With more than 180 storytellers from 30 countries, this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival lineup is a treasure trove of discoveries. Each week in the lead-up to UWRF19, we speak to a writer whose work you may not have encountered yet, but who could well turn out to be your festival favorite. This week we hear from award-winning author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker Guy Gunaratne.
When and why did you start writing?
The ‘when’ is the easiest of these to answer. I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was very young. I remember writing terrible plays, poems and stories as a boy – but it was all very private. The ‘why’ is more difficult. I’m not sure why I started. I’m at the age now that I’ve come to realize writing is a fundamental part of who I am, how I think, and how I live my life around other people.
What’s the most extraordinary place your work has taken you?
An experience that will stay with me for a while was when I was working on a documentary on human rights issues in Northern Uganda. The stories myself and my partner collected from formerly abducted child soldiers, their experiences of escape and reintegration were upsetting, but also courageous and often inspiring. Spending months afterward going through footage of their testimonies left me with a very great sense of responsibility when encountering these lives.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process, and least favorite?
The part I find most exciting is at the very beginning, when I’ve decided to embark on a project. The period I dislike the most is after it’s all over, when I wake up with nothing to do.
What issues and ideas are you hoping to explore during UWRF19?
I’ll definitely enjoy the festival theme of Karma this year. Growing up in a Buddhist household, it speaks to many of the conflicts that arose during my teenage years. (I was a rebellious teen.)
I often find I exhaust a degree of interest in any novel if I spend too much time talking about it beforehand. I’ve found it helpful to keep things to myself, especially in the early stages. I try to contain it as much as possible. This allows me to think through certain things. I slow down, because some problems are worth solving on your own.
Who do you hope will be in the audience?
It will be my first time in Ubud, so I hope to meet as many people from Indonesia as I can.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
I often find I exhaust a degree of interest in any novel if I spend too much time talking about it beforehand. So I’ve found it helpful to keep things to myself, especially in the early stages. I try to contain it as much as possible. This allows me to think through certain things. I slow down, because some problems are worth solving on your own. The problem is – if you’re talking to a smart friend – they’ll often end up solving all your problems before you sit down at your desk. And where’s the fun in that?
For those unfamiliar with your work, what do you suggest they start with?
My first novel: In Our Mad and Furious City.
What are you working on now? Where to next?
My second novel, which has been unsparingly, joyously difficult to write.
What are you most looking forward to at UWRF19?
With festivals like this there is always an element of serendipity during conversations. I’m looking forward to meeting other local artists.
Guy Gunaratne is in two Main Program sessions, in conversation with Kate Evans, and part of the Location, Location, Location panel. Pick up your 4-Day or 1-Day Pass here.