So, once again I hauled myself to sunnier climes just so I could get a taste of sun, sand and curries. And literature, of course!

This time round, the 6th Galle Literary Festival was held a week earlier than usual and was, to my mind, a little smaller and leaner. The clash with the Jaipur Literary Festival meant that some authors were unable to travel the extra mile to Sri lanka. Boo.

So although I missed the likes of Katie Kitamura, who I was dying to meet, there were still some golden nuggets waiting to be discovered.

For me, one of the highlights of the festival this year was having the privilege of listening to John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, who was a charming speaker and extremely witty. He apparently wrote the first draft of the novel in 2 weeks (and then spent the next 8 months rewriting like a normal human being). What was interesting was that he said the story just came to him and he knew that if he didn’t write it down, he would lose it. Split second decisions, eh? Although I haven’t read the book yet, I watched the film last year and was utterly awed and heartbroken by the tale. When questioned about the film, Boyne said that although there were some minor changes when translating the tale onto screen, he was very happy with the way the film was made. It’s a beautiful film and made me want to read the book. He talked about the reception of the book and the criticisms which naturally came due to the subject matter. The most vociferous critics were not the actual Holocaust survivors, who embraced his work, but third parties just like himself who had no connection to the Holocaust. In one event in New York, someone in the audience actually came up and punched him! But Boyne related all this with humour and I think everyone in the audience in Galle fell in love with him then. But did you know that he has also written seven other books? Neither did I, but I’m planning to check them out. It’s interesting that after finishing a book, Boyne prefers to write something completely different and in a completely different voice.

If you visit Sri Lanka and like browsing in bookshops, you will often come across reference to Robert Knox, castaway, survivor and friend of Daniel Defoe. Knox spent 19 years from 1660 in Sri Lanka as a prisoner/guest of the last Kandyan King, Rajasinghe II. Katherine Frank spoke about her new book Crusoe, laying arguments to support her case that Robinson Crusoe was based on Knox and that Daniel Defoe mercilessly plagiarised Knox’s own account of his imprisonment, An Historical Relation of the island Ceylon, which recounts his 19 years in minute detail. What an extraordinary man and an extraordinary story. I’d been meaning to read Knox’s memoir for ages and Frank’s talk has finally made me go out and buy the two volumes. Alas, they were too heavy to carry back so I left them at home to read when I next visit. Although there are some that dispute Frank’s theory, her talk was compelling enough for me to want to read her book and make up my own mind.

I also went to see a talk given by Juliet Nicolson at the beautiful Amangalla Hotel about Sissinghurst, the home in which she grew up which was owned by her grandparents, Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. Vita Sackville-West is, of course, notorious for her affair with Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis (I think I first read about her in a compilation of wicked women!) Nicolson’s descriptions of her beloved childhood home and her colourful family was entertaining and lovely and I have a mind to visit the beautiful garden at Sissinghurst now.

I was also lucky enough to meet and participate in a workshop with Roshi Fernando, a Sri Lankan British author who is passionate and witty and gave useful tips about the architecture of the novel. I got a copy of her book Homesick , about the British Sri Lankan experience, signed and ready to read. And I was tickled to learn she has read my blog:)

Roshi Fernando also participated in a talk with Randy Boyagoda whose new book, Beggar’s Feast, about a self-made Sri Lankan man who lived until 100 and had 3 wives, 2 of whom he killed, has just been published too. Curated by Manju Kapoor, the two authors discussed identity and literature and the expatriate experience which also led to a heated discussion about accents and acceptance. Very thought-provoking indeed.

And finally, I did have a ticket to see Richard Dawkins who had apparently packed out the hall, but I gave it to my dad who misplaced his ticket as he’s become interested in religion (even though he is an atheist). Apparently the talk was brilliant, but hey, I can always catch him on tv here.

So although I felt this year wasn’t as flashy and razzmatazzy as last year, I had a fun-filled 4 days in Galle, eating, reading and discovering new sights. Since last year, there’s been an awful amount of work being done on restoring the historic fort, all the roads have been repaved, buildings restored, new cafes and restaurants and LOTS and LOTS of tourists. It was packed and although it’s harder to get rooms, it made me happy to see the place so bustling. Apparently next year’s GLF will be moved to March to avoid overcrowding and give people a chance to book rooms (we booked ours a year in advance).

