Australia

I want to write romance that’s not soft porn, says author

Patricia Weerakoon, who laughingly calls herself a 70-year-old Christian sexologist, is excited about her latest novel, Snowy Summer, which is set partly in her homeland of Sri Lanka, on a tea plantation, and partly in her favourite place in Australia, the Snowy Mountains.

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The author and speaker says the novel is aimed at Christians looking for romance, suspense and mystery in a style that doesn’t involve soft porn but is true to life, edgy and exciting enough to keep them turning the pages.

“It comes together in a tale of high treason and excitement and romance,” she says.

“We have Annie, a doctor in Sydney, who has agreed to an arranged marriage in Sri Lanka, but there she finds out that her fiancé is involved in a criminal conspiracy and she’s back in Australia in witness protection in Jindabyne.

“And we have Roy, millionaire businessman, here on an alpaca farm, running a business and keeping a secret for his father. Do these young people have a future or will the secrets they keep tear them apart?”

The new novel comes three years after the Sri Lankan-Australian doctor made her debut as a novelist, with Empire’s Children, which won the Caleb Prize for Christian fiction in 2016.

“You go to a library and you pick books that are called romance and they are not even soft porn, they’re just porn!” – Patricia Weerakoon

As a Christian sexologist, Patricia is primarily known for her non-fiction titles such as Growing up by the Book and Teen Sex. She tells Eternity that she started writing fiction after she retired from Sydney University at age 65 because she saw a gap in the market that needed filling.

“Why I started writing and why I continue writing in that genre is that you go to a library and you pick books that are called romance and they are not even soft porn, they’re just porn!” she explains.

“Unless you go into [Christian bookseller] Koorong and get the books which are really preachily Christian and super sweet, it’s hard to get in a regular library a book that is exciting, a little edgy, keeps you reading, but still hasn’t everybody jumping into bed in Chapter 2. And I was, like, we should have books out there that Christians actually read and be entertained by as well as be informed – which is why I have the theme of social conscience.”

As well as featuring at least one explicitly Christian character, Patricia likes to build her stories of romance and suspense through the working out of social themes and personal redemption. In Snowy Summer, she tackles the subject of sex trafficking in vulnerable poverty-stricken groups, while Empire’s Children portrays the exploitative evils of the hierarchical society of her Sri Lankan childhood.

“To remember how my proud father had to behave to the British superintendent … still makes me want to weep.” – Patricia Weerakoon

Empire’s Children centres on a friendship between Shiro, the daughter of a native tea-maker, and Lakshmi, an Indian child labourer who works on the plantation. Patricia describes her first novel is as a “tongue-in-cheek” take on her own life as the precious only daughter of a Tamil tea-maker who was destined for an arranged marriage but rebelled and married a Singhalese.

“I am the daughter of a tea-maker. A tea-maker was the staff member in charge of the tea factory – basically in charge of the tea manufacturing process. I grew up on the tea plantation at the time when the plantations were owned by the British (The Empire). The Superintendents were British. The ‘natives’ were employed at the level of ‘bookkeepers’ (low level accountants) and tea-maker. Indian indentured labourers were used to work the machinery (men) and pluck tea (women) – called ‘coolies’. There was no social mixing between the three groups.

“Even as a child I found this hierarchical life on the plantation irksome …To remember how my proud father had to behave to the British superintendent – the way I have portrayed in Empire’s Children still makes me want to weep.”

“Even now, I can close my eyes and be transported back to the hills. And see, smell and feel the atmosphere – smells – wind…” – Patricia Weerakoon

The redemptive element of Empire’s Children is in the restitution of Lakshmi while in Snowy Summer it is Roy’s struggle to be loyal to his dad and find a girl who shares his values.

Patricia says she has the twists and turns of the plot in her mind before she starts writing, but “then I just throw myself in and start writing. I have the plot but then I go and interview people over and over again to get the details.”

While researching Empire’s Children, she revisited the tea plantation where she was born many times, and while writing Snowy Summer she did many interviews with rangers and people in Jindabyne.

“I need to love the geographic location I place my characters in,” she says.

“The tea plantations are where I grew up. Even now, I can close my eyes and be transported back to the hills. And see, smell and feel the atmosphere – smells – wind…

“The snowy mountains and Jindabyne is our summer vacation location for the last 27 years. My husband loves climbing Mount Kosciuszko. He has climbed it 131 times. Jindabyne is like a second home to us.”

She has already completed the draft of her third novel, Nullarbor Heat –  a mystery set on the Indian Pacific, which she has travelled three times.

She is now researching her next novel, which will be aimed at the young adult market.

“It has a bit of time travel into it, where these kids go back 900 years in Australia and see what happened during the detention centres and asylum-seekers in detention because a lot of people have no idea what’s happening in detention centres. I want to put that in as a sort of social conscience theme into a young adults novel so that young people can read it and think ‘we live in luxury in our homes and we never hear what’s happening behind the barbed wire.’”

“To me, the creative writing is actually my relaxation … it’s my fun time.” – Patricia Weerakoon

For research on this subject, she would love to interview a refugee but thinks she may have to rely on interviewing friends who work with them because, even though she is a Tamil, she has a Singhalese name, and  Tamil refugees don’t want to talk to a Singhalese.”

Being primarily a non-fiction writer, Patricia’s initial fiction style was a little too academic, so she did a couple of courses at the Australian Writers Centre, where presenter Pamela Freeman helped her develop the first two chapters of Empire’s Children.

She says the hardest part of creative writing is finding a block of time to do it when she is so caught up in what she has to do on the speaking circuit.

“To me, the creative writing is actually my relaxation. It not like for full time writers, it’s their job. For me, my creative writing is my fun time.”

Her mother told her that when she was just four or five years old, she would make up stories and do what her mother called ‘Imagine and play’, so “maybe I was always a fiction creator – now a writer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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