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Talking Location With… Amanthi Harris – SRI LANKA

11th December 2019

#TalkingLocationWith... Amanthi Harris, author of Beautiful Place set in Sri Lanka

I was inspired to create the world of the Villa Hibiscus after a holiday to Sri Lanka many years ago, when I returned hoping to reconnect with the city of my childhood, Colombo. But I found very little of what I remembered: my grandparents’ house where I had grown up, had been sold to developers and replaced by a block of flats.

I then travelled down to the south coast, staying in small guesthouses aimed mostly at Western travellers and was surprised to find myself feeling at home there in those sprawling bungalows with spacious rooms and verandas crowded in by the rich greens of tropical gardens full of bright flowers, and suddenly I was close to my old life once more, and back in the slow rustic ease of the household of my childhood. My memories of those early years, in the house that my grandfather, an architect, had built for his family, rose up as if in defiance, firmly intact, and grew real in the present. The houses of our childhoods are indestructible it seems!

On my return to the UK I began to study Fine Art at Central St Martins, and while looking through the sketchbooks from my holiday, found the rooms and gardens of the seaside guesthouses and was inspired to invent a house by the sea of my own, full of the feelings of freedom and love and belonging that I had known long ago in my life in Sri Lanka.

Short stories arose, of people coming to stay at this fictional house, a guesthouse along a remote stretch of coast – the characters of Ria, Louis, Anjali, Dan, Rohan, arriving with their secrets and hopes and disappointments, eager for welcome and acceptance, full of desire to be inspired. Soon I had the owners of the guesthouse, their stories too, unfurling, and forming the world of the Villa Hibiscus.

Over the ten years of writing this book, I was absorbed in trying to capture the feelings of a lost world, and to make it real – to find again the beauty of a tropical garden and the richness of the serene simple interiors of old Sri Lankan houses with their polished wood furniture, the modesty of materials of stone and clay tiles and the smoothness of gleaming cement floors; the grand silent spaciousness of rooms. And from windows and verandas opening onto exuberant gardens, feel again the vague threat of outside, and the violence that seems to lurk always, just beyond the garden walls.

Some of my favourite places in Sri Lanka still possess this sense of langour and luxuriousness and seemingly effortless charm:

The Galle Face Hotel – one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka, once a Dutch villa built on the seafront overlooking the grassy expanse of Galle Face Green and a hotel since 1864.

Photo: Cloudfront

The Gallery Café was once the offices of Sri Lanka’s most famous architect, the pioneer of Tropical Modernism, Geoffrey Bawa. Now a restaurant and café and gallery space.

Barefoot is an enterprise begun by textile designer Barbara Sansoni and is now an iconic shop with outlets in Colombo and Galle. The shop on Galle Road, Colombo is in fact a location in BEAUTIFUL PLACE! It has a garden café, bookshop and gallery which hosts live music events.

Photo: From Barefoot website

Ena de Silva House, a courtyard house drawing on, and reinventing Colonial architecture, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa in 1960, and has now been moved and rebuilt at his home on the Lunuganga Estate.

Photo: http://images.adsttc.com

Seema Malaka Temple, Beira Lake, Colombo. Another Bawa building, this small Buddhist temple is built across three platforms over a lake and approached by a causeway over the water. It is thought to have been inspired by the forest monasteries of northern Anuradhapura and comprises a wooden-beamed preaching hall, a shrine room for priests, a slender Bo tree, a small stupa and four shrines to the Hindu Gods Kathargama, Saman, Nanba and Patthini. Inside the ribbed wooden frame of the Dhamma Hall at night, with the glow of lights and the shining black waters of the lake lapping at the platform, there is a sense of somewhere unreal and otherworldly, a place of simple true beauty.

Photo: Wikipedia

Thank you so much to Amanthi for such a wonderful insight into the island. You can of course buy Beautiful Place through the TripFiction database. and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook   

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  1. User: Sally Smith

    Posted on: 19/12/2019 at 11:11 pm

    Very interesting – I’ve written about my own trip to Sri Lanka, although unfortunately all the time I spent in Colombo was in a hospital after a bus accident. Still, I will never forget the beauty of Sri Lanka or the kindness of its people. I hope to return one day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories of this amazing country.