With the new highway from Colombo just opened, it now takes only an hour to drive to Galle and many of our friends have apparently been down just for dinner. Usually it takes about 3 hours and you wouldn’t think of visiting Galle without staying overnight. Apart from one unlucky, flat, kabaragoya, we didn’t see many animals on the highway either.

Hello there. How are you?

I seem to have missed chatting with you all as the end of 2011 gathered speed and bulldozed all my me-time in a swirl of get-togethers, cocktails and lots and lots of comestibles. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t say no.

I’ll soon be off on my yearly trip to Sri Lanka and will be checking out the Galle Literary Festival again. This time, I have done NO preparation for the festival and will be going with the flow. I think this may be how 2012 will be for me. More chillin’, less frettin’.

I am, however, looking forward to seeing Katie Kitamura talk about her novel The Longshot. I got a copy for my brother-in-law who has given it a big thumbs up as an avid fan and practitioner of MMA himself. I will, of course, be borrowing the book from him once he’s finished, hehe. Juliet Nicholson will also be there to talk about The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War – a favourite historical period of mine. Richard Dawkins, John Boyne and D.J. Taylor will also be there. And I’m excited to seek more new Sri Lankan authors such as Randy Boyagoda and Roshi Fernando who will be talking about Sri Lankan writing in the diaspora. And this time, I’ll hopefully find out more about Sri Lankans writing in Sri Lanka. As usual, there will be panel discussions on literature, politics and war (as Sri Lanka recovers from its 30 year internal conflict) and documentaries about life in the north and the history of Dutch burghers. Lots of interesting stuff to look forward to.

I’ve got myself a brand new spanking phone and hopefully will be able to twitter about the GLF if I can find free wi-fi.

And that’s not all. I’ll be taking a short trip to Bangkok where I’ll be stuffing my face with all sorts of Thai delights! That’s what my family do, you see. We travel to eat. Sticky rice and mango, here I come! And of course, pop into Kinokuniya to stock up on some Japanese books.

So I will leave you with a tentative list of books I’m planning to bung into my suitcase:

Dust of Dreams (Malazan 8) by Steven Erikson
Clash of Kings (Song of Ice and Fire 2) by George R.R. Martin
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – as I doubt I’ll finish it before I go
Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka – What? I still haven’t read this?
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – if it doesn’t push my suitcase over the weight limit
And a couple of mysteries I haven’t decided upon yet.

So what are you all up to? Any plans for the new year? Or is there a book I absolutely must take with me on holiday? Come on, spill!

OK, so I didn’t really go into the controversies and boycotts that plague the Galle Literary Festival each year after my rant last year. However, to me it seems that literary festivals always come with boycotts for the publicity they generate, and in a country recovering from war, it’s effect is even more devastating and emotional. I really doubt whether the government is even taking notice of the literary festival which isn’t state-funded considering it has so many other pressing matters to deal with such as the rehabilitation of its people and land as well as the floods that have plagued the north east of Sri Lanka these past few months. But GLF’s founder Geoffrey Dobbs’ heartfelt speech at the end of the festival touched a chord. It may be a small contribution and the festival may have seen its share of rich socialites from Colombo who aren’t interested in literature, yet it has brought much-needed income to the areas surrounding Galle, the shops, restaurants and tuk tuk drivers as well as people from around the world who care about what is happening in the world and have an opinion and who also happen to love literature.

I say literary festivals should generate discussion. So, here’s a round-up of some interesting articles that came my way:

My friend Fëanor who blogs at Jost A Mon sent me this article expressing disappointment that the GLF features literature only in English and not in Sinhala or Tamil.

Jack Point who blogs at Court Jester left a comment on my post about why the boycott is wrong.

Malinda Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan journalist whose newspaper article my father sent my way.

And finally one of my favourite writers, V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage, has written a piercing piece about what it means to participate in literary festivals, especially the GLF. Hear, hear!

