Lock down interview no 4 C.A. Limina interviews Shamini Sriskandarajah


Shamini Sriskandarajah

Shamini Sriskandarajah is interviewed by fellow Story Cities author, C.A. Limina (known as Cal)


Cal:        Your story in Story Cities, “Coffee”, had an atmosphere of clairvoyance, where the narrator implies a troubled interpersonal relationship from a seemingly trifle thing to an audience that acts as an outsider to the dynamic (at least from my personal interpretation). Was the story inspired from a real life experience, or was it inspired by something else?

Shamini:              It was inspired by a real experience. Not a peace-making cake, but a cake I baked and iced for a couple who came over. The wife suddenly wanted to leave after lunch, so I offered to serve the cake before they left or at least wrap some up for them to take home, but she said no. In our Sri Lankan culture, it is somewhat impolite to turn down homemade food, but maybe it isn’t even a cultural thing; maybe anyone would feel offended if they made something for someone and it was refused for no apparent reason.
The dynamic between the two people in Coffee was inspired more generally by the use of silence as a punishment. I trained as a psychotherapist and we were encouraged to use silence to give clients space to think or sit with their feelings. I think there’s value in using short moments of silence, but prolonged silence is a form of punishment for many people. I’ve experienced silence as a punishment throughout my life and it’s excruciating.
Saying all this, I have been that unforgiving person more times than I care to remember. My default behaviour when I’m offended is to sulk, I’m aware it is horrible for other people and I hope I don’t sulk half as much as I used to. Or at least, not for as long!

Cal:        In general, what do you hope to achieve as a writer? For example, do you intend all your pieces to have underlying messages for readers to pick up, are your pieces more experiments in catharsis, or is it something else?

 Shamini:             It’s certainly cathartic to write – even answering your questions has been therapeutic for me. When I was studying therapy for my Master’s, I wrote in my journals about my gender, sexuality, my muddled sense of class and ethnicity, and I’ve continued to write about them and re-evaluate my thoughts and experiences. The articles I write for academic journals are informed by my feminism and ethnicity. Identity and culture also play a big part in my life writing, including my being a single woman who does not have children. My hope is that readers will identify with elements of my experiences or my take on the world, that it might help them to feel less of an outsider or to be gentler with themselves. If they don’t particularly relate to my writing but they enjoy reading it, that would be wonderful, too.

Cal:        What’s on your bookshelf (digital or otherwise)? Do you tend to lean more into certain genres, binge-read certain authors, or are you more lax about your tastes? What do you wish you could read more of?

 Shamini:             I used to read loads and read fast. I studied English for five years at university twenty years ago, so I read a lot of classics and modern classics. I definitely used to binge-read an author once I got into them – I went through a Dennis Cooper phase when I was in my early twenties and remember reading one of his books on the bus on my way to church, which is so bizarre given the kind of stuff he writes.
I worked in publishing for ten years, so I accumulated a whole bookcase of new books. We had book sales every quarter where new books that were recalled because they had a typo or something would be sold for £1 or less, with the money going to a charity that we nominated. There would be a stampede in the afternoon when we got the “All books 20p!” email. Because I was earning a decent wage, I’d often have bookshop dates after work, where we’d go to Hatchards or the huge Waterstones on Piccadilly and spend all evening there.
I have become a slow reader, it’s harder to concentrate and I read less than I would like to. Also, I earn very little now, so I find it harder to justify buying more books (of course there are times I cave in).  Of course, I write much more these days, so I forgive myself if I ignore the unread books on my shelves and pick up a familiar George Orwell or Gillian Flynn again.
I don’t really have a particular genre. I try to read more of the genres I’m writing, to broaden my understanding. So I’ve been reading more poetry, travel writing (I’m trying desperately to find some writing by women who aren’t screamingly middle class and whose writing would pass the Bechdel test) and memoirs. Because I need a kick to concentrate and read properly, I find the best place to read is the British Library. You can’t take books out, so you have to read there. I really miss it now we’re in lockdown. I used to buy the heavy, literary award-winners, but they would usually sit there unread. Reading for pleasure should be pleasurable. I had a cull last year and it was liberating to hand over two bags of books to my local library. Those books will never guilt-trip me again!
At the moment, I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which has been on my to-read list for a while. Her tone is lovely, and I can identify with the way she processes her grief by walking and journaling, and how she experiences her femaleness. A lot of my writing is about loss, so I’m curious to see how other writers express theirs. I’m listening to the audiobook of Calypso by David Sedaris. A wonderful writer called Wendy Moore helped me to hone my life writing and recommended Calypso, then I did a short course on memoir-writing at Goldsmith’s University and the teacher also recommended it. I flicked through the paperback in a bookshop a few months ago, but now I’m enjoying hearing Sedaris read out his own words. He’s got a great voice. His writing is so ebullient and funny, the sad moments catch me unawares and are all the more powerful for it. Some of the women from my memoir course formed an online life writing group and book club, so we’ve got an incentive to write and read regularly.
I want to read more women and people who identify as non-binary – many of the memoirs I’ve enjoyed reading about grief happen to be by men. I didn’t enjoy Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, having said that, a lovely writer and editor friend called Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou gently confronted my “should”: she said it was important to hear more women’s critical voices, regardless of what our preferences or inspirations are. She’s right, but I need to think more about why I connect with white, male writing when so much of my writing is about not being white or male. The women memoirists I enjoy the most are the ones who write about the crappy parts of life but are funny with it – Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Sara Pascoe’s Animal and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted.

