This review appeared in the Island on July 11, 2018. You can also read it below.
July 10, 2018, 9:25 pm
Title – ‘Chant of a Million Women’
Poetess – Shirani Rajapakse
An author publication
The chief merit of this memorable and thought-provoking collection of poems by Shirani Rajapakse consists in the fact that it is a cogent and arresting endorsement and a refreshing re-statement of the dignity of womanhood. The poetic ‘discourse’ it stimulates goes well beyond what are seen, traditionally, as women’s rights issues; although such concerns continue to be exceptionally relevant and need to be kept alive. The collection is essentially also all about the ennobling presence of the Woman in the world. This aspect of the ‘Chant of a Million Women’ imparts to the collection a timeless dimension.
The poem from which the collection derives its title sets the tone and the fundamental substance of these poems. What is particularly relevant about this poem is that it transcends the domestic plane, pertaining to the challenges faced by women, to the indignities and suffering borne by women in conflict and war world wide, over the ages. This broad context lends to the poem a topicality as well as a universal significance. The woman’s body, we are reminded, is her own; a precious part of her that must be kept inviolate and whole. It cannot be abused and belittled, among other things, by contending parties in wars, to further their respective agendas. Hence, the reference to ‘collateral’, ‘appeasement’ and ‘rewards’.
‘My body is my own.
‘Not yours to take
when it pleases you, or
use as collateral in the face
of wars fought for your greed, or zest to own,
Not give to appease the enemy, reward
the brave who sported so valiantly in the
trenches, stinking of blood and gore.’
The freshness of perspective in many of these poems prevents us from viewing them as expressive of trite themes, such as, the ‘battle of the sexes’. Instead, what we have here are portrayals of the stark socio-political realities faced by women, which have the effect of throwing their dignity and humanity into strong relief. For instance, the speaker in the poem ‘Sadness’ says of harsh words that were flung at her:
‘a piece inside smashed into
smithereens, pierced by your words
as I walked away. Forever.’
In the poem, ‘Standing my Ground’, the speaker says about her individuality and independence in an impersonal world bent excessively on material pursuits and consumerism.
‘But no one notices in the millions
surging forward that
I stand my ground, refusing to
move an inch, waiting as I am, here,…
my face lifted to the sun shining down
through diaphanous clouds flittering by,
bathing me in gold and orange….’
‘To Dance with the Wind’ is memorable for the evocative use of imagery and its deftly handled rhythm that help capture the central mood of the poem which centres on the wistful yearning of repressed women for liberation in every vital aspect of their lives. Among other things, there are striking metaphors here that are suggestive of the dehumanizing impact of formal religion:
‘hidden behind a black wall while
all she wants is to soar with the winds,
graze the clouds, turn her face to the sun,
let her curls dance, dance, dance
like a myriad hands moving out to catch
pieces of the sun..’
The ‘Chant of a Million Women’, consisting of poems written by Shirani Rajapakse over the years, and published in local and international journals, could be considered a refreshing input to local creative writing on the meaning of womanhood. Very hard to beat is the poetic sincerity and strongly felt emotion running through this collection. The collection succeeds because it provokes profound reflection on what it means, and what it has meant to be a woman in a mainly patriarchal, repressive world.
My flash story Things That Happen in the Night is in Fireflies and Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology. Published by Eu-2 Publishing it will be launched on March 1, 2018. Now available for pre-order.
I’m listed in the author’s section and poetry section on the Diabolic Shrimp site. Check out AVID4 for the links.
The interview was published today on the blog.
A Page to Turn Blog of Bobbie Stanley
Reading Books in a Southern State of Mind
January 24, 2018
Rating: 4 stars
It’s hard for me to review poetry. Prose makes it easy because grammar, flow, characters, and plots come into play. Poetry, though, can’t be dissected quite the same way. This book, while technically fewer pages than a lot of the ones I’ve reviewed, took significantly longer to read because it pulled me through so many experiences. To say that I enjoyed it wouldn’t be quite accurate; each poem in this book made me thoroughly feel something, but most often those feelings were desperate, angry, and painful. They shed light on lives and experiences I will probably never have a chance to understand through my life path. They forced me to see things I would rather ignore and called out my typical American behavior of overlooking the hardships women face outside of this country.
