Sonali Rajanayagam – Author Interview

The SlapThe Burning WireThe Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-tale Detectives: Bk. 1Diary of a Wimpy Kid The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency S.)The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction WritersThe Fifth WitnessThe Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Special Editions S.)

Your short story A Brilliant Man will soon be published in Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories. What can readers look forward to in A Brilliant Man?

In A Brilliant Man, the main character is haunted by stories of her father when he was a young man and she has spent a great deal of her life trying to reconcile these stories with her understanding of him. I think children love to hear stories about what their parents were like when they were younger, and sometimes those stories trigger more questions than answers. I wanted to create a character who was determined to find out the answers.

Could you tell us a little about your fiction writing and what point you’re up to now with your writing?

This is the first piece of fiction that I’ve had published, so I’m very excited! (And thanks to AusLit for this fantastic opportunity!) The last twelve months have been a lot of fun – I’ve attended some great writing courses through the NSW Writers’ Centre, tried different styles of writing (junior fiction, young adult and adult) and I’ve enjoyed reading a diverse range of authors. I finished a first draft of a junior fiction piece in December. I put it aside for a while and have just started editing – it is covered in red pen, arrows and post-it notes so it’s more like redrafting than editing!

In A Brilliant Man, you have written largely about your main character’s relationship with her father (and several other family members) as they come together for a funeral. What do you think tends to work well in stories based around the character dynamics at a family gathering, or what is an example of a story in which you have appreciated how this was done well and what made it work for you as a reader (or viewer)?

The thing with family gatherings is that the arguments you’re going to have this Christmas are probably just different versions of the same arguments you’ve been having for years. And the stories that are retold at family gatherings are the same stories that bring tears of laughter every year. So I think there has to be a strong back-story that plays gently below the surface of the story. Past injuries are revealed slowly and often from an unreliable point of view. That’s usually balanced by the arrival of an outsider who brings a fresh perspective on old feuds. I think Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap was a fresh take on the family gathering. The novel used an incident at a family gathering as a springboard to examine the lives of those who were present and how they relate to each other. It was a great read.

What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and do you have some favourites?

I love a good story and if the blurb on a back cover grabs me, I’ll read the book no matter what the genre. If we’re heading off on holiday, I always take thrillers (Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connolly). And if I’m after comfort food, then it’s definitely Jane Austen! But if I’m reading on the bus, it could be anything. At the moment I’m reading a lot of junior fiction (The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney). The writing is smart, funny and just plain diabolical!

What is an interest you have beyond writing fiction and how has this helped you with the content or style of your writing, or with your writing process or attitude to writing?

Well, I’m not sure if it’s an “interest” so much as a job(!) – being a lawyer, I’m surrounded by words! There’s a (nerdy) satisfaction in finding just the right word to describe something and in replacing three words with one. So that’s something I really appreciate in good fiction writing – the ability to create a character or a scene with a few perfect words. The other thing you learn pretty early on as a lawyer is to get used to having your work ‘red-penned’. Learning not to get too attached to your words can really help when writing fiction!

Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?

My all-time favourite character is Precious Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. In addition to being strong, clever and funny (all the usual things I like in a heroine), she is kind – and I think that’s an unusual defining trait for a fictional character. As a private detective, she solves her cases by dispensing wisdom. And while she gently observes those around her and all their foibles, she manages to maintain a genuine contentment. That’s why I love reading this series – they make me happy!

What is one of your favourite books on the craft of storytelling or written fiction and why?

Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book is great. It’s a good balance of theory and practical exercises to get you writing. I also liked the way she used lots of examples of writing from different authors to explain the theory. I was half-way through The Writing Book when I decided to enter the AusLit short story competition – so I think it must have really helped me!

The SlapThe Burning WireThe Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-tale Detectives: Bk. 1Diary of a Wimpy Kid The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency S.)The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction WritersThe Fifth WitnessThe Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Special Editions S.)

The Australian Literature Review
www.auslit.net

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