Cal:        Obligatory quarantine inquiry! Some people have reported losing track of days or having vivid dreams/nightmares while in lockdown. If you’re practicing social distancing (which most of the world is), have you experienced any odd mental, emotional or spiritual shifts since you’ve been isolated? Has it had an impact on your creative or professional life?

 Shamini:             I’ve definitely had more nightmares. I’ve probably seen too many horror films, but I was terrified of the lockdown at first, and thought I could hear the front door being kicked in one night. So no more horror films and I’ve cut down my news consumption. I still watch The Walking Dead, which feels rather prophetic, but until zombies become real, it remains my escapism. As well as fear, I felt a lot of anger, especially early on. I’m a carer for my disabled sister and there’s been no contact from social services or health services. It seems like vulnerable people and their family carers are just supposed to muddle through months of this alone.
It has turned me into a lioness. I find myself being more assertive, particularly with men. I shared some quarantine writing I did with a few writer friends and they said it was very angry (and sweary!). Anger is often seen as an unfeminine emotion, but that’s part of the problem. Anger is a healthy emotion; we need to separate it from aggression, which is perhaps why some people are scared of other people’s anger and their own.
Professionally, I am now counselling my bereaved clients on the phone. It was hard at first and it’s a bit weird sitting in a car (especially because I can’t drive), but it’s the quietest, most private place to have my sessions. I miss seeing my clients and responding to their faces and body language as well as their words and voices. I miss seeing their smiles and sharing their upsetting feelings in the room. I also miss going to the hospice and seeing my colleagues there, but we talk on the phone every week or so. We call life after a bereavement the new normal and, of course, now we’re all dealing with our new normal. People who are not grieving for someone who’s died are still grieving for their lives of a month ago.

Cal:        Random question. Say you were suddenly physically transformed into someone else and now you have to convince your friends and family members that you’re really Shamini. What would you say or do that would make them believe you?

 Shamini:             What a nightmare! I don’t know. I waffle a lot when I’m talking (as you can see here). I have a fairly good long-term memory – I often remember things that friends have forgotten. So friends and family could ask me about when we first met or a random incident that sticks out in their mind and hopefully, I’d be able to share my rambling version of the story.

Cal:        Any projects you’re working on while the world is going off for a couple of months?

 Shamini:             I have a few writing projects on the go and there’s a lot of handwritten writing from Write and Shine workshops (run by the lovely Gemma Selzer) that I need to revisit to see if there are bits I’d like to type up and work on. Coffee stemmed from a sentence I wrote in one of her workshops – I think she gave us something like ten seconds to write on a subject before she changed it to another! I’m doing a new piece about the lockdown – it’s a challenge to contain my anger enough to make it powerful and impactful, but I feel that it’s important to get it down now, while it’s raw.
For my own wellbeing, I think it would be good to work on my travel writing and live vicariously through my memories of happier, liberated days. Much of my travel writing isn’t even about going abroad; there are weekends in Liverpool and Brighton and days out in London. It’s about going out as a single woman and I can’t wait to do that again. Sitting in a half-empty cinema, having tea and cake while reading or writing or sketching, walking around an art gallery. I even miss getting irritated by people talking loudly in a café and plugging my earphones in to block them out. I miss my friends and colleagues a great deal, but I also miss the freedom of being a wandering Londoner.

