Romesh Gunesekera was born in Sri Lanka in 1954 and moved to Britain in the 1970s. Author of eight works of fiction, his first novel, Reef, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994. Gunesekera is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He has two daughters and lives with his wife in north London.
Which books are currently on your bedside table?
Due to redecorations, no bedside table. But Pirandello’s short stories, Han Suyin’s And the Rain My Drink and an early edition of my new book Noontide Toll, which I need to check for typos.
What book changed your life?
With Gabriel García Márquez’s death, many writers have mentioned the significance of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read it in 1975 and was intoxicated. It set me off on a magic realist diversion for far too long, but it got me into my first attempt at a novel and for that I am grateful.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
I didn’t, until after years of wanting to I suddenly found I had become one.
What is your daily writing routine?
Horace’s “Nulla dies sine linea” is a good motto for anyone who wants to write. A line a day, every day, is hard to do, never mind the couple of hundred a day you really need. I try to do whatever I can before quite waking up.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
For my novel Heaven’s Edge , I thought it would be useful to know what it would be like to put a helicopter into a spin. I took a flying lesson and we flew over Richard Branson’s mansion, which I took to be an Icarus-like warning.
What do you snack on while you write?
Nothing. It helps to pretend that the words themselves will provide all the nourishment you need. In any case, writing doesn’t offer a lot of exercise and snacking should be resisted, unless it is the only thing that works.
Which literary character most resembles you?
I find a bit of me in Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the impossible and another part in Bartleby the Scrivener’s determination to do nothing because he prefers not to.
Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?
Charlie Chaplin, who already has a small part in my life having had tea with my mother in one of her many baffling encounters. He might see the funny side of things.
When do you feel most free?
In the middle of a story I am writing, when I no longer worry about where to start, and don’t need to worry about where I am going and all the world and more is there to be explored.
How do you relax?
Daydream and procrastinate until it is too late to do anything.
What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?
“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
What would you go back and change?
The business in the Garden of Eden.
What does it mean to be a writer?
Romesh Gunesekera will discuss his new novel, ‘Noontide Toll’, at Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival on May 20. asiahouse.org/events/new-pan-asian-fiction