.

Q: How do you explain your editing?

A: First, I send my manuscript for grammar editing. My grammar editor is Max Jayamanne who is a friend of mine. Then, I give it to my wife who is good at wordplay. She changes some words in it and suggests me this is better, that is not right and so on. When you write a novel, you have to go to professionals with the manuscript, which is the best way.

With my Kakiyan book, my daughter also edited it. The more people edit, the better it is.

Q: What is the most difficult job in writing?

A: The most difficult job is to find a right time, because you have to find a quiet place to write. You cannot write a novel in a noisy background.

Q: Do you figure out a structure before starting a novel?

A: I don’t bother about a structure. Take, Madol Doowa by Martin Wickramasnghe. It has a simple story around four boys. But it turned out to be a big novel.

Why? Because it was written with a simple style and with a genuineness to the experience.

When we take Senkottan by Mahinda Prasad Masimbula, it is a complicated novel.

But he had written it beautifully. Why? He was honest to the experience.

Q: Is there any satisfying moment for a writer?

A: Yes, it is the launching of the book. As for me, I cannot sleep the day before the launching day.

Q: Do you take readers’ comments seriously?

A: No, because they are varied from reader to reader.

Q: Do you worry about the reviews by the critics?

A: No. I don’t worry about criticisms because it is their views. They are also varied according to the critic. However, there were no bad criticisms for me.

My second novel, ‘The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay’ published in 2000, has many controversial facts, but I haven’t received any bad comment or criticism for it.

Q: What is your advice for an aspiring writer?

A: Never think about the reader or how many books you are going to sell or how they are going to publish them.

Think about the material you write. If you worry about those, you never enjoy writing. Then, there never comes out a good novel.

Q: How do you think about literary awards?

A: Awards are good on the part of writers. You are known among the people as a writer due to awards. My first novel was rejected by a publisher.

My first novel is not the ‘Sam’s Story’, but ‘The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay’.

The book had over 800 pages and publisher said it was too long and not successfully written.

I had to give it up and write another novel which was ‘Sam’s Story’. To my surprise, it was published and won the Gratiaen Award.

Thereafter, the publisher asked me, “Is there any other novels you wrote?” I showed him my first novel, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay. Then, they promptly published it and won the Gratiaen Prize and the State Literary Award. All these things I got because of the literary awards.

Q: What is the most suitable job for a writer?

A: I think journalism is more suitable for a writer. It is a paid job. Writing books is not a job in Sri Lanka. You cannot earn money for living by writing books.

Q: Are you influenced by the environment you write?

A: Yes, very much. Generally, I write at 4.00 in the morning. My home is also at a unique place overlooking the Panadura river. The place, which is calm, quiet and beautiful, influences writing.

Q: How long do you to write a novel?

A: It depends on the novel you write. For the Sam’s Story, it took six months to finish the book.

But The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay, took ten years to finish, because I had to research a lot for the book.

Q: Do you read books while you are writing?

A: Yes. Reading is not a disturbance for writing. It is my hobby.