So, how was it? I can almost hear you all cry. There were a few cancellations (Damon Galgut’s boycott was for Reporters Without Borders but both Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai couldn’t make it for visa reasons – apparently you can’t re-enter India or something like that although the Indian Embassy in Sri Lanka did their best to cooperate so I’m not sure what all that was about. Apparently there’s no official boycott story here according to Festival Curator Shyam Selvadurai although gossip was rife in the Sri Lankan papers) but frankly it didn’t bother me or anyone else at all once the festival started because this year’s Galle Literary Festival was the best one so far. Being the 5th anniversary, the organisers really did everyone proud in creating a wonderful programme. They even started charging for the festival programme which is a good thing as all the money will be going back into the year-round community projects they are running.

Last year I went to the GLF sans my parents (but with some family friends) because our dog Puccini was poorly. This year they came with me because sadly Puccini’s no longer with us. Of course, I went to as many literary sessions as I could but my mother spent the 4 days walking around Galle Fort sketching and my father went on a little trip to Hambantota to check the progress of the new highway, airport and cricket stadium. Go figure.

There were lots of interesting authors to choose from but this year the highlights for me were Tash Aw, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lawrence Hill. I’d booked to see Tash Aw talk about his debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory which I adored especially since I hadn’t known anything about the importance of communism in Malaysia at the tail-end of British rule and just before WWII, and I was also intrigued by his treatment of one of his characters who is a member of the feared Japanese kempeitai (military police). It’s a wonderful book and Aw is an unassuming and very charming person and kindly signed his latest book Map of the Invisible World for me. I also attended one of his creative writing workshops which really made us all think carefully about how we craft stories and left us feeling very inspired.

Adichie’s eloquent and confident style belies her youth and it was a real pleasure to hear her talk. I had seen a tv programme about her a few years ago and her earnestness was catching. She spoke about the Biafran war and her book Half of a Yellow Sun which depicts the Biafran flag and the struggle for an independent state. One of the most interesting things she talked about was the inheritance of collective trauma and how even though her generation did not experience the Biafran war, there is still a collective and very real sadness about what had gone before. I, and I’m sure everyone else in the audience, was also pretty impressed with how she stood up for activist Sunila Abeysekara during a BBC Forum panel discussing the lingering effects of civil war when she was accosted by an angry journalist whose tirade turned personal.

I hadn’t initially planned on going to Lawrence Hill’s session as it clashed with Orhan Pamuk’s. But I’m so glad I did because Hill is a brilliant speaker and I quickly ran out to get The Book of Negroes to read. I had read several positive reviews of this novel and remember being intrigued by it. I found his tale of his parents’ marriage and subsequent flight to Canada from the States to start a new life free of racial prejudice very touching. But Hill was very matter of fact about it and as he says in his book Black Berry Sweet Juice on growing up mixed race in Canada, he interviewed over 30 people who were just like him. Intriguing stuff. Unfortunately I had to leave The Book of Negroes in Sri Lanka because my father started reading it and seemed reluctant to give it back saying it is extremely well written. So I’ll save that for when I visit home next:)

This year the organisers of the GLF decided to focus on Malaysia and Malaysian literature. I wasn’t too sure about this at first, but it really was a brilliant idea. The Malaysian authors who attended were all charming, extremely bright (I think there was one young professor and two lawyers!) and incredibly funny. What I really liked was how they were all able to laugh at themselves and the world while tackling rather complex issues. How wonderful. I particularly liked Tan Twan Eng (author of The Gift of Rain)’s comment that he was tired of self-important stories about aging writers with writer’s block who just go on and on about themselves. I guess there are only so many books like that you can stomach. And Shamini Flint who writes the Inspector Singh mysteries was hilarious and didn’t stop making jokes even when she was discussing why she wrote crime novels to tackle the more serious side of humanity (something she’s always been interested in as a lawyer.)

I also attended a free session on The Other Malaysia by Prof. Farish A. Noor, a young and energetic historian who is trying to change the nature of discourse, especially with regard to history which is often politicised in Malaysia. It was extremely refreshing to see so much excitement in a subject such as history and how it is relevant to young Malaysians in establishing and understanding the racial, and hence political, diversity in their culture today.

It wasn’t all about books though as there were several BBC Forum sessions which discussed the aftermath of the internal conflict and rehabilitation which I, and many others, found emotional and which also provoked some heated comments. But then that’s what literary festivals should be about, right?

