“The world needs people who are brave” – Amanda Jayatissa
“If I got angry at my mother, I would write her letters,” said Amanda Jayatissa, recalling her childhood.
In 2017, The Other One, Amanda’s debut novel was placed on the Amazon’s hot new books list following its publication. The Other One is classified under Steampunk Science Fiction.
This powerful and intriguing masterpiece won the Fairway National Literary Competition, 2017.
Amanda sat down with us to have a chat about her first book, her experiences, inspirations, and her future plans. Here’s what we found out.
Would you say you loved writing since childhood?
I went to Bishop’s College and from a very young age, I was encouraged to read. This influence mostly came from my cousins. I have this very vivid memory of my two elder cousins giving me about five of those big garbage bags full of books which they didn’t want anymore. And my mom set up this library for me.
I was a little too young to read all of the books, but I remember touching them and looking at them, so I got this deep appreciation for books from a very young age. When I was old enough to read, I would read all the time.
Did you attempt to write creative content as a child?
I tried to write a book when I was 8 or 9, it was a mystery story, and it wasn’t that good obviously. I always wrote journals, poems and if I got angry at my mother I would write her letters. So I was one of those people who wrote a lot.
What was your favourite book growing up and why?
Harry Potter, hands down! I grew up reading it. I read it through the tough times. I was absolutely obsessed with that universe. I think I learnt a lot as a writer from J.K Rowling as well. That level of pre-planning and attention to detail, to me, is genius and I try to incorporate that into my writing.
Are there any Sri Lankan writers you love?
Now, more and more writers are coming out of the woodwork and carving their own path. Besides veterans like Nihal De Silva, Ashok Ferrey, and Nayomi Munaweera, I love contemporary writers like Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and Naveen Weeraratne, who are such amazing writers.
I am glad that Sri Lankan literature is widening its scope, you see people taking risks now, so it’s an amazing time to be in these circles.
Is there any worthwhile advice you’ve got from any contemporary writers that you’d like to share?
I have realised that when I give someone to read my writing, I go through a lot of anxiety, so the best advice I’ve gotten is to let that anxiety go and to always hope for the best, because there will always be someone who does not like your work and that has nothing to do with your creative ability.
What inspired you to write ‘The Other One’ and how is it special?
I never planned to write a book. I started off with these journal entries that are scattered throughout the book; from that, I started thinking about characters and themes, then I came up with a rough idea of a plot and then I realised this plot will not work in this world, so I took the time to develop this background to place the story.
Basically, I didn’t think about the genre, it was a step by step process.
I have to say this is not for someone who is looking for an easy read. It is for someone who wants to be excited and prepared to explore a complicated web of characters.
You won the Fairway National Literary Award for The Other One; what do you have to say about this experience?
This experience was wonderful. I have to commend Fairway for overlooking my publishing choice and appreciating my book for its literary value. I was grateful that it was accepted, and then when it was shortlisted I was overjoyed, and I thought this is as good as it’s going to get. I even told my parents not to come because I didn’t think I was going to win. But then I won and it could not believe it!
This competition gave me the validation I needed. I just put it out there to see the response and received an award for it. I literally just don’t have the words to explain that feeling.
What are your comments on Sri Lankan awards for writers?
I particularly do not have a lot of experience with them to make a comment. My experience is limited to Fairway and they are of course doing a great job encouraging people to write.
What do you recognise to be the struggles of publishing in Sri Lanka?
Most of the time, the biggest struggle is the lack of knowledge of the options available. Before I self-published, I didn’t even approach any local publishers, because I didn’t think anyone in Sri Lanka will even want to read this book. That was a bad assumption to make because it is not true.
Writing is your passion; would you make it your career?
I actually haven’t thought about it. I own three businesses, and they are very different to one another. I work in training and development, which I am very passionate about and I own a cookie shop; the Brick Lane Cookie Company, that is great fun as well and among all of that, writing, I feel, is my comfort zone.
I don’t think I can do one thing. I have to do a lot of things, to just keep me busy, at least right now. Also I believe going out in the world and interacting is where I get my inspiration to write.
How did you manage writing while managing your businesses?
I manage with very little sleep. I really wanted to do it although the year the book came out was probably my businesses’ year. I usually wake up at about six, so I started waking up a little earlier to work on my book for a few hours, and I would take any 15-minute break I get and work on it as well, and towards the end I may have taken a few days off just to finish it off. I had a good editor so that helped a lot. It wasn’t a simple task but it was greatly satisfying at the end.
Will we come across a sequel to The Other One in the near future?
Well, I am working on a second book now but it is not sequel nor is it related to the universe the first book is based on. This is a different concept that got me really excited in the past few months.
I attempted to write a sequel but this was mostly due to the pressure of everyone telling me to write a continuation. This pressure really got to me, so I was writing not because I loved the book, but to get a sequel out. I was about three chapters in when I realised this was not working and then I hit a major creative funk.
Then I took a step back and I started reading. I read anything that felt like it was almost a release. But, I think I will revisit this story later, it is not the time right now.
Is there something you would like to say to young writers?
There will always be a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t do something, but it is important to recognise those things for what they are, which is often arbitrary rules that we make up in our minds. So, just get out there and write, don’t worry about taking risks. If you are passionate about something, just go for it. The world needs people who are brave.
By Pujanee Galappaththi
Photos: Saman Abesiriwardana