Tuesday, December 9, 2008


‘Learning to Fly’


When young, it is not uncommon to see a young girl/boy of school-going age scribbling on the back page of their notebook. In fact, it seems to make a satisfying and enriching little exercise that makes the ticking of the wall clock seem more endurable. But when Shehani Gomes, author of the recently launched book ‘Learning to Fly’ began the story behind her novel and her life, mere doodling on exercise books took on another meaning and form. Little did anyone know, inclusive of Shehani herself, that the same hands that scribbled bits of poetry on pages of a book (that was supposed to hold homework notes instead!), would pen pages of creativity and imagination, at such a young age, soon to be launched as her very own novel.

The last strands of the month of November 2008 held that great day and recalling the event which was held at the Barefoot Gallery, Shehani displayed an excited grin. Working as Management Consultant at Carbon Asia, a pioneering firm in the climate change industry, she admitted that ‘Learning to Fly’ is her first attempt at penning a novel, as opposed to the countless number of poetry that spans her life, and her first attempt at launching one. The leap seemed to have followed another grand occurrence in her life, when the novel was short listed for the Gratiaen of 2006. “I was very pleasantly stunned and happy…” reminisced she adding that she had genuinely caring people around her who encouraged her to pursue writing, “because they took my writing seriously, they deserve the most thanks.”

A vivified account

‘Tell me about your family...’ was the invitation rendered to the young lady to which she cocked her head to one side and said, “There’s my sister who is older than me and my niece who is very very pretty. My dad used to be an accountant and my mom is completely obsessed with her garden!” Shehani’s sister is abroad but she recounted that it almost feels like she’s home most of the time owing to the facility of web chat. Born in Kandana and having been housed there as a child, Shehani was educated at St. Bridget’s Convent Colombo; thus she feels that although she grew up “technically” in Kandana, most of her childhood and thereafter was spent in Colombo where she occupied late hours in school almost every day of the week. Having a very close knit bunch of friends in school, Shehani remembers a happy journey through her educational domains. “Schooling years are the best; they are the moulding years. We had a lot of interschool activities and got to know a lot of talented kids. It was like we built our own community.”

Chess and debating were the two main arenas of interest for her in school and she feels that the exposure in the latter gave her the benefit of gaining knowledge of various issues in the world that she would otherwise have been ignorant of until she reached a certain age. “I was into chess and I still love it; I play when I want to.” Choosing a combination of Commerce and Arts (Economic, Business Studies and English) for her Advanced Level’s, Shehani passed out of school and completed her CIMA. She began but gave up her degree in law after a short spell as a journalist.


Her personal thought processes depicted in the shape of poems, began when she was an early teenager. Not really coming from a family of ‘writers’, she admits however that her dad always encouraged her by gifting her books to read. “It’s not something I consciously do,” she explained referring to her poetry, which evolved as a talent, a pastime, which she gradually grew into.

While voyaging through her short spell as a journalist, she recalls having to learn how to type news at express speed which in a way led her to experiment with Microsoft Word on her first computer. “Then I started writing a story and showed it to my Literature teacher who suggested that I enter it to the Gratiaen,” which she did; thus was the origin of ‘Learning to Fly’.

Learning to Fly

‘Do you remember when you first fell in love? Do you remember the unrestrained joys and plummeting sorrows of adolescence?....’ reads the back cover of Shehani’s book ‘Learning to Fly’, which is a title that arises from the fact that the book is one about adolescence.

“Flying is a huge step and the book is a reflection of adolescents’ transition from adolescence to youth; and the way they go about the bends and bumps on the way,” explained the young author. Described as a very short novel, ‘Learning to Fly’ holds essential stories of love and life, which are very unique to such times in life; the characters in the book are eccentric and constantly in search of happiness; the book depicts Sri Lankan youth in a fresh way.

“What’s different about the book is that there are lots of episodes and lots of conversations,” sketched Shehani adding that the three main characters in the novel, Kala, Dylan and Nadia, are very dramatic individuals. However, although at times, their dramatic nature reaches a climax of unusualness, the author feels that most adolescents would at least have such extreme adolescent thoughts running through their minds occasionally.

“The book is a cross section of a dark adolescence. Certain friendships introduced in the book are universal like the way two girl friends would talk and the secrets they share…” offered Shehani who feels that although the characters in her novel are most certainly fictitious, they complement real life people. Having started writing the story when she began experimenting with the computer, she never intended for it to be a novel back then.

“Novels take more effort than poetry,” smiled she adding that having to organize her thoughts and penning in sequential links was the biggest challenge she faced while putting together her maiden novel, “my publisher/editor Ameena Hussein, really helped me out.”

Building the characters within a novel, is an exercise that Shehani enjoys a lot as she feels that one can experiment with the characters, mould them, bend and even destroy them if one likes! “You don’t have to feel upset or guilty about it because they are fictitious!” she laughed.

Novel writing came naturally for Shehani and she does not count it a big shift from writing poetry. Penning the novel, she said, allowed the mind to wander more; while building fictional characters for her story had been immensely interesting, poetry to her, is far more personal in nature.

“I love writing and it makes me really happy.” Bubbly and chatty in nature, Shehani seemed to have a personality vibrant with innovative thought and talent.

The interview which spanned more than an hour, was more on the lines of a friendly conversation as she animatedly and humorously detailed the many stories in her life which she found amusing! She enjoys listening to music and does a lot of that and laughed when saying that she talks a lot too! Reading too is a frequent exercise in her life both for professional reasons and otherwise. “I like South Asian writers mostly. I love writers like Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahir, Rohinton Mistry and Nihal de Silva. I think their books have an amazing local quality; but my favourite book is by the author Douglas Kennedy.”

Carbon Asia

Carbon Asia Pacific (Pvt) Ltd is a member of the Asia Capital Group. Shehani, having worked in the apparel sector before, has been with Carbon Asia for a period of four months now and she’s enjoying her work. “It’s an exciting field to be in.

It brings sense to all those things you read about in your childhood stories…” Owing to the fact that carbon trading is a relatively new subject in our country, Shehani finds fulfillment in knowing that she has a direct part she’s playing in helping to safeguard the planet through her profession. Also, having been trained as a financial analyst, the work she does at Carbon Asia is complementary to her training.

When asked about her future, she smiled coyly admitting that she is indeed a little ‘hazy’ on that but she does want to concentrate on her career. Has the pen stop moving? No, not exactly, Shehani is currently in the process of penning another work but is not sure how far it’ll go.

“It’s sometimes okay to share what you doodle in secret. It turns out that it’s not a crime. And some might think it’s a good thing – this whole writing thing…” she advices other budding writers.

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