Posted by: ranjitratnaike | November 29, 2016

Author Interview

An Author Interview with Ranjit Ratnaike

Hi Ranjit! I know you are the author of two very successful science fiction books, Saradasi-The Prophecy and Saradasi-The Search. What other books have you published and in what genres? My first three were academic books that I contributed to, and edited.

What were they about and who published them? The Cambridge University Press published Diarrhea and Constipation in Geriatric Practice in 1999, Edward Arnold, London, published Small Bowel Disorders in 2000.  McGraw-Hill published A Practical Guide to Geriatric Medicine in 2002.

Prolific! No! Hard working!

Would I profit by reading them? Not unless you have a particular interest in the magnificent human machine and its misbehaviourHowever, gaining knowledge is always profitable.

‘Human machine’ sounds familiar. It is the title of a book by Arnold Bennett, a prominent British writer, who wrote fiction and self-help books such as The Human Machine. His most famous fiction book is The Old Wives Tales.  I have not read either book.  

What then is your interest in Arnold Bennett? One of my English teachers in Sri Lanka chastising me about a book I was reading.  He said, ‘Ratnaike, please try to remember what Arnold Bennett said, “Good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste.’” I admire people who spurn titles and honors.  No Sir Arnold Bennett for him! He declined a knighthood.

I am surprised you have not read his books. I should.  But, it’s like reading the menu in a Michelin three star restaurant where you are dining. You can’t eat everything on the menu.  There are so many great writers, so many marvelous books, but I cannot read them all. I’d like to.

Tell us about your most recent book. Saradasi-The Search is a ‘stand alone’ sequel to Saradasi-The Prophecy.

The Prophecy predicts terrifying evil beings will destroy the Nereima Galaxy.

Shanaz, a member of the feared Saradasi race who ruthlessly rule the Saradasi Empire in the Nereima Galaxy, is traveling in an unpredictable parallel universe.  Guided by perhaps a deceitful robot, she is searching for an elusive member of a team selected by an Astral Lord to save her home. The team of five Saradasi must defeat the evil forces using only goodness as their weapon. On her journey, Shanaz gains compassion and wisdom which challenge her beliefs, question the strength of her relationships, and help free her from the prison of her past, transforming her life, and through her, the Empire.

Please share with us your background and whatever else you want to tell usI was born in Sri Lanka, a beautiful, small tear-shaped island country in the Indian Ocean, famous for tea and sapphires. Home was Colombo, the capital, where my father was a Baptist Minister. At our home, we had a wonderful library of books.  From fiction to books on religion, ethics and logic, card conjuring and stage magic.  I can tell you how to make an elephant disappear on stage.

I left home to study medicine in South India at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, founded in 1900 by a young American medical missionary, Dr. Ida Scudder.

I now live in Adelaide, a coastal city surrounded by wineries, in South Australia, Australia. I am a physician and was Associate Professor of Medicine, and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Adelaide.

I have spent time in the Himalayan foothills based at a Christian Mission Hospital, training village women as Health Workers, and have worked as a Consultant to, and as a Regional Adviser for the World Health Organization in Manila, Philippines.

My first work of fiction Saradasi-The Prophecy was released in 2009 and reprinted in 2012. The second, Saradasi-The Search was published in 2014.

My interests include music, cooking, collecting unusual recipes on my travels, and the delivery of health care in remote areas of the world. I am a member of the Australian Society of Authors.

 What motivated you to write the first book, Saradasi -The ProphecyMy son Dileep was about twelve years old when he suggested, believing his father could do anything, that I should write a science fiction book. The choice of genre was his. Many years later, as an adult, he reminded me of my ‘promise.’ I began writing Saradasi-The Prophecy when I worked for the World Health Organization. I wrote my first draft on my travels during freezing evenings in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; in my cell-like room in the Ginza Mitsui Urban Hotel, Tokyo; in Laos after my favorite dinner of Tom Yum soup and green papaya salad; in the beautiful Fiji Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, and in an apartment in my base, chaotic Manila, Philippines, where my spirited neighbors worked only at night.

How did you choose the title? The first title of the first book was Saradasai-The Prophecy. The editor and publisher suggested Saradasi-The Prophecy. The second book is Saradasi-The Search. Saradasi has no conscious link to anything I know. 

Was it difficult in getting this book published? I was lucky! The day before I planned posting my enquiry letter to publishers in Australia and overseas, a friend invited me to a book launch. He introduced me to the publisher who he had never met. After an icy greeting, the publisher, after a brief conversation, perhaps curious by my reserve and lack of ‘gushiness,’ asked for the manuscript. Alto Books published Saradasi-The Prophecy in 2009. 
Were you interested in writing when you were in school? Everyone in our home praised good writing. I hoped one day to write a novel and write it well. I admired the beauty of the English language, a legacy from the British who ruled Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, for over 150 years.  The nuances between words, for example, tall and high, wide and broad, joyful and joyous fascinated me. I began writing at school and was editor of the Royal College Magazine.    

Have you a daily writing ritual? No. Nor do I have rules. I try to write every day but have no rigid commitment to write a set number of words. I am not a cloistered slave to a joyful, spontaneous and creative activity.  I have not burdened a pleasure with rules, not even my own! 

How did you choose the names for your characters? Some names have swirled in my consciousness, with no anchor of place or time or person. I have used words from my native language, Sinhalese, which originated from the ancient languages of Pali and Sanskrit. Many are ‘made up.’The protagonist’s name Shanaz and her cousin’s name Fariyal are the names of two lady doctors from the restive North West Frontier of Pakistan, whom I met in Beijing, China. 

