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James and Ashley are staying at home. Partly because there’s a pandemic, partly because they’re writers, and partly because of their health. Through discussions and interviews, they explore the big questions: how do books get written? How do people live with chronic illness? And just what ARE you reading?

Ashley Kalagian Blunt is author of two books, How to Be Australian, a memoir, and My Name Is Revenge, a thriller novella and collected essays. My Name is Revenge was a finalist in the 2018 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Woollahra Digital Literary Awards. Her writing appears in Griffith Review, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Big Issue, Westerly, Kill Your Darlings and more. She lives and works in Sydney, NSW. Find her on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website.

James McKenzie Watson won the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize for his novel Denizen, which also received a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship and 2021 KSP Fellowship, and was highly commended for the 2020 Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships. His short fiction has been recognised in competitions including the International InkTears Flash Fiction Contest and the Grieve Writing Competition, and featured in publications such as Baby Teeth Journal and Brave Voices Magazine. He works as a nurse in regional NSW. Find him on Twitter and Instagram or visit his website.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt and James McKenzie Watson

Jan 11, 2022

How do we build community and a sense of self after loss, especially the kind of loss that echoes for generations? James and Ashley speak with Australian Sri Lankan author Shankari Chandran about her new novel, Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, and how her efforts to find connection in the writing community echo her Tamil family's work to build community after being dispossessed from their homeland in the Sri Lankan civil war.

Shankari discusses writing from a place of anger and love, the changing Australian publishing landscape, and how literature creates an archive of the dispossessed. 

This episode connects to our conversations with previous guests Nardi Simpson (ep 18), Luke Stegemann (ep 26), David Heska Wanbli Weiden (ep 40), in which we explore the legacy of mass traumatic events on the health of communities and society.

Shankari Chandran was raised in Canberra, Australia. She spent a decade in London, working as a lawyer in the social justice field, before returning to Australia, where she now lives with her husband and children. She is the author of two previous novels, Song of the Sun God, and The Barrier, and has been shortlisted for the Fairway National Literary Award and the Norma K Hemming Award for speculative fiction. 

Learn more about Shankari on her website, and buy a copy of Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens from your local bookshopBooktopia or wherever else books are sold. 

Books and authors discussed in this episode:

  • A Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam;
  • Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell;
  • Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson (from ep 18);
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie;
  • They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall;
  • David Heska Wanbli Weiden (from ep 40);
  • Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian translated by Mabel Lee;
  • Amnesia Road by Luke Stegemann (from ep 26)

Check out Shankari's essay on writing and resilience published by Writing NSW.

Plus, join Ashley for her Laneway Learning online workshop, The Joy of Creative Writing (Monday 31 January, 7:45-9pm AEDT) and her upcoming online event with Anna Downes (Thursday 3 Feb, 11am AEDT). 


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