Cal:        Well, since you’ve written flash before, how would you write a flashfic of your life/the current state of the world now?

 Shamini:             I’m quite morbid, so I’d probably write something about my whole family dying of the virus, and having to watch the funerals from a live stream. Cheerful stuff.
Seriously though, as a bereavement counsellor, it really worries me that thousands of people are going to be deprived of a good enough ending with their loved ones. I feel desperately sad for anyone going through that now. The daily statistics are frightening but the human impact can’t be quantified.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown interviews: No3 Shamini Sriskandarajah interviews Sarah Lawson

Third in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.


Shamini Sriskandarajah

Shamini Sriskandarajah (Story Cities) interviews Sarah Lawson (Vindication, The Other Side of Sleep, Departures.)

Sarah Lawson

Sarah Lawson

Shamini:      I met you at the beginning of March at a reading in Greenwich for International Women’s Day. You read out poems you had contributed to Arachne Press’s collection, Vindication. What does feminism mean to you?

Sarah:    Feminism takes me back to Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, which I read in about 1970. I didn’t always identify with the strictures Greer described, but I understood and had encountered the bias against women. It is always surprising when some members of a disadvantaged group somehow identify with the “oppressors” and oppose a movement. I’m thinking of Phyllis Schafley here, who started a movement to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment in the US. This amendment was on the point of being ratified by the right number of states to become an amendment to the Constitution, but for some reason she thought it was a bad idea and mobilised enough people to defeat it! Things have improved in spite of everything. Girls can be more ambitious now; there are good role models for them; “sexism” has been identified and is a word now for what was experienced but hadn’t been named before. Even men began to understand that some of their thoughtless actions were no longer acceptable. This is an ongoing process! I wrote an article in about 1971 that was printed in The Guardian. I had a list of employment opportunities from the Glasgow University careers office, and lots of the jobs stipulated “no women”. I wrote to a number of these companies and asked why exactly women weren’t welcome to apply for these jobs. The answers were very interesting. Some said “Oh, did it say ‘No women’? Well, they can apply if they want to.” Others offered fascinating excuses, like they had to be part of a team and women wouldn’t fit in, or the job required people to load crates of things in a warehouse and required physical strength. (This for a white-collar management job.) Later I wrote a few things for Spare Rib. SR took such a gloomy view of things that I tried to find positive things to report—I remember a woman who had swum the length of Lake Windermere at an amazing average speed. (I was a qualified swimming teacher by then and thought her achievement should be acknowledged.)

Shamini:       I loved the timbre of your voice and the warmth of your words as you read out your poem about visiting your mother-in-law. How do you find reading your work out in public? I connected with the gentle sense of a loss and the new memories about life after the loss. Could you tell me a little bit more about your poems?

Sarah:        I’m so pleased that you liked Driving up to Renfrew! It is unusual in that I wrote it very near the time it describes. Usually I let an experience wait until I “recollect it in tranquillity”, as Wordsworth said. My husband died by his own hand in September 1992. His mother had come down for the funeral in October, and now I was going to her for Christmas. Between Christmas and New Year we scattered his ashes in The Trossachs. It was all a very sad business, as you may imagine. My mother-in-law and I became quite close over the next 15 years or so. She died at 100 in 2006. Toward the end of her life and afterwards I wrote a series of 20 poems about her and about our relationship. Some of them have been published but they should be in a pamphlet. I also wrote some poems about the death of my mother in 1981, but most of my poems are more light-hearted. They are very visual. I have always liked to describe the look of things in some arresting way. I am attracted to haiku for this reason, I think.

Shamini:       It’s strange to think we only met a month ago. Our lives have all changed since then because of Covid 19. What is life like for you now?

