Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Q&A with Amanda Jayatissa




Amanda Jayatissa is the author of the new novel Island Witch. Her other books include My Sweet Girl. She grew up in Sri Lanka and lives in Portugal.


Q: What inspired you to write Island Witch, and how did you create your character Amara?


A: There’s a very popular ghost story in Sri Lanka about a woman named Mohini— she’s our own version of the Woman in White, who is often spotted on a lonely road, carrying a baby and calling out for help, only to attack anyone who stops for her.


It was my favourite story to tell when I was a child, but as I got older, I realised that we knew nothing else about this woman (or demoness), except that she was evil. We didn’t know, or care, about what circumstances lead her there.


This was the first spark of an idea, which then ignited into Island Witch. It’s a story of innocence lost, and I kept that in mind when I wrote from Amara’s perspective— she’s young, naive, and trying to find her place in rapidly changing world.


Q: The Booklist review of the book says that it “[o]ffers a compelling addition to the growing body of horror novels exploring the evils of colonization.” What do you think of that description?

A: I grew up in Sri Lanka, so it was pretty difficult to avoid facing the realities of colonisation and how it’s shaped the fabric of society, even today. For me, Island Witch was an interesting lens through which we could examine some of these effects— especially the treatment of women.


While the demons (yakku) and curses (hooniyam) in Island Witch were creepy, what I feel was truly horrific was the torment Amara faced at the hands of the people around her. I hope it leaves the reader questioning what is scarier to them.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: For me, it is impossible to start writing without a clear ending in mind. The journey to get to that ending might change, but the destination remains largely the same.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I hit a pretty significant roadblock early on when researching Island Witch. Most accounts of 19th century Ceylon came from British colonisers. The few that were told by locals were from upper-class Sinhalese, and there were no accounts I could find from a woman’s perspective.


And so I combed through all the texts I could find that spoke of women— their daily lives, their traditions, and then had to take creative liberties in narrating it through Amara, my main character’s, voice.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I can’t officially say, but as always there are plot twists, a strong woman’s voice, and a dead body or two.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Nothing specific I can think of at this time :)


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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