Roma Tearne : Ecstatic, how lovely for the book, how lovely for Alice!
claire : Hi Roma, I haven’t read Brixton Beach yet, but really want to know – how long did it take you to research and write it?
Justine : Hi Roma, I really enjoyed Brixton Beach. Why did you decide to base your book around the Sri Lankan civil war?
Roma Tearne : Because I’m Sri Lankan and because my own family fled the country because of the civil war. My mother and father were from different sides of the warring ethnic groups so I saw both views.
Holly : How has your background shaped your writing?
Roma Tearne : My mother was a journalist and my father was a poet and literature was very important in the home environment and by the time we left Sri Lanka, English language was being banned in the schools and it became very precious to us and was one of the reasons we came to England.
jeremy : Hi Roma, I loved your book. Which character did you enjoy writing most? (I liked Bee best)
Roma Tearne : I enjoyed them all in different ways. I suppose Bee and Alice were very important to me and also in the end, Simon
Holly : And what are your favourite childhood memories from Sri Lanka? I’m half Lebanese but brought up in England so I can appreciate the centiment of this book and the effects of civil war. This is a subject close to my heart!
Roma Tearne : The thing that really sticks in my mind is the way I used to fall asleep at night to the sound of the Indian Ocean. I feel terribly privileged to have had that experience as a little girl
Charlie : What kind of books do you like to read?
Roma Tearne : I tend to do a lot of re-reading of books and at the moment I’ve just finished reading The Museum of Innocence and I like books that are not just plot lead, books about how the language creates emotion so William Trevor is another author I like to read.
Holly : Did you enjoy the experience of writing fiction based on real life events? Or did it cause you difficulties as a writer?
Roma Tearne : I can’t say it caused me difficulties, there is always an autobiographical element in anything one writes as you write it yourself. I don’t think my books are autobiographical but I’m in it somehow as all the characters so no, I didn’t really find it difficult.
Charlie : What usually comes first when you write a book – characters or storyline?
Roma Tearne : Usually characters. What comes first is an image, usually something I’ve seen, a photograph I’ve taken and that leads me into thinking about that face, which develops into a character. I think I am quite image lead.
Holly : What message did you wish readers to take away from this book?
Roma Tearne : No message really other than I hope they enjoy the way language pushes the plot on. I also hope they love Alice as much as I do.
Charlie : Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the 7/7 bombings?
Roma Tearne : Yes I do, I was abroad and I heard about the bombing on foreign television and it was reported in another language and I stood absolutely horrified watching the city that I know so well. And as I watched, to my horror, appeared on the screen someone that I knew. This was such a shocking and disorientating event that made me realise violence is everywhere.
Ruby : Did you write an alternative ending to this book? Or did you know all along the outcome?
Roma Tearne : I didn’t know what the outcome would be, it resolved itself. In the case of this book, Ravi instigated the ending.
Charlie : The places you live – both in terms of countries and their actual homes – play a large part in your novel; is the idea of home very important to you?
Roma Tearne : I think it is and I think the place where you’re born stays with you no matter what and in my case, Sri Lanka and the coastal town where I lived was a very happy time in my life so that place was extremely important to me. As were other places I have lived where significant events have happened.
Kimi : Are you working on anything new at the minute?
Sara: I was in Thailand when I saw the 7/7 bombings turn up on a news programme – so I know how that must have felt!
Sara : Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Roma Tearne: I haven’t so far.
Roy: Have you always loved writing?
Roma Tearne: Yes I have, I’ve been writing from the age of 5.
Luisa: What other books have you written?
Roma Tearne: Mosquito, Bone China and I have another book coming out in May. It’s a very English book.
Lori: Have you read any of the other book club books?
Roma Tearne: I’m reading Cutting for Stone and really enjoying it.
Kimi: What’s your work ethic like?
Roma Tearne: I’m a little bit obsessive. I work all morning until I complete 1000 words and then I should go and have a break and do other things but I usually end up going back and re-reading and writing more.
Sara: Your book is so brilliantly written, have you ever had writing classes?
Roma Tearne: No I haven’t.
Luisa: How has your background in art shaped your writing?
Roma Tearne: I think I begun with a visual image. I think artists see in a different way and notice things. James Baldwin was talking to a painter and he said ‘look at that puddle’ and he didn’t see what he was pointing out. Then he looked again and noticed oil on top of the puddle and a reflection of the world within it.
Kimi: It’s possible that a lot of British readers will not know much about the Sri Lankan civil war before reading the novel. Do you think the situation in Sri Lanka is under-reported in this country?
Roma Tearne: I do indeed, however I think the novel should stand separate from politics, which is why I don’t put much in my books.
Sara: How do you think the role of women in Sri Lanka differs from that in the UK?
Roma Tearne: Sri Lanka had the first woman prime minister and has a lot of strong women but they aren’t standing up for human rights. Their roles are similar to those in Britain but the war means we don’t see it as much.
Emily: Do you think you will ever live in Sri Lanka again or will Britain always be your home?
Roma Tearne: I think not. I have not been back and have no plans to until this is resolved which I don’t think will be in my lifetime.
Holly : You quote Jack Kerouac as saying ‘All of life is a foreign country’ at the beginning of the book – what does that quote mean to you?
Roma Tearne : What it meant in the book really was that Simon Swan was a stranger in his own country. What happens in the book was foreign to Simon and he was an English man and I think all of us as people go through life experiencing things that are foreign to us as it is the first time we have experienced it.
Holly : I like Alice too – do you still think about the characters or do you leave them behind once you have finished the book?
Roma Tearne : I leave them behind completely with great relief!
Holly : Is it going to be made as a film?
Roma Tearne : No it hasn’t been commissioned.
Holly : Who’d would you like in it?
Roma Tearne : I don’t know.
Roma Tearne : I am touched by the good wishes of readers and it’s lovely to widen this circle thanks to this amazing club.
Holly : thank you for your time!