Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Chhimi Tendul-La. Chhimi and I met about four years ago in the online peer-review group YouWriteOn and have kept in touch ever since. Half Tibetan, half English, Chhimi grew up in Hong Kong, England and India, before moving to Colombo where he has lived, on and off, since 1982. Educated at Eton and Durham, he manages an international school in Colombo. His first two novels, The Amazing Racist and Panther were released in 2015 and his third will be on the shelves in 2016. Chhimi is married with two young children.
Are you a morning person, or a midnight candle burner, Chhimi?
Both. I am not a great sleeper, so when I am writing to a publisher’s deadline, I edit late at night and write at 5am. To edit, I use my kindle to read back what I have written that day and highlight places I need to make changes. This works well for me because when I get up the next morning I am excited about getting to my computer.
That’s a great tactic. If you could morph into any creature what would it be?
A koala bear because all they have to do is eat and sleep. If they could learn how to use a TV remote control and how to smoke cigarettes, they would have the perfect life.
Ha! If your life were a movie would it be considered an action film, comedy, drama, romance, fantasy or a combination?
I sway from being spectacularly lazy to being a real go-getter, so it might be a movie with a slow beginning and an action-packed end. It would almost certainly be a comedy only because I stay clear of serious conversations, and if someone shares their problems with me my reaction is to tell a joke. My wife would say it could not possibly be a romance.
Aw, bless! Let’s talk about your writing now. Do you write long hand first, or does it go straight onto the computer?
Straight on the computer. I simply no longer have the skill to write by hand at all. At a book signing a lady looked at what I wrote and said, ‘I travelled three hours for this scribbling mess? It looks like you were just testing your pen.’
Hahaha! Are you a “sit down and play it by ear” kind of writer, or do you need a structured guideline, or maybe a little of both?
I always pretend to myself that I plan what I am going to write, but it changes enormously as I go along. In fact, sometimes I get into a zone where I barely think what I am writing and just let it go. At times, I read it back and think, wow, how did I come up with that? Or I wonder if I am drunk. I wish I could work to a structured guideline but I am not patient enough to do so. I just want to start and finish a book as soon as possible and hope that I fluke something clever and moderately readable.
So, is location important in your books?
I only write about Sri Lanka for now, because I know it so well and it provides a setting rich with unique characters, smells and noises. The reviews I like most, more than those in the press, are the ones from travellers to the country who say my books were great companions on their journey – or better still if someone says they were encouraged to visit because of my books (they are likely lying but still).
I don’t think they’re lying at all. You evoke your setting beautifully. Generally speaking, is your work based on real life experience?
Yes, absolutely. I try to write what I know so that I do not lose my sense of reality. Both my books are based in schools, as is my work. The lead character in The Amazing Racist has a daughter the same age as mine, and Sri Lankan in-laws. There are numerous examples of how my life infiltrates my writing. Having said that, the lead in Panther is a child soldier, which I am not, and if I am very honest, at my age that ship has sailed.
What are you working on now? Would you like to share anything about it?
We have just had another baby so I am not writing for a while. However, I am about half way through a book about a man, adopted at birth and taken to England, returning to Sri Lanka to meet his birth mother. In the process he discovers some fairly shocking family secrets, as he tries to discover who is father is.
Sounds fantastic. Tell us about your most recently released book, please, Chhimi.
I had two books published this year by the Indian arms of Hachette and HarperCollins. Panther is the more recent of these, and is about a former child soldier winning a cricket scholarship to an elite Colombo school. It is available worldwide on all the sites I can think of.
How can readers find you?
Fab! It was lovely chatting with you. All the best with your writing and congratulations on the birth of your son.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Siobhan.