Never having written a book before, I had absolutely no idea what writing one would involve. I remember
reading of a famous author having once said that ‘writing books is the closest men ever come to
childbearing’. Never having been in that position myself, I can say from observing the entire process, it
seems a little bit like that. A lot of screaming and tears. Thankfully not a lot of blood.
The big difference is that producing a baby takes nine months. But writing a book takes much longer. It
took me a total of two years to get to where I am today! One year to learn how to be a creative writer
and another year to actually write and publish the book.
My Scottish grandfather introduced me to reading at a very young age. He would borrow books from his
old friend Mr Lanerolle who owned a bookshop in Bambalapitiya, bringing them home for us to read,
before returning them to be sold in the bookshop. Being a prolific reader, I had always wanted to write
a book. I read my first Wilbur Smith novel which was set in Africa in the late 60s, and I was hooked. I
wanted to write adventure stories set in an exotic place like Africa.
Wilbur Smith came to Australia often and in a TV interview once said ‘write about things you know well,
and write for yourself. Not for your publisher or for some imagined reader. Dedicate yourself to your
calling, but read widely and look at the world around you, travel and live your life to the full, so that
you will always have something fresh to write about.’ Wilbur Smith went onto write thirty four books
and at 81 is still writing today.
It was advice I have taken very much to heart. Getting close to an age that people around me were
talking about what they would be doing after retirement, I decided to do what I had dreamt about most
of my adult life, to become a published author.
The makings of the story I wanted to write was already there in the back of my mind. When I was serving
with the UN Peacekeeping Forces in Lebanon in the late seventies, I met a young Sri Lankan man who
told me an incredible story of how he had ended in that country. You often hear it being said that ‘truth
is stranger than fiction’ and in this case, what I was hearing made me realize the truth of that saying.
So when I sat down to write the book in early 2012 I used this young man’s incredible story as the basis
for the narrative.
The story is set in Lebanon and Sri Lanka, both very exotic places, around real events that happened
in the two countries in the early eighties. It was the very beginning of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a time
that many people have either forgotten about, or having been born later, are not familiar with.
Sacred Tears is written from the perspective of the two smallest minority groups on the island, the
Moors and the Burghers, and how the war affected their lives.
When I started on my writers journey, I spent 3-months writing about 300 double spaced pages. During
that time, always in the back of my mind, there was this nagging doubt whether I had it in me to be
a successful writer. Deciding to get a professional editor to review what I had written, my journey to
become a published author really started from this point. I was directed to a literary editor by Professor
Yasmine Gooneratne, the result being a comprehensive review of the narrative, and of my writing.
The lady whose name was Diana Giese, wrote in the review that the subjects I was writing about were
topical and very interesting and would attract many readers. But Diana’s conclusion was that I was not
a creative writer. She said that I was ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ and if I wanted to be a successful
writer of fiction, I needed to ‘show’ the reader what was happening in the narrative and allow the
reader to create a picture in their mind. She picked out a list of around twenty topics from the pages
she had reviewed and suggested that I write factual short stories, or, she said, do a creative writing
course and learn the skill.
Frankly, I was not surprised by her assessment. I had come from a technical, product marketing
background, telling customers most of my corporate life, how these products worked and how they
would help in their businesses.
Blue Black & Blue Ball 2014 Writing short stories did not interest me so I decided to do a creative writing course. Not happy with
the courses being offered at various institutes and universities in Melbourne, I stumbled across an online
creative writing course offered by a lady living in Byron Bay.
Sarah Armstrong is an award winning radio and TV journalist who had wanted, like me, to become a
creative writer. She realized that being a journalist was not the best occupation to be in when trying
to be creative so she quit her job in Sydney, moved to Byron Bay and wrote a critically acclaimed novel
called ‘Salt Rain’. She started a creative writing school with her author husband Alan Close, offering
creative writing courses online and ran a writer’s retreat every year for new and aspiring authors.
To cut a long story short, I contacted her and signed up for a six-month creative writing course. After
about 5-months of weekly exercises where I learnt the ‘science’ of creative writing, she told me that my
writing had ‘improved out of sight’ and that I was ready to begin my new career as a creative writer.
When I first contacted Sarah, I learnt that when she was working for the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation in the late 90′s, she had spent 3-months producing a documentary on the civil war in Sri
Lanka. This was a moment of serendipity for me and throughout the course I toyed with the idea of
asking her to be my editor. I popped the question when she told me I was ready and to my great delight
she accepted. We worked together for the next six months, rewriting the book half a dozen times until
we were both happy with the result.
The reason I am telling you this is that you never write a book alone. I could never have done it without
the people who helped me emotionally, intellectually and by just being supportive during this period.
Just recently I was asked whether I consider myself an author? I said that if I had been asked that
question a year ago I would have said no. But today, maybe!
‘Why only maybe?, I was asked. ‘After all you have written and published a book.’
The reality is that I have a lot more to learn and a long way to go before becoming a really good writer.
But after reading the generous comments and reviews left by readers on the Sacred Tears website and
on Amazon and other online bookstores; maybe, just maybe I can think of myself as an author.
I have lots of stories to tell but that alone is not enough. One important thing I did learn through all
of this is what F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, ‘Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole bunch of
people trying to be one person.’
Roderic Grigson, Stone House, STC Mt Lavinia 1964 – 1971, STC Prep 1958 – 1963