Late last year, I met Elmo at a LitBlogger session organised by MPH bookstores. Since then, we’ve struck up a friendship and I’ve been reading his books. What I realised about Elmo is that he has a deep love for his country and this comes through in his writing. Last week, I asked him if he’d like to be interviewed and he agreed. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Elmo Jayawardena …
Aneeta: Elmo, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Elmo: It is my pleasure, anytime to work with you
Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you. Can you tell me where you were born, where you grew up, what you do for a living and where you live now?
Elmo: I was born in Sri Lanka, a small town called Moratuwa. That is where I grew up and that is where my permanent home is. I have been an aviator all my adult life, flew big jets for SIA and retired in 2007 and now I train pilots for Sri Lankan Airlines. My main occupation in life is working with the poor through a humanitarian organisation I founded AFLAC International http://www.aflacinetrnational.com – that would say it all.
Aneeta: I already know about your writing career. However, for the benefit of my readers, can you let us all know how you first ventured into writing/storytelling?
Elmo: I wrote a lot to the news papers from my young days. I never spoke a word of English till I was 17. Of course we studied English. Then I thought I will write a book. To write a book you need thoughts and an acceptable way to express them. I am a self taught writer and very proud of it for what comes out from me is pure me.
Aneeta: Let’s start with the book I’m most familiar with, Sam’s Story. Please tell us about it.
Elmo: Sam Story was a story I did not have to create. Sam worked for me, a very poor retarded boy who showed me a different meaning to life. Sam’s Story is about the poverty of Sri Lanka and the war that has killed more than 60,000 people – the book is a lesson in life – that is how I see it. Penguin India is putting out a new Sam’s Story in April and a movie is almost completed in Sri Lanka. Sam’s Story won the Gratiaen award for the best book in 2001.
I also wrote an self-published a collection of short stories called Rainbows in Braille. This book was short-listed for the Singapore Literary Prize in 2008.
Aneeta: From your website, http://www.samsstory.per.sg , I read the about your other book, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay. Please, do tell me a little about this book.
Elmo: The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay is 850 pages and 10 long years of hard work and it tells the story of 19th century Sri Lanka and how the colonial powers brutally erased a land and its people. This book won the State Literary Award in Sri Lanka 2005 for the best book
Aneeta: After having written all your books, what, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of storytelling?
Elmo: Write for the love of writing – a lot of people have a story to tell and they can write. But they ask two sad questions: “Who will read my book?” and “Who will publish my book?” That stops people from writing. The trick is to write – no matter who reads and who publishes it. It It is better to try and fail than fail not to try at all.
Aneeta: Thank you. That is certainly good advice. As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give to people who would like to become storytellers?
Elmo: Use what talent you posses, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sing best.
Aneeta: Elmo, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Elmo: Please give my email firstname.lastname@example.org also my website for the poor http://www.aflacinternational.com – some one may log in and some poor child will go to school or a destitute family will have food on their table.
Aneeta: Elmo, thank you.
Elmo: Thank you so much Aneeta – I do not say this to flatter but people like you bring so much to the literary world for which I am ever grateful.
Aneeta: Elmo, you’re most welcome.
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