GLF 2024 DAY 03

Feb 01 2024.

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Two masters of the thriller genre, Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider series, the Diamond Brothers series) and Amanda Jayatissa (My Sweet Girl, Island Witch) joined author Chhimmi Tenduf-La in a discussion about writing thrillers and making it great.

Can murder mysteries do more? questioned Horowitz, “I’m tired of the ‘butler did it’ trope. Its boring and hacked. If you are writing a thriller, it’s important to make sure that every story is really different from each other.” He added that making up unique storylines is getting harder and harder every day because “even the most absurd things have taken place already!”. “Every single Alex Rider book has happened in some sort of way because I would get all sorts of newspaper clippings from all over the world saying ‘hey – isn’t this your story?’” Do they ever think then that someone might copy their stories in real life?

Jayatissa, whose debut novel My Sweet Girl won the International Thriller Writer’s Award for Best First Novel laughs as she tells the audience “She sincerely hopes not”.  After her debut novel, Jayatissa published You’re Invited and is expected to publish her third novel Island Witch in February. When asked whether she writes with her reader in mind, she shared that in the genre of thrillers, ‘there is no audience inside the book’. “I write more for me than for the audience. In thrillers, whether you want the ending to be happy or not is a conscious choice you have to make. I write what I feel is right.”

Wonderfully moderated by Tenduf-La, both Horowitz and Jayatissa had an engaging session that gave the audience an insight to the workings of a good thriller.

Whit-“I think it was one of the funniest panels. I thought it was interesting because people who write thrillers have a really tough time that this is gruesome material that they are writing, but I love how he was talking about bringing the character through the visceral emotions of what murder really is.”

Ruqiah -“I’m a huge fan of murder mystery and I grew up reading it. Listening to how they were talking about it was interesting. For me as a reader, I enjoy constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing it. To get a backstage glimpse into it was lovely.” 

 Tharanya  - “I read thrillers from a small age, my love for reading came from those books. They gave a lot of interesting points as to how they came about the plot and then built around it. Great session” 



Two literary giants and long-standing friends of the festival, Sebastian Faulks and Romesh Gunesekera joined former Festival curator Jill Macdonald to converse about two special books celebrating 30 years since its publication that put these writers on the map.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks was published in 1993, a war novel that uncovered the lives of a British soldier on the front lines during the First World War and his granddaughter attempting to understand his experiences of the war. Birdsong was one of Faulk’s best-received works, earning critical acclaim for Faulk’s successful attempt to bring public awareness to the experience of war remembered by veterans.

Reef by Romesh Gunasekera was published in 1994, a historical fiction novel of a talented young chef named Triton committed to pleasing his master, a marine biologist obsessed with the sea and marine life, oblivious to the political unrest bubbling and threatening his country. Reef was Gunasekera’s debut novel and was incredibly well received, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of The Economist Book of the Month, New Voice Award and the Premio Mondello Five Continents Asia Prize.

At their session, the two writers looked back at these two novels and engaged in a dialogue that contrasted and complimented their work, discussing at length the creative process behind the books and how important it is to strive for factual accuracy when penning a book set back in time. “All writers do intensive research when they write but even then, there are little facts that still get askew. The great thing about fictional writing is that it doesn’t have to be truthful, it just has to be convincing” said Faulks.

Looking back at three decades of their work, the two also commented on how these books were received by readers then and now. “The relationship a writer has with their readers is very interesting. Personally, I think it’s fascinating to see that there are readers who lose themselves in the writings of someone’s ridiculous solitude” commented Gunesekera.

The session wrapped up with readings by both authors of experts from their respective books.  



It was a full house for beloved author Alexander McCall Smith. The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series writer has been a global favourite for almost a quarter of a century and with over 100 books under his belt and with many more to come, McCall Smith joined Hen Tatham for a serious and yet utterly unserious conversation about books, writing and life.

“Have you ever been compared to a serial killer because you are a serial writer?” asked Hen, a question to which McCall Smith admits that he is somewhat of a serial novelist stating that he feels compelled to write at least 2000-3000 words a day, quite like going to the gym,  “you know how if you don’t go to the gym, even just for one day, you feel uneasy? I have that same uneasiness if I don’t sit down and write a few thousand words a day – after all, I write five books a year, there must be some discipline involved!”

Having just finalized yet another novel, McCall Smith tells the audience that he’s already writing another, even while he’s in Galle. McCall Smith also surprised the audience with a recital of a few of his poems titled ‘Language of Pilots’ and ‘Nocturnal Blessing’ before starting a fun bidding war midst session to give away his books to the audience.

All in all, the session was incredibly hilarious. Despite being one of the world’s most prolific writers, McCall Smith doesn’t take himself too seriously and shows the audience that not only is he funny on paper, but he’s also incredibly witty and genuine in person. To nobody’s surprise, McCall Smith received a roaring standing ovation from the crowd at the end of his session.

Deepthi- “I think Alexander McCall Smith by default is extremely entertaining. It’s a given that whenever there is a session with him you come away feeling that you have been entertained and informed and you don’t feel the hour go by. It’s like having a friend over. We came from India for the festival and we are incredibly delighted that GLF was back!” 

Keerthi- “I’m a huge fan! I really enjoyed the session. His poetry is something new. He’s so creative – these are things that AI could never do. Alexander McCall Smith is more and more evidence that we can never replace human writers ” 

Durriah- “I loved him! He’s one of my favourite authors and I have been a fan of his for many, many years. I am fortunate I saw him before in Galle last time and this time again. He’s so funny and witty and his books are great. A wonderful session again.”

Sue-“I love the session; it was just a laugh from start to finish and I loved the poem about the pilots! I just think he’s got such an amazing sense of humour.” 



Author of An Island’s Eleven, a finely woven chronicle of Sri Lanka’s cricketing history, Nicholas Brookes was in conversation with highly acclaimed sports journalist, Andrew Fidel Fernando as they spoke about the country’s fantastic history with the sport and the players responsible for it.

Brooke’s book, published in 2022, was immediately the recipient of rave reviews – many commending the author for a comprehensive and entertaining telling of immortalizing the history of the game, but also capturing of the spirit of cricket in this country. With roots in Jamaica, Brookes could have easily written a book about West Indies cricket but something about Sri Lanka drew him in. “I have always loved cricket and I was a huge fan of the Sri Lankan team growing up in the 90s. But one day, a Pakistan cricket writer alerted me to the fact that no one has really written a book about Sri Lankan cricket, and I immediately knew I wanted to do it. I felt this real sense of vitality and urgency to do this project because I felt like a huge portion of Sri Lankan cricket was about to disappear and something had to be done now, before all was lost.”

Brookes came to Sri Lanka in 2017 to write the book and met many people in his search for the stories people were yet to know. At the session, Brookes engaged in a casual conversation with Fidel about the historical players that shaped cricketing history – MK Albert, M. Sathasivam, De Saram, Aravinda, Sanath, Murali, Sangakkara and more.

Nicholas Brookes fantastic understanding of Sri Lankan cricket, its little anecdotes and titbits combined with Andrew Fidel interjecting ever so often to add into the conversation made for a great event.

Rupert- “Brilliant really, I didn’t understand how complicated the history of Sri Lankan cricket was. Nicholas Brookes and Fidel captured the audience with their talk” 

Thushan-“I played cricket during my school days also so it was a very interesting session.
I learnt a lot about Sri Lankan cricket history today” 

Hemaka -“It was a great talk. We had a great team in 96 – every player back then was above average. You go back to Sathasivam and De Saram, the same standards. It was a good session but I think time was not enough to cover some other great players”  

PiX by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe, Nisal Baduge


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