Small books, big stories

  • Wachana Books

The world of literature is – pun intended – many-storied. Locally, we have a huge amount of talent across our three national languages just looking for an outlet to express themselves.

Wachana Books Founder Dinesh Ravindra Gunaratne

This week, Brunch reached out to Dinesh Ravindra Gunaratne, Founder of Wachana Books, a fully independent, not-for-profit publishing brand that focuses on multilingual, alternative literature in Sri Lanka, who spoke on how this unique platform works and what they’ve got planned.

Wachana’s key focus is to support first-time writers to realise their first publication dream by functioning as a publisher and consultation agency along the way. Through this model, Wachana uses its creative skills (Dinesh works in advertising) to enhance the execution of these new writers’ works by experimenting with alternative/radical publication options and marketing strategies while still giving writers 100% control over how their work is portrayed in the final print.

Speaking to Brunch, Dinesh explained: “At Wachana, the writers own the work they create and if they are ready to move on to a large-scale publisher, they can use their previously published work without any commitments. Because of the not-for-profit nature of the business, Wachana is all about the ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) aesthetic and smaller customised, non-profit-focused publishing projects with a personal touch.”

An avid book lover from a young age, Dinesh shared that he’d always entertained the idea of publishing; after completing university, he began working in advertising and design, and after about six years made the move into publishing somewhat by accident.

“I’d wanted to start in (the) publishing (industry) in Sri Lanka, and I had just finished my first book, Stranger in a Saree, a collection of short stories and poetry. This was when the very first Colombo Design Market (CDM) was held, and I decided to take a stall at CDM. I talked to a couple of friends to show their written stuff as well, and together we did that stall at the first CDM and I called it ‘Wachana’. That was the starting point. I didn’t want to get into full-on publishing but to do things that the other big publishers weren’t doing,” Dinesh shared.

This desire to go against the grain led to Dinesh creating the Wachana website and experimenting with the digital side of things, something his work in advertising and graphic design had given considerable expertise in.

In November 2020, Wachana launched its first collective work, the inaugural edition of Bubblegum Stories, a digital literary magazine comprising winning and shortlisted English and Sinhala short stories from Wachana’s “Write & Win” short story competition.

Explaining the concept behind Bubblegum Stories, Dinesh related that during that first famous lockdown in 2020, he saw many creative people online putting up statuses sharing their writing, exploring their feelings in lockdown, and decided that this was something he wanted to work with, to give these burgeoning (and frustrated) writers the chance to show their work and get it out to a wider audience. This was what led to the “Write & Win” short story competition, where Dinesh decided to offer small prizes like bookstore vouchers to people who wanted to submit short stories to Wachana.

“I never thought it would get the kind of reaction it did,” Dinesh recalled, adding: “We got around 150-plus entries within four or five days of running the campaign.” From these entries, Dinesh shortlisted 25 English stories and 29 Sinhala stories to include in the first edition of Bubblegum Stories.

The response to Bubblegum Stories was so phenomenal that Dinesh hopes to make it an annual exercise, with its second edition planned to take place next month. “I’m also thinking of expanding it into a larger platform that is more than simply a blog where people can log into to read these stories, and see how it can be monetised so that all these talented writers can build their own fan bases,” Dinesh said.

As an independent publisher working in both the English and Sinhala language spaces, when asked what the main differences between the two genres were, he explained, using the writing he received for Bubblegum Stories as an example, that by and large, English writing tends to be more fantasy oriented, while Sinhala writing deals more with everyday situations, stressing that this was a very general analysis based on the writing he has received so far.

On his future plans for Wachana, Dinesh shared that Wachana’s first formal book launch Exulansis, a collection of poetry by Madri Kalugala, takes place next month, and after that he hopes to work on publishing a Sinhala work and to launch a podcast series that can help writers learn from other writers.

“What Wachana really wants to do is experiment with publishing presentation, marketing, and storytelling, and present novel experiences to our readers across all our platforms,” Dinesh said.

To keep updated on Wachana and their publications, please visit the Wachana website or their Instagram page.


Instagram: @wachanabooks