Sarah:         Golly yes! It was only about three weeks ago, but it seems like three months, doesn’t it? Actually, life isn’t all that different in some ways, because if you write you spend a lot of time “in isolation” anyway. I would usually be going out to the theatre or literary events, and I would certainly be shopping for groceries. I was going to treat this time like a writer’s retreat, but so far I have busied myself with sorting through some old letters and papers and throwing out a lot of stuff. It is a little hard to concentrate with the news being non-stop death reports about the virus! I was going to keep a diary, too, but I haven’t started it yet. Really, I think we should all be keeping diaries of this crisis because they will be as important as Mass Observation during the War. If anything I am a bit busier now because everybody is getting in touch to explain what they are doing and to ask what I am doing. I am unlikely ever to be bored just because I am alone.

Shamini:       I see many writers and creatives are having the same problem now: plenty of time to create while there’s a lockdown, but difficulty sustaining their motivation to write. Are you finding that, too? How do you get out of a writing rut?

Sarah:         Well, it is early days, and I am hoping that when things get into a routine we will be able to concentrate on writing. But will there be a routine, will life become less alarming? I have at least two new projects to think about: compiling a collection of my essays and book reviews, and editing my grandmother’s diaries from 1920-40. That doesn’t require much creative writing. There is also a novel I have often tried to start. Then there are some translations. Somehow poems don’t seem to be coming, but that is not too surprising. When I have a writer’s block, I like to try to write some haiku. That seems to clear up the block and get me thinking and observing in a way that stimulates the poetry muscle.

Shamini:        Does a situation like this inspire new writing or is that a cliché? Were there other occasions in your life that inspired you to write?

Sarah:         You would think that such a bizarre situation like the present one with COVID-19 would certainly inspire people to write. I wonder if there will be a spate of novels about these times. I wonder if it will turn into a minor genre. A change of place often inspires me to write because I want to describe it and because novelty is stimulating. I have written poems about various places, a poetry pamphlet about Holland (Dutch Interiors, 1988), a whole collection about China (All the Tea in China, 2005), a memoir about Poland (The Ripple Effect, 2009), and a memoir partly about Portugal (A Fado for my Mother, 1996).
Now I have found that some childhood memories have inspired me to write; I like to try to recapture the sensations of the memory and communicate them in words. One of them, “Revenant”, appears in Arachne’s The Other Side of Sleep, and is an evocation of a scene from early childhood that I revisit and now think of the adults in the scene and see it from two points of view in the past plus my point of view in the present. It is a long poem, and I found it interesting to write and to explore a certain vivid memory. That may be a one-off; I’m not sure I could find interesting ways of analysing  any other memories.

Shamini:      At difficult times, I think some people turn to art for comfort, hope, or to feel less alone with their upsetting feelings. What gives you comfort or hope? Whose writing do you feel a connection with? And what do you think or hope readers will get from your writing?

Sarah:         The first poet I felt a connection to must have been Edna St. Vincent Millay. We read her at school, and the first poetry book I ever bought was her Collected Lyrics. I was about 15 and hadn’t started writing poetry yet. (I knew I wanted to write, but I was focusing more on prose and I wasn’t completely sure what poetry even was!) A few years later I found her matching Collected Sonnets. I admired her lyricism and her effortless rhymes. Most of her poetry is quite formal, although she wrote some free verse too. I think her sonnets are really remarkable. Other poets I have admired, now that I come to think of it, have written in forms rather than free verse—Robert Frost, A.E. Housman. I think an early influence was also Robert Browning, especially the monologues.
As for my readers, I hope they will like my poems because they are entertaining or cause them to see things in a different way. I would like them to smile at some, be touched by some, and be surprised by some.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

IWD video Shamini Sriskandarajah


On 8th March we held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Gallleries for hosting.

Here is Shamini Sriskandarajah reading her flash from Story Cities, Coffee.


#IWD2020- Photos

Until I get round to editing the video files, here are some photos from Sunday’s event, where we launched Emma Lee‘s new collection, The Significance of a Dress, and thoroughly celebrated International Women’s Day with poems and flash from Laila Sumpton, Claire Booker, Sarah Lawson, Jenny Mitchell, Julie Easley, Cherry Potts, Michelle Penn, Shamini Sriskandarajah, and Emma Lee!

Women on the Move: Poetry and Flash for International Women’s Day

To celebrate the launch of Emma Lee‘s new poetry collection The Significance of a Dress, we are holding an event at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, 10 Stockwell Street, Greenwich SE10 9BD on the actual day SUNDAY 8TH MARCH 2pm.

