From cookies to books
Amanda Jayatissa

The Fairway National Literary Award Winner

Savouring her literary success as the winner of the prestigious Fairway National Literary Award 2018, Amanda Jayatissa cuts a victorious figure. Her first literary effort ‘The Other One’, is a Sci-Fi fantasy book which took her two years to write. Having been rejected by international publishers Amanda took the brave step of self publishing her book. Juggling three businesses including the popular Brick Lane Cookie Company, Amanda is already working on her second book. Encouraging others to read, Amanda hopes her success will inspire others to write as she subscribes to the thought that everyone has an interesting story to relate.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always been an avid reader from a really young age, so writing always seemed like a logical step for me. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to be a “writer.” I just started writing because it gave me joy, and everything else came from there.

What is the genre of this book?

It falls under the lesser known sub-genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy called Steampunk. When I started writing the book, I definitely did not start out by picking this genre. After I developed the plot and the characters, I realized that my story could only be accommodated in this particular genre, and so I started building this world. It soon became something I fell in love with, and one of the features that I enjoyed writing the most.

What is the name of the book you wrote?

My book is called ‘The Other One.’
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I’ve always been very self-conscious of my writing, because I write about themes that are deeply personal to me (whether readers pick up on this or not) This was my first time writing something creative for the public, and I had no way of knowing whether I was any good or if anything I wrote would be well-received. So, the hardest thing for me definitely was mustering up the courage to put myself out there.

Why did you decide to self publish?

There were two main reasons why I decided to take this route. Firstly, like I said, this is my first foray in to writing, and I had no idea how this would be received. The traditional publishing route could take years for your book to appear on a shelf, and I wanted my feedback sooner than that. Next, I did approach a few international literary agents, but because I had written a book that wasn’t based in Sri Lanka or dealt with the war or the tsunami, I felt I got quite boxed out. The expectation of a Sri Lankan writer is that they would write something a bit more “exotic,” so I felt that I wasn’t taken very seriously in this genre.

What does this “win” mean to you?

I’m a self-published, first time writer, writing in a genre that few people in Sri Lanka have heard of to begin with. This win means everything to me. It’s given me a lot of validation amongst readers, and also given me confidence in my work. What really impacted me was the feedback I received from the judges.

To know that a group of scholarly critiques read through my book and really dug through to capture it’s essence was the highlight of the whole event. I’m really grateful to Fairway for giving writers a platform like this, and I hope my win inspires other self-published writers to come forward.
Any other books in the pipeline?

I am working full-steam-ahead on No. 2. If all things go according to plan, I hope to have the first draft out by the middle of the year. It’s not a sequel to The Other One, but it is set in the same universe, about 10 years in to the future of where the story left off. There will be a whole new set of characters, and I’m really excited to explore this new story.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

The Other One was approached quite haphazardly— I wrote out these characters first, and only started outlining after I got a good sense of how I wanted these characters to face their arcs. In hindsight, it’s why the book took me as long as it did. For the next book, I’ve outlined it a little more tightly, which has given me the ability to write more clearly. I’m a big fan of plot twists and big reveals, and that would be quite difficult to do if I didn’t have a clear direction.
Do you subscribe to the thought that anyone can be an author?

I think everyone has a story to tell. But it’s how they choose to tell this story that matters.

How would you inspire young people to write?

By asking them to read. Once you realize that imagination has no boundaries, there’s really no telling how far you could go.

How has your book been received by Sri Lankan authors?

I’ve received mostly positive feedback, which has been a relief. I think the biggest challenge has been convincing people that even though the genre is sci-fi, the story is far more character driven than one would think.

Were there ever any times that you struggled?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who says they’ve never struggled. I’ve struggled with writer’s-block, with outlining, with people “not getting” my story, with finding the time to write, with questioning if I was even any good, with navigating my way through self-publishing. But at the end of the day, this is what I love to do, and if you understand that struggling is just a part of the process, then you learn to channel all these struggles into creating something positive.

What is the main thing you want readers to take from your book?

That people are nuanced. In life, there are often no good guys and bad guys the way we are are led to believe. People are just different shades of grey, and everyone has their own reasons and their own stories for the way they turn out.

Why did you transition from cookies to books?

I haven’t really transitioned, because I still run The Brick Lane Cookie Company, along with carrying out corporate trainings on communication skills development and working on Save Your Monkey, an insurance startup that we launched last year.
What motivates you during creative slumps?

I just try to accept everything as a part of the process. If something is just not working, I try not to force it. I’ll either work on something else and return to it later, or take a break from writing completely and go for a walk, listen to music, or read something else.

How do you perfect that work- life balance?

I don’t think I’ve perfected it, but it does help that I genuinely enjoy what I do. I also make it a point to set clear goals for myself, and I reflect on these goals often to make sure I’m on track.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I’m trying my best to be more disciplined about my writing, because I really feel that I get better when I write regularly. It’s tough at times, because work tends to get in the way, but I try my best to guard my writing time. I am a very emotional writer though, so somedays I get pages and pages just flowing through, and other days I will stare at a single paragraph on my laptop screen for hours, questioning why I ever wanted to write in the first place.

Which writers inspire you?

That’s a really tough question because writers inspire me in different ways. I think one of my favourite writers are Neil Gaiman, because of the way he applies such poignant themes to otherwise fantastical and whimsical subjects. I love Audrey Niffenegger for how she uses science fiction to provide a backdrop for a very character driven narrative. And I think J K Rowling is a walking testament of perseverance and taking all of life’s challenges and channelling it in to something magnificent.
What motivated you to submit the book for the Fairway National Literary Awards?

I think every reader in Sri Lanka has heard of the Fairway Galle Literary Festival, and I had heard about the Fairway National Literary Award through that. While I was writing my book, I always thought to myself that I would love to submit my novel, and I’m really glad that I did.

Text : Tina Edward Gunawardhana
Photography : Siyath Ranathunge
Hair and Make up : Dil Sapukotange
Stylist : Jude Gayantha Perera
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