There were times while reading this that I felt overwhelmingly guilty for having been born into a life that some people will never know. I felt guilty for taking for granted the freedom that we have and for failing to use my voice when I have so much more opportunity to do so than women in more countries and societies than I can count ever will. There were times when I felt embarrassed for the way that our society has taught people to behave. Not all of these poems were particularly enjoyable in their experience, but every one of them sparked thought and brought up very real questions that we should all be considering. That is the true value in this work. It is not a light read. It is not something you’d carry with you to the beach or enjoy over a night, relaxing vacation. There’s nothing relaxing about this. This is a book that sparks movement, that demands action. If you are prepared to be dragged into a reality that most of us would prefer to ignore, this is a great way to do it. Let these words show you the things you haven’t learned yet. Let them make you angry. Let them draw you out and call you to action. Well done, Shirani. This is a powerful collection, and I hope it calls forth the action and attention it deserves.
When I wrote Chant of a Million Women I had it pegged as poetry about women. It didn’t strike me that the poems could also be classified as being about men – the type of men that put women in such terrible situations. It was a pleasant surprise to read this review by Kimberlee J Benart for Readers’ Favorite.
This review appeared in Poetry International on November 25, 2017.
In her book Chant of a Million Women, Shirani Rajapaske’s poems read as tributes to women all across the spectrum – transwomen, women of color, immigrant women, and women across socioeconomic classes. She is unafraid to tackle uncomfortable or taboo topics such as female mutilation or rape, while softening them with beautiful language. For example, in the poem “Mutilated” she describes the sewn-shut labia of one woman:
“Lips you yearn to kiss, mold
to your soft being. Soft, pliable rubies
hidden forever from view.”
A theme across her poems is the struggle women face to overcome inequalities in a male-dominated society. Several of her poems such as “I Live in Dreams” and “Lost in Thought” are about women wanting to go beyond their current lives, to achieve more and to escape their norms. In the poem “Major Minority” she more directly addresses this topic, relating it to the “major minority” of women in the country who feel as if their voices, and votes, don’t stand a chance within the patriarchal political structure. Of the subject of abortion, she writes:
“Entombed from the womb
by man-made rules,
religious decrees you twist, like you did the
bougainvillea vine outside the window, to
suit your wishes and not any
God that ever was.
You amuse yourself in a childish game,
playing God almighty to trap me.”
Men in power twisting rules regarding women’s reproductive rights is something that all women, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, creed, can relate to. Touching on topics like these makes Rajapaske’s poetry universal. While her language takes the reader on a journey filled with beauty inside of the darkness of the topics.
Chant of a Million Women is featured in the Recent Publications of Winning Writers this month.
My interview is in Issue 18 of Indie Publishing News. (November 2017.)
I’m the featured writer in Who’s That Indie Author? today.
Author name: Shirani Rajapakse
Genre: Poetry and Short Stories
Books: Chant of a Million Women (self published August 2017) Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011)
Bio: Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash Magazine, Litro, Dove Tales, Mascara, Skylight 47, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Moving Worlds, Deep Water, Kitaab, New Verse News and many others.
Favorite thing about being a writer: I love the freedom to write what I want. I’ve worked in journalism and research and although they too involve telling compelling stories, they are based on fact. In fiction or poetry you can risks, creating total worlds out of mere pieces of facts. I also think it’s an effective way of telling a story that might otherwise not be told, like a narrative about a rape victim or a woman who has been murdered. In fiction we can create her world and tell it from her point of view.
Biggest challenge as an indie author: Breaking News my first publication, was through a small press in Sri Lanka. When I decided to self publish my poetry collection Chant of a Million Women, I had to work twice or even thrice as hard on the book. Because I was doing it on my own I had to learn everything from start. It felt like going to school, trying to learn about self publishing, how to format a book, do covers (although I got someone to design it for me), and marketing and promoting. I thought writing the book was hard, but turns out that was the easy part. The biggest challenge is in marketing and promoting.
