You could call Shiroma Perera-Nathan a new age poet who doesn’t fit the stereotype mold of a bard. Her twin makeup is typical of her two-dimensional star sign of Gemini; on the one hand a strong businesswoman and on the other, a soft and dreamy storyteller who weaves a magic from word through her profound love of beauty, nature and muse Vivien Leigh. With two books of verse published, she joins the collective of Sri Lankan Australian authors in Victoria, and is already planning her third release. Shiroma gives us a glimpse into her world of poetry inspired by her silver screen idol and growing up in Sri Lanka.
Congratulations on the publication of your second book Serenading the Dawn.
Tell us what it’s about and how it differs from the first book, Gemini’s Reflection
and where it is available.
Serenading the Dawn is a collection of verses that tell stories taking inspiration from my life, my loves, my experiences and heartbreaks. Starting in Sri Lanka, the musings relate to memories from the first five years of my life which on all accounts were idyllic. Growing up on tea estates with my extended family provided the perfect setting for my imagination to grow. My writing is coloured by my love for nostalgia and this is one reason I refer to Sri Lanka by its colonial name, Ceylon. It’s also more lyrical in sound. There are chapters dedicated to my children, my muse Vivien Leigh, love, and sorrow. The themes are universal, especially love.
Published by Sidhartha Publishers in Melbourne Serenading the Dawn and is available on many online platforms like Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia, on www.1961coffee.com.au or via me Shiroma@1961coffeehead.com.au.
The first book, Gemini’s Reflection was a collaborative effort with my cousin Sasheeka Costa and self-published via Amazon Publishing, then Create Space. The poetry was structured to have verses of both authors weaving in and out to complement and oppose each other, depicting the trait of the astrological star sign Gemini, the sign we were both born under. This book is currently only available on online platforms.
Who or what inspired you to be an author?
It’s not so much that I wanted to be an author, just that writing provided the means to get there. Writing has always been an outlet, something I’ve enjoyed, and felt compelled to do from a very young age. It’s been a form of catharsis, a way to work through my emotions and sometimes to find peace with an unresolved experience or feeling. Some verses are the outlet of my longing to show people I love how much they are, or were, a part of me – through the emotions they have evoked.
Becoming a published author was just a byproduct of wanting to see my collection of writing presented in a tangible format and to share that with people, hoping that they can find something that touches them. It was also a way to validate myself.
Why did you choose ‘soul’ poetry as your medium of choice?
I think the purpose of writing poetry is to express emotion. It’s the art of painting your emotions using words. I am, without apology, an emotional and empathetic person, and poetry seems to be the only form of writing that touches the emotional spectrum of the human experience. It seems to also flow easily for me because I think I’m in touch with my emotions and I accept them. But my style like that which has become the popular style today, of epigrams and aphorisms, may not be for the elitist literary mind. It is the unconventional and some may classify it as just smut. I don’t apologise for my style. It’s me and how I choose to write. You either take it or leave it.
In the age of the insta-poet, we should be happy that a more simplistic form of poetry has taken the world by storm because it has, without doubt, generated an interest in literature, writing and expression. ‘Literature belongs to everyone, not just elitists,’ like Insta-Poet sensation Lang Leav said.
You are inspired by Vivien Leigh. How did this come about? Did this come from your personal life or the life of your movie idol?
I’ve been inspired by many people including my nurturing grandmother who taught me how to write and also many life experiences.
But my biggest inspiration has come from the person I dedicated my second book to: stage and silver screen actress Vivien Leigh. She never wanted to be referred to as a movie star so I’d prefer not to call her that. She wanted to be an actress of the stage first.
She has influenced so many things in my life, including where I’ve travelled, what books I’ve read, what films I’ve watched, sometimes my style, taste in the arts, and even ethics like valuing friendship, and very much her consummate professionalism.
No matter that she suffered from Bi-Polar disorder and died at only 53 from TB, it is disheartening and infuriating that sensationalist media reports refer to her as mad, and a nymphomaniac, notwithstanding that in her short life, she managed to win 2 Academy Awards, 2 NYFCC Awards, a BAFTA, a Tony Award and the Volpi Cup. She also spoke fluent French and German, being able to dub her own films, was very widely read, intelligent, and won the most coveted role in film history as Scarlett in Gone With The Wind (a two-year search for those who don’t know). She was a part of one of the most iconic acting duos of the twentieth century with Laurence Olivier, and was never ever a stereotype. In her short but inspiring life she became my muse, influencing my personal experiences as an avid admirer of her tenacity, acting talent, ethereal other beauty, resilience and sheer courage. I could go on but I won’t …
An interesting bit of info for Sri Lankans who love old films is that Vivien Leigh was originally cast in Elephant Walk which was filmed in Sri Lanka in 1953. Because of illness, which was reported then as a nervous breakdown, Leigh was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor but she remains in all the location shots as part of the mise-en-scene.
