Empire’s Children by Patricia Weerakoon recently won the Caleb Prize for faith-inspired fiction at the Omega Writers Conference. Rhiza Press caught up with Patricia to discuss her novel and what it means to her.
1) Sum up Empire’s Children in one catchy sentence.
Set in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka in the dying days of British colonial rule, Empire's Children is a story of the redemptive power of love over the destructive force of exploitative power, racial tensions and abuse.
2) What first impelled you to write this story?
My father was a tea-maker during the time of British colonial rule of the plantations in Sri Lanka. This novel is both recognition of and a dedication to the Sri Lankan natives like my parents and the Indian indentured labourers like Lakshmi and her parents, who made a life under difficult and often demeaning circumstances.
3) Empire’s Children follows so many individual stories. Did you have a favourite, or one you liked writing the most?
Dr Jega Jayaseelan is my favorite. The illegitimate son of the British superintendent and Indian coolie labourer turned sex worker, he has the resilience to withstand the prejudices of Sri Lankan culture towards Eurasian children and makes an outstanding career for himself. Yet, when faced with the decision, he is unselfish and self-sacrificing enough to give up Shiro, the girl he loves, to his half-brother Anthony so they could find happiness.
4) Which character do you think readers most relate to in the novel?
I hope they relate to Shiro. She is feisty, brilliant and determined, yet deeply vulnerable when it comes to love.
5) Even though it is set in Sri Lanka fifty years ago, do you think there are a lot of parallels to modern day Australia?
Racial prejudices and power play between the rich and poor across countries, cultures and time.
6) What is your favourite part about being an author?
I live with my characters. My readers see only a sliver of my characters’ lives, I know them intimately. I know what happened in their life before they enter the page and what they do long after. They wake up with me and walk through the day by my side.
7) What is the hardest part about being an author?
Letting go of my characters when I move to another novel or story.
8) Explain how you felt when Empire’s Children won the Caleb Award?
Unbelief! My first novel! Surely, it couldn’t be that good? Then a deep gratitude for the recognition from my peers.
Read the award-winning Empire's Children for yourself.