And finally I dragged my father to see Mohsin Hamid who spoke about his novels (Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and being Pakistani with a Western education and how to reconcile the two (he’s another lawyer) and June Chang and her husband John Halliday who spoke about Mao. Now that was one hell of a session, packed to the brim and also the final session of the festival. I haven’t read Chang’s books (both Wild Swans and Mao: The Unknown Story) although my friends who have read them said they were amazing and affected them deeply. Chang is an incredibly magnetic person and when you hear her speak, you don’t doubt what a strong woman of conviction she is.

The only session that I left half-way through was the Sri Lankan writers’ session which was about Sri Lankan literature in English which dealt with the internal conflict. I was really interested in hearing what Ayathurai Santhan had to say as he had written The Whirlwind, a novel about the Indian Peace Keeping Force that had come to Jaffna to essentially help the civilian Tamil population in Sri Lanka but ended up imprisoning and treating them as suspects when they failed to root out the Tigers. It’s not a story that many have written about although everyone’s heard of similar stories so I wanted to know more. A serious author who has written 19 books in both Tamil and English, it was a mistake to put him together with two authors who were more interested in talking about themselves and their writing habits than about what was important when a writer sits down to leave behind a record of what happened even if it’s in fiction form. I was so irritated by the self-indulgent chatter in which Santhan was unable to participate that I just had to leave, even though this was one session I was really looking forward to. However, the excerpts they read from their work were really good so I hope that I can forget about this unfortunate episode and actually want to read their books. But this was a very small blip in what was a perfect literary festival.

I also want to mention two authors of Sri Lankan origin who have piqued my interest: British Roshi Fernando, author of Homesick a novel about Sri Lankans in London (who unfortunately couldn’t make it due to her daughter catching swine flu) and Canadian Randy Boyagoda, author of the forthcoming novel The Beggar’s Feast about his Sri Lankan relative, faux village life and murder. I’ll be sure to check out their work.

There were some other high profile authors such as Louis de Bernière, Candace Bushnell and Sarah Dunant whose sessions were apparently amazing but I couldn’t go to all of them. Anyway, I’m looking forward to attending again next year! Naturally there were a lot of articles in the press praising and bashing the GLF which seems to go hand-in-hand with such a high profile event but I noticed that there were a lot of journalists enjoying the festival.

On a side note, what was really amazing about the trip this year was the number of tourists in Sri Lanka. I don’t remember seeing so many tourists in hotels and walking along Galle Road for the past twenty-odd years and it put a big smile on all our faces. Apparently all the hotels were fully booked. Good thing they are building two new 7 star hotels in Colombo overlooking Galle Face Green. Although my mind boggles at the idea of a 7 star hotel…

I wasn’t sure whether we would be going to the Galle Literary Festival on my annual trip home to Sri Lanka next week. But my father seems keen and we’ve bagged ourselves a lovely room in the middle of the Fort so it’ll be a nice little holiday away for the three of us.

And what a line-up there is! I cannot wait to see Orhan Pamuk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Jay McInerney even though I haven’t read anything by them yet. Plus a whole host of others including my favourite Shyam Selvadurai! I’ve also got books by Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng on my shelves which I really must read before I head off on holiday. Plus I’ve been curious about Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh mysteries which I had no choice but to hunt down now:)

So, it’s time for another list of books I’m thinking of reading in preparation for the Galle Literary Festival 2011. Last year I think I only managed to read one book from my list. GAH. Not impressed. Maybe this year I’ll manage to read two, ha ha.

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw (I loved Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory which I read a few years back. Beautiful writing.)
Bone China, Brixton Beach or The Swimmer by Roma Tearne
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
My Name is Red or The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk!

Last year I took my Sony e-reader which I didn’t open once. Ho hum, I’ll take it again but I’m going to resign myself to reading paperbacks. I’m contemplating taking at least one fantasy book, but which one? George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings or Steven Erikson’s The Deadhouse Gates. (I know, I know, I did that last year, but have you seen how many volumes there are in each series?!) Erikson is doing a signing at Forbidden Planet next month so I’m edging towards him at the moment. Plus I need to take at least one mystery. Decisions, decision.

I’ll also be hunting down lots of Sri Lankan fiction. Sadly as I don’t read any Sinhalese or Tamil, they’ll all be in English:( But I’ll be looking for local authors and who knows who I will discover at the festival? The best thing about literary festivals is that you have no idea who you might stumble across. And it’s always so exciting when you find an author who is completely new to you that charms the socks off you such as Tahmima Anam, V.V. Ganeshananthan and Pico Iyer.

