I was fifteen when I joined the Language Centre of the British Council. In school at Methodist College, I enjoyed English, especially creative writing. So when my mother told me about the language centre I was immediately interested. I had to go in for a placement test and it was a very busy day, teeming with applicants waiting to be enrolled. The classes were something completely different from school, it was full of adults for starters, and it felt very grown up to be referring to the teachers by their first names! The lessons were also less formal compared to school, and I enjoyed the wider range of topics I could write on.
The British Council has continued to be a big part of English learning and enjoyment for the community across generations.
One of my most unforgettable memories was when a composition I wrote was marked by my tutor, Mark Bartholomew, who said that it was the best piece of writing he’d read from any student of his anywhere. He wrote on the sheet that it was a masterpiece. I don’t have the piece now – I kept it for years and it got misplaced when I moved to the other side of the world. But I can still see it in my mind’s eye; such is the power of a teacher’s encouragement. Many years on from that, I know Mark would approve that I’ve grown up to be a published children’s writer and my book has been used by teachers in British classrooms.
I’m not sure where my inspiration for the story The Girl Who Stole an Elephant came from exactly. I think it was a combination of many things. I started writing this story in the depths of winter, and my mind went to a bright and cheery place immediately. Perhaps it was a bit of yearning for family and sunny Sri Lanka. The choice of a girl protagonist was automatic. It’s my default position and comes easiest to me. With Chaya, I especially liked the idea of a skilled and fearless girl thief fleeing from the scene of her crime while outsmarting a band of guards.
This is the age group where readers are made. When children are younger they are read to by their parents, but from the age of about nine to twelve, most children are not just reading by themselves but also choosing their own books. They have developed their own reading tastes, independent of adults. I think this is the ideal age to keep children reading, making them readers for life.
I have always wanted to be an author, but it was more of a secret dream than something that felt achievable in any way. I feel very lucky.
One of my most unforgettable memories was when a composition I wrote was marked by my tutor, who said that it was the best piece of writing he’d read from any student of his, anywhere.
Although I’ve left Sri Lanka, I’ve seen the British Council’s role live on with my own family. My parents and sister still live within walking distance, and my nieces are regular visitors to the library and attend cultural events. Even my own daughter had a lovely bonding experience with her cousins while on holiday in Sri Lanka when they took part in a writing workshop together. The British Council has continued to be a big part of English learning and enjoyment for the community across generations.