By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I can edit what I have already written but not what I have already said. So in a first draft of a story, I can say whatever I want in a way I can’t when I speak. This makes writing enormous fun. Also, with age I am getting worse at everything else I enjoy doing, such as sports and looking human. With writing, I imagine I will get better with time.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Loyal Stalkers is a collection of linked short stories. An author who read it told me that it was like a painting coming to life with each chapter filling in the colours of one other corner of that painting. With it I want to challenge assumptions about gender roles, sexuality, etc. With each story I think there is a message; for example, that the fear of shame can break up families and ruin futures. There is a lot in there about what is wrong with society, but my hope above all else is that people will find it compelling, moving and surprising.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I am terrified of a reader being bored so I try to get in and out of a story or scene as quickly and as smoothly as possible. I try to be punchy, sometimes almost rap-like. I try to create rhythm. I want to surprise and shock, make people laugh or cry. I try not to be overly descriptive because as a reader I like to fill in the blanks and imagine settings for myself. In some ways I write imagining my stories as a movie. I imagine the soundtrack and the dramatic pauses. Because of this I try my very best to make my dialogue as punchy and as natural as possible and in this regard I am influenced more by say, Tarantino, than any author.
Who are your favorite authors?
For their style of writing, Mohsin Hamid and Chuck Palahniuk. I like short, punchy novels. I also love reading books written by Sri Lankan authors. I would love to list all my favourites but am worried I may leave someone out and will then be bumped off.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Love scenes because I prefer to write about things I have experienced. More honestly, I was extra stressed when asked to write a seven-sentence story for Unicef because I thought it would be extremely difficult to challenge emotions with so few words.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Sitting in front of the TV, holding my wife’s hand, looking into her beautiful eyes and saying, “Don’t worry, there are only 7 more overs to go and then the match will be finished.”
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
The April humidity in Colombo. When I step outside air-conditioning, at this time of year, I carry a bag of china with me so I can smash something every few seconds.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
I would take a dictionary to find out what boondocks means. I would also take each of my three books, purely because if I am stuck in the middle of nowhere I may as well try to be productive and use my time to improve my own writing.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
My wife’s handbag because anything could be in there; her wallet, my wallet, her car keys, my car keys, my Kindle, some pizza, our kids, the black box from MH370.
If you asked my wife, Samantha, the same question she would probably say the house keys.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
It’s okay to be content with your life without chasing other people’s dreams.
Half-Tibetan, half-English, Chhimi Tenduf-La manages an international school in Sri Lanka, where he has lived, on and off, for thirty years. As father to two energetic children and husband to an implacable wife, Tenduf-La uses his only time to himself to write. His first two books, The Amazing Racist and Panther, were published in 2015 to wide acclaim.