So, is there anyone from the 2011 GLF participants you are particularly keen for me to look out for? I’m all ears!

Ugh, when I read articles like this which was posted on the Literary Saloon, it makes me spit at the mouth and grow horns on my head. So I’m going to rant and get it out of my system.

Frankly, all literary festivals are indulgent. You need to make time to go there, pay money to listen to authors and maybe even have to buy some books and spend even more time queuing to get them signed. But you know what, like all the arts, we need it. It’s one of the many things that make life worth living. It’s food for the soul. I’ve only recently started to go to literary festivals and haven’t even made it to the big ones in the UK such as Hay, Cheltenham or Oxford, but I’ve had the good luck to have parents living in Sri Lanka and my annual holiday home is in January because I can’t take Christmas off. So imagine my delight when I found out about the Galle Literary Festival.

It’s still in its infancy (4 years), and I’ve only been twice, but each year, there is more topical diversity, larger audiences and, most importantly, the organisers have made sure that there is more given back to the community. There are year-long programmes benefiting the children of Galle, and during the festival there are opportunities for them to interact with the visiting authors. And all provided gratis. I think the organisers have done a tremendous job amid very harsh criticism. Especially from people who have come and enjoyed the festivals themselves. Like at any festival, you’ll get your it-crowd who are only there to be seen and photographed, but the majority of people there love books. Otherwise why would you sit through hours and hours of people talking about things in which you have no interest? I certainly wouldn’t.

And going back to the article above, I love Ian Rankin and his books featuring John Rebus. They gave me the first taste of Scottish noir and I raced through them all when I was supposed to be writing my thesis. And Rankin is a brilliant writer. But I wouldn’t say that he’s the only A-list writer at the festival this year. I mean both Michelle de Kretser and Mohammed Hanif were short-listed for the Booker Prize. I don’t really have to say much about writer and biographer Claire Tomalin (who has won 4 major prizes including the Whitbread Book Award and was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize) and novelist and playwright Michael Frayn (who has won 5 major prizes including the Whitbread and was also short-listed for the Booker Prize) who are giants in the English literary world. And Wendy Cope? She’s one of the best poets writing in English that we have (and she has won 2 major awards and was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Award). And let’s not forget Shyam Selvadurai who also has 2 awards to his name and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. I’m exhausted listing all these awards and I haven’t even named them all.

I suppose in this case, A-list means best-seller and not critical. I’m not panning Rankin, because I think he is an intelligent, sophisticated and literary writer (whatever that means and I don’t really want to go into the whole literary/genre controversy here), but I guess for some people, books that don’t exist on bestseller lists aren’t really A-list. But I doubt that’s how book lovers would rate authors. In fact, I didn’t go and see Ian Rankin talk because his session clashed with that of another up and coming author. A literary festival is somewhere where you go and learn about new authors as much as the established ones.

Frankly, calling these authors C and D-list, then writing an article that doesn’t even discuss the literary events apart from a few (and there were many extremely interesting events suited to all tastes) and concentrating your article on all the non-literary events (which I agree were brilliant and only enhanced the literary festival) just shows that maybe some people do only read nursery rhymes (and Ian Rankin). Obviously that hasn’t stopped them coming to the GLF every year and enjoying themselves. In fact, maybe they want to put people off to ensure tickets for next year’s festival.

During the GLF this year, Sunila Galappatti, the director of the festival invited one of GLF’s vocal critics on stage so that they could discuss what bothered him about the GLF in public. After almost an hour of arguing and getting nowhere, she asked him why he was here. And his reply? Because he liked coming to the festival. If you like it so much, why are your pissing on it?

I don’t think there can ever be a perfect festival. And in a highly literate country like Sri Lanka (over 90%), having a festival in English excludes a large percentage of people seriously interested in literature but who may not be so fluent in the language. And even if you do understand English, the festival is still closed to you. I understand the frustration. The price of tickets and rooms are just too high for local Sri Lankans and yes, if possible, something should be done to even it out. And this year, the organisers have provided a lot more free events, both literary and musical.