What have you learned writing and publishing your books? Looking back, the easiest task was writing the book, revising, self-editing, and working with the publisher’s editor. Finding an agent is more difficult than finding a publisher and many charlatans masquerade as literary agents. I have met three. It has no sanctity conferred on it. The publishing industry is like any other business. The goal is profit. No publisher will publish the best book by the best author that may not make a profit. Publishers are often wrong. In my experience, paradoxically, publishers are not excessively zealous about sales and therefore their income.  Many are lazy or not smart.  The published author must therefore promote the book.  This is a harder task than writing the book. I do not know the answers to two questions: ‘What is the best marketing plan to sell my book?’ and ‘How cost-effective are the many offers I receive to promote my books?’

If you began again, what would you do differently? I will not change my writing style or work practices. I would consider self-publishing as a first choice, with an experienced editor, an excellent cover and interior design, a catchy blurb on the back cover and invest more time learning about book distribution and marketing and promotion. I must find the answer to the difficult question: ‘How should I promote and sell my book?’ 

What books have you read recently? What books do you like to read? I read almost every night. My tastes include most types of fiction, biography and history. I have recently read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; Postcard Killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund; Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David; At the End of the Day-1961-1963, by Harold Macmillan, the former British Prime Minister whose grandfather, Daniel Macmillan and his brother Alexander founded Macmillan Publishers. During this time, I also read a few books, not self-published, that were cliché-ridden, poorly plotted, spiritless and on life-support. I masochistically read these books to avoid mistakes others make, and remind myself how editors seem asleep at their job or if awake, inept.

Have you any favorite authors? Among many, I admire William Faulkner, V.S. Naipaul, born in Trinidad, and Philip Roth. Each captured the spirit and the mood of a specific time in history and through their characters subtly shared their insights and beliefs. Their sentences were word-perfect, beautifully framed and wonderfully rhythmic.

What is your next book? I am working on two books. Saradasi-The Betrayal, which continues the life voyage of Shanaz, and a book of fiction on life in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the 1950’s, titled Mrs. Curnow’s Boarding House.  

You have successfully published six books with various publishers.  What advice do you offer writers on writing and publishing? Writing for fame and, or for profit may prove elusive. Write for the joy of writing.Writing is hard work and good writing needs more hard work, searching tirelessly for the best word and the perfect sentence. Savor perfection. Return after a long pause review your work critically.

I found great value in what William Faulkner said, “In [good] writing, you must kill all your darlings.”Deal positively with manuscript rejection and sink into numbing despair and defeat. Be sensible about how many rejections you can cope with before you feel depressed and abandon writing. Accept the useful comments a publisher makes.You may need confirmation that you write well, and that your novel has a strong, interesting plot, good character development and elegant dialogue.

Have your manuscript reviewed by an experienced editor. If your writing holds promise, accept the editor’s advice how to strengthen the manuscript. Set a limit and try a few more publishers. Alternatively, as a first choice, consider self-publishing your professionally edited manuscript with a professional looking cover, an appealing interior design and a captivating back blurb. You must publish your print book electronically.

Work hard and innovatively to sell your published book. Beware! Con artists are lurking to lure you into dubious promotional schemes. All over the world, bookshops are closing. Those surviving exist narrowly with fierce competition for dwindling shelf-space. In the few years between publishing my fiction books, many local bookshops closed, including four in my neighborhood that actively supported me.

The ‘print novel’ faces many challenges. I think challenges is a better word than threats. Electronic devices subtly lure us into the false reality of a digital ‘world.’ Almost stealthily, we are lulled to accept lessening face-to-face social communication and avoid real life interactions with people.

Possibly, a new wave of digital readers may be reluctant, unwilling, unaccustomed or even unable to read a ‘print novel’ because of the time commitment involved, the longer attention span needed and the discipline one must invest.   

Can you think of a perfect reader for your fiction books? My perfect reader is unhurried, reflecting thoughtfully on the nuances of the plot, savoring and identifying with the strengths and missteps of the characters, and not alarmed by surprises. Believe me, some readers hate surprises!  I would like her or him to remember my novels for the ideas in them on life and living, on the joys of giving, and sharing and receiving. I would be delighted if my readers would write to me at rratnaike@adam.com.au

If a reader wants more information about you and your books, where can they go?My web address is: https://ranjitratnaike.com/  

*Recipes for the food items I mentioned.

Tom Yam (Yum) Soup

This is a popular soup in Thailand and in neighboring South Asian countries, especially in Laos and Cambodia. The delicately flavored, uniquely tangy soup is made with a stock (usually shrimp but any type of sea food or chicken is fine), flavored with lime juice, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (use lime leaves as a substitute), galangal (a member of the ginger family and ginger is a substitute), fresh cilantro leaves (coriander leaves), fish sauce, and fresh sliced red chilies (treat with great caution!).

Link for the recipe: https://www.eatingthaifood.com/tom-yum-soup-recipe/

Green Papaya Salad

The country of origin is Laos.  The salad is delicious, refreshing and easy to make.  The shredded bland green papaya, which adds texture rather than taste, is flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil and palm sugar.

I first tasted this wonderfully textured, delicately flavored salad at the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Burma), in early November, 2010, a few days before the disgraceful and corrupt military junta released the present president, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, after over 15 years of home detention.

I have restrained myself from digressing by telling you about the cost of the then military dictator’s daughter’s wedding.

Interested? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/nov/02/burma.jonathanwatts

Link for the recipe:http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/recipes/recipe-search/chefs-recipes/2009/11/david-thompson-green-papaya-salad-som-dtam-malakor/

The author of the recipe, the delightful David Thompson, is an authority on Thai food, especially Thai street food and the author of many Thai cookbooks.  His TV series on Thai street food is outstanding.

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