Emma will be joined by Jenny Mitchell (Time and Tide, whose idea it was). Michelle Penn (Dusk, Noon, Time and Tide), Shamini Sriskandarajah (Story Cities), Claire Booker (Time and Tide), Laila Sumpton (Dusk, Noon) and Sarah Lawson (The Other Side of Sleep, Vindication, Departures), and there will be an open mic session, and very possibly cake.

The notional theme is women on the move, but this is being widely interpreted.

If you would like to take part in the open mic with on-theme poetry or flash fiction, please contact us, or sign up on arrival, there are a maximum of 6 500-word-limit slots.

Tickets by donation to cover travel expenses for the readers.

Story Cities at Old Royal Naval College day 2

Rather delayed (by crowdfunding mainly) here is audio of our second outing at ORNC’s bowling alley. A little echoey!

Readings from Nic Vine, Rosamund Davies, Cherry Potts, Shamini Sriskandarajah of their own stories and some by other people too – Catherine Jones, David Mathews, Rob Walton and Steven Wingate.

Rosamund reads You Stand in the Secret Place by Steve Wingate

Cherry Reads Backwater by David Mathews

Shamini reads Coffee

Nic reads Go Directly to Go by Rob Walton

Cherry Reads Lost and Found by Catherine Jones

Rosamund reads The Right Place

Cherry reads Foundation Myth

Nic reads Tech Down

Sunday in the Storytelling Chair

More readings from the Storytelling Chair, in the skittles alley, under the Painted Hall, in the Old Royal Naval College, in Greenwich. That sounds a bit like we are sending you on a treasure hunt…

Rosamund Davies introducing the book

And reading from Steven Wingate‘s story You Stand in the Secret Place

Shamini Sriskandarajah reading Coffee
Nic Vine reading Tech Down

full audio later…

Story Cities at Old Royal Naval College

Story Cities writers were invited to read from the Storytelling Chair made by Matt Nicholls, at the launch of London Design Festival at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich last night. Here are recordings of our stories read there. (We are back on Sunday! see below)

Shamini Sriskandarajah reads Coffee

Cherry Potts reads Foundation Myth

Annabel Banks reads Other Signals

Evleen Towey reads School Bus

Roland Denning reads Seeing in the Dark

Nic Vine reads Tech Down

Rosamund Davies reads Today’s Arrivals and Departures

You can catch more (some different) stories on Sunday, When Cherry, Nic and Rosamund will be reading their own stories, and others by Steven Wingate, David Mathews, Rob Walton and Catherine Jones.

The Story Cities book is for sale in the bookshop under the Painted Hall, and in the visitor centre for the duration of the festival which includes next weekend Open House festival so you can get in and see everything free!

Or you can buy it from us, or any really good bookshop.


Video – Greenwich Launch Story Cities Shamini Sriskandarajah

Here is another Story Cities Greenwich launch videos, Shamini Sriskandarajah reads her flash, coffee, which is one of the transport stories: a relationship in micro detail.


Your next chance to catch live readings from the book is at Blackwells Manchester this Thursday 27th June at 7pm, free but ticketed

looking forward to Story Cities in Greenwich

Story Cities hits the shops on 13th June, but you will have to wait for the LAUNCH PARTY until… Thursday 20th June, 7pm

Stephen Lawrence Gallery, 10 Stockwell Street SE10 9BD

Everyone welcome, FREE but please book a ticket so we know how many to cater for.

Launch party featuring readings of flash fictions from Jayne Buxton, Annabel Banks, Shamini Sriskandarajah,Sarah-Clare Conlon, Maja Bodenstein, Evleen Towey, Kam Rehal, Máire Malone, Roland Denning, Jasmin Kirkbride, Rosamund Davies and Cherry Potts.

There will be cake. Of course. I’m think of a little forest of gingerbread buildings stuck into something chocolately…

Just before that, editors Rosamund, Cherry and Kam will be doing a panel discussion at Greenwich Book Festival Room QA065 Queen Anne Court Greenwich University Old Naval College Greenwich SE10 9LS at 10am on Saturday 15th June FREE but you will need a ticket.