But the GLF is an international literary festival celebrating literature in English. Instead of going on and on about how insulting this festival is to Sri Lanka and its people (hello, the GLF is generating a lot of tourism and revenue for the country), why don’t these unhappy people organise a literary festival in Sinhala and Tamil? You won’t even have to invite these ‘imported’ authors. And you can get rid of all the expats and foreigners. Perfect.

But that doesn’t really solve anything, does it? The GLF doesn’t have to be the sole literary festival in Sri Lanka. What it’s done is opened the template to what a literary festival can achieve. And it’s modelled itself on the literary festivals that are so popular and successful abroad. And if Sri Lankans can take that and make something that can be enjoyed by everyone, then surely, that must be a good thing.

This GLF bashing seems to be a perrenial pastime for many journalists and attendees. And part of the reason is the language politics that still dominates Sri Lankan politics today. David Blacker, a Sri Lankan author, discusses this more eloquently here.

Anyway, enough with the ranting. I had a great time at the Galle Literary Festival this year. And I chose to go because I wanted to meet some of my favourite authors whose words have enriched my life and given me an insight into the world. And maybe I’ll never get the chance to meet them again, but to me, it was totally worth it. And yes, that includes spending my hard-earned cash.

*I have not been paid to advertise or promote the GLF.

was brilliant. Unfortunately my parents couldn’t make it as our dog was poorly (although much better now) so I went to Galle with some old family friends who kindly kept a room for me at Mama’s Guest House – a small guest house in the middle of Galle Fort with a roof restaurant serving some fantastic rice and curry and a beautiful view.

This year I was eagerly awaiting talks by two of my favourite writers, Michelle de Kretser and Shyam Selvadurai who were both charming, erudite and very, very nice. They spoke about their books and early life in Sri Lanka before their families had moved abroad, scenes that are familiar to many families of the diaspora.

In preparation I re-read Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens which was beautifully written (and got that signed!) and am excited to learn about his new work which will be a re-telling of the Buddhist Jataka tales (about the lives of the Buddha) which I confess I don’t really know much about (very embarrassing since I grew up in several Buddhist countries and my family is sort-of Buddhist in a non-religious way.) But then I never went to Sunday school (and yes, I mean Buddhist Sunday school) and am probably more versed in biblical stories due to my Western education. So I’m looking forward eagerly to Selvadurai’s next book.

Mohammed Hanif and Ru Freeman were two authors I had heard a lot about but never read so I’ll be looking out for their books, A Case of Exploding Mangoes and A Disobedient Girl. You can check out Ru Freeman‘s wonderful and erudite post on the GLF 2010 here.

I also went to a poetry reading by Wendy Cope who was a great raconteur and had us all in stitches. I don’t read much poetry but Cope’s poems are funny, simple and go straight to the point, and were the first poems that made me want to go out and buy some poetry. And she dispelled the myth that the world of poetry is all love and roses with no bickering or bullying. It’s a cut-throat world (as we’ve seen with the Oxford Professor of Poetry fiasco).

Louise Doughty gave a wonderful talk about her Romani heritage, a subject which is simultaneously fascinating and tragic and which made me want to seek out her books. Did you know that a lot of Roma have simple surnames such as Smith and Lee but flamboyant first names?

Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn gave talks that were entertaining, serious and illuminating. I’ve been a fan of Frayn’s since reading and watching the play Copenhagen about the lost weekend in which the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg visits Copenhagen to meet his mentor Niels Bohr during WWII after the capitulation of Denmark to the Nazis. Historians of science have always puzzled over what the two scientists discussed, with Bohr knowing full well that Heisenberg was working on the Nazi nuclear weapons programme, and which led to a break in their friendship. Tomalin spoke of Dickens and his mistress and all the other women who have been swept under the carpet of history. Fascinating stuff.

What was really great about going to a literary festival is not just to hear your favourite authors talk about their books and lives, but to also be exposed to new and previously unheard of authors who you may not automatically pick up in a bookshop but whose world view and words entice you to try out their writings and you come away with a new list of books for your wish list.

I enjoyed a wonderfully mellow evening at The Closenberg Hotel, a tuk tuk ride away from the Galle Fort as Ashok Ferrey, together with some friends, read from his new novel Serendipity. We sat in the garden surrounded by bougainvillea and overlooking the sea, and we didn’t mind the mosquitoes so much because we were laughing too hard. The Closenberg is somewhere my family always stopped by for tea and lime-juice every time we drove down south so it was nice to become reaquainted with the historic hotel.