What was your experience being an author and being published in Australia? Did you find the process challenging? What lessons did you learn?
My experience has been extremely positive. Deciding to publish was daunting at first. There are so many great closet writers who are too scared to put themselves out there. Writing is personal, especially poetry. It’s revealing your inner most private world to be judged by the public. Having done it, the experience has been liberating, self-validating and confidence building.
One challenge I found was not knowing what I wanted from the final product. I struggled to get a theme going for both books and worried it may be too haphazard a collection. I had a lot of verses written already, some from years back, some from short stories I wrote back even from school days and putting them together was hard.
I also struggled with technology. I’m certainly not tech savvy. Sometimes I wish I can just use pen and paper and not worry about that side of things. But in this day and age using technology is a must and has many advantages. You have so many resources at the touch of your finger and it made self-publishing easy.
Lessons learnt would include; knowing the importance of staying focused. As writing is not my source of income, but something I do for the love of it and as a hobby, other day-to-day mundane things often take over. It became important to remind myself of why I started and to forget outside influences.
At times I experienced demotivation making me forget or avoid completing a step. During these times, having the right people around me was very important. I’ve been lucky to have an extremely supportive partner in Ash, and some amazing friends who give me encouragement and appreciate my writing. My friends who are successful authors have been an inspiration and have been mentors in their own way. Keeping one’s circle positive and supportive is extremely important.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to keep learning. Recently I enrolled on the advice of a mentor in an online course with Nottingham University on how to Learn from the Past. I believe you should never stop learning and self-developing.
My writing plans for the future is to utilise the Australia Lot item I won in the 2017 Sotheby’s Vivien Leigh Auction. I’d like to apply for an Art’s Research Grant to help me research the 1948 Old Vic Tour of Australia and New Zealand that was headed by Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.
This tour influenced our countries in a big way, socially and culturally, and it lived long in the memories of those lucky enough to have been either a part of the troupe or watched one of the shows.
It will not be poetry this time, so I feel I will be out of my comfort zone but I’m going to give it a shot.
I’m looking forward to becoming a more rounded writer and exploring the non-fiction genre. I just have to learn to leave the emotion out of that type of writing, which will be hard being such a big Vivien Leigh fan and naturally inclined to write emotively.
Would you recommend being an author to other young Australians or migrant Australians? What advice would you give them?
Absolutely, if you enjoy writing and if it’s your passion, don’t hesitate.
I would never advise anyone to do it for the fame or the money because you don’t make any money from it unless you become a J K Rowling or an E L James.
A lot of writing comes from personal struggles. Not all writers are tortured souls or sad, but it is said that all sad people write. I guess they’re more likely to pick up a pen to sort through their struggle. Migrants especially have something worth writing about because being a migrant is a struggle in one way or other. There are many compelling true stories they can tell or use for inspiration. Again, an example is writing sensation Lang Leav, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her mother fled the Khmer Rouge. She was raised in Sydney and now lives in New Zealand. Apart from struggles, migrants also have a more worldly life experience to draw from. I am lucky to have been born in Sri Lanka, raised in New Zealand and live in Australia.
One advice I’d like to give is to network and make connections with the right people. In the end, writing a book is a collaborative effort, so you need to make sure your team is on the same page as you. I only provided the writing and the ideas. You need a good editor, someone who understands you and doesn’t try to change the essence of your writing. You need a book designer who understands the message of your writing and connects to your message visually. You may need an illustrator who again needs to understand what you’re trying to convey visually. I’ve been lucky with the two books I’ve published because all those people have been brilliant.
I would also advise prospective writers to follow, engage with and support already published authors. Most artists have an affinity with each other and I’ve found the most support from those in the same ‘orbit’ as a figure of speech, because we tend to understand the struggle and self-doubts that come from any form of expression.
Shiroma Perera-Nathan can be followed on Instagram @peacockblues and Twitter.