Some of my favourite moments at the 2010 GLF included a talk given by Richard Boyle about books published about Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called) from the mid-sixteenth century to the present. Although he focused on books in English (there are probably as many books in Dutch and Portuguese as parts of Ceylon were ruled by both countries for many years) it was interesting to see the impressions that the people of Ceylon gave to the foreigners who tried to subdue and rule them. Even the infamous Aleister Crowley had made a pit stop in Sri Lanka!

And the other two memorable events weren’t book-related but gave a flavour of the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. There were two free outdoor concerts by the Ravibandu Vidyapathi Drum Ensemble and the Chitrasena Dance Company that were the highlight of my 4 days in Galle. The performances were a brilliant fusion of the traditional with the modern. Surrounded by twinkling floor lights, we saw the drummers and dancers in the dark under the giant trees in the central Law Court Square. It was a magical ending to a brilliant festival.

There’s only two and a half months left before I fly off to sunny climes and needless to say I CANNOT wait. London has become extremely chilly all of a sudden and I’m missing my sunshine. My fingers feel frostbitten without gloves and my head is missing my hat. OK, so I’m a hypochondriac and it’s not really that bad, but seriously, I feel I’ve forgotten what Winter is like. Everything seems new and fresh this year. The cold, the sudden darkness, this feeling of mono no aware. I kind of like it. Makes me feel all tingly and alive.

So, I’ve just realised that two and a half months isn’t really that long for the list of books I’m planning to read in preparation for the Galle Literary Festival 2010 at the end of January. I still have my stash of Sri Lankan/diasporic literature safely tucked away on my TBR shelf and I think I really ought to clear some of it before I go. I have the following titles and if I’m organised, maybe I’ll get through half of them:

On Sri Lanka
All is Burning by Jean Arasanayagam
When Memory Dies by A. Sivanandan (an interesting essay here)
The Banana Tree Crisis by Isankya Kodithuwakku
Mosquito by Roma Tearne
Bone China by Roma Tearne
The Far Field by Edie Meidav

And also:

On Asia/India
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Maharanis by Lucy Moore
The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt

If I can read about half the books on this list by the time I’m on that plane, then I’ll be happy. I’ve had most of these books for a year and feel slightly ashamed that I actually bought some of them the last time I was in Sri Lanka a year ago….what can I say? I’m easily distracted.

But I did finish two collections of short stories The Good Little Ceylonese Girl and Colpetty People by Ashok Ferrey which were delightful. And if I have time, I might reread Shyam Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens as he will be one of the participants at the upcoming GLF. And can I also mention my favourites Romesh Gunasekara, Michelle de Kretser and Michael Ondaatje? I might try and dig out Michelle de Kretser’s first novel The Rose Grower to read if I can find it as it’s somewhere in storage at my sis’.

No doubt I will be buying a lot more books in Sri Lanka. The Perera Hussein Publishing House always brings out a nice selection of fiction into the world, and I love going to the bookshop at the Barefoot Gallery to browse their incredible array of books on Sri Lanka. And my father has promised that he will take me to a street of secondhand booksellers near the Fort, an area of Colombo that we had been increasingly avoiding due to the occasional bombs during the conflict but which we used to frequent when I was a child. This year I’m taking my Sony e-reader and one big fantasy book (it’s Steven Erikson vs. George R.R. Martin at the moment) so I’ll have loads of space in my suitcase to bring back any interesting finds!

OMG! Shyam Selvadurai is going to be there!

If you like your Sri Lankan diasporic literature, you will not be blind to the bright star that is Selvadurai. His two novels Funny Boy and Cinammon Gardens are beautifully written, dealing with issues of identity, sexuality and Sri Lanka’s troubled past in a vivid and sensitive way. I can’t recommend him enough. If you haven’t tried any Sri Lankan literature, why don’t you start with him?

Selvadurai is also the editor of Story Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers which I am dipping into occasionally. Good stuff.

GLF 2010

New information’s up on the Galle Literary Festival 2010 website including names of some confirmed participants. Michelle de Kretser, Michael Frayn and Wendy Cope will be there! I’m so excited!