Favorite books: Tonight No Poetry Will Serve – Adrienne Rich, Snow – Orhan Pamuk, Midnight’s Children –Salman Rushdie, An Equal Music– Vikram Seth, Stags Leap –Sharon Olds, For the Most Beautiful – Emily Hauser.
Click here to learn more about Shirani Rajapakse’s books on Amazon.
Winner, Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013
Finalist, Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013.
Shortlisted, Gratiaen Award for Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) (short stories)
This is a fine collection of some seventy-three poems. From the opening, At the Side of the Old Mandir, you will realize that Rajapakse is treating you like an adult. While there is sex in several of these poems, they are not graphic.
There are many points of view explored by Rajapakse, including what it’s like to wear a full body covering such as the Niquab (recently made illegal in the Canadian province of Quebec.) I’ve personally always considered all religions to include a strong dose of social control, and this poem, To Dance with the Wind, reinforces my prejudices.
For an example of a woman most definitely in control, turn to Colonized, from which I’ll include this teasing snippet: “You were marked. /Stamped with delicious dragon-fruit /pink. /Scandalous. //Mine. /Branded like a buffalo in the field.”
For a terrifying experience, turn to The Shower. For another, turn to The Lonely Woman. This is not for the faint of heart.
In The Decision, this: “They tasted alright to me, /sweet with a hint of sour /that is what I’ve come to expect of grapes, /and of this thing we call a relationship.”
For an introspection into another damaged relationship, turn to Inside the Old Room, which begins thus: “What would the walls say if only /they could speak? /Would they tell you of the fantasies I dream /when I am not with you?…” and that’s just the opening.
I should mention that Rajapakse uses titles subtly, often setting the physical scene but not revealing the plot of the poem. For a rare example where she uses repetition, turn to On Campus: Just Before the Exam, which is quite frightening.
For one last favourite here, this is from The Man from Over There: “The verse about you /described you as you were. As you are. /Nothing seems to have changed. /You should have changed. /Grown wiser, better, /but you have not.”
Back to the star count and my usual boilerplate. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try to be consistent. Rajapakse has great range in this book, writing with power and control. You will find your own favourites here, as well as those mentioned above. Five stars feels right on. Highly recommended.
Kindle Book Review Team member.
I’m guest blogging about my reason to write Chant of a Million Women at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Read it below and do go over to her page to comment, and also read the other guest blogs.
Let’s Raise a Chant for Women across the World
Have you ever felt there was something you needed to say but didn’t know how to articulate it? Maybe you felt the things you wanted to say wouldn’t be accepted by people, or they wouldn’t understand or feel awkward reading about them? It isn’t easy to speak about topics that are taboo or difficult to discuss. No one wants to address subjects that make them uncomfortable so these matters get shoved into the back of a cupboard and forgotten. But the problems don’t go away. They simmer in the background and grow bigger and darker until they consume everything. Yet no one wants to address the elephant in the room.
Chant of a Million Women is a poetry collection that addresses the very issues that people feel awkward to talk about. Published in August this year, the poems raise concerns people shy away from like abuse, discrimination and the role of patriarchy in defining and controlling women’s lives.
“You can’t mold me into
something you want—those
rough hands trying to create
dreams that can only shatter.” (Response to a Man)
I believe poetry is a good way of dealing with matters that are difficult to express, taking the topics one by one and opening them out in a way that people don’t feel out of their depth. At least that’s what I hope. I’ve brought together different stories of diverse women in various places and attempted to tell their story in verse. Their stories, their sorrows with my words.
“You rape and torture and
target us even when small and unable
to defend ourselves against brute force.
You forget we have rights too.
Law enforcement men turn the other way or
tell us we deserved it for being who we are.
They hurt us more, but we stand our ground.” (You Can’t Handle It)
Everywhere we look women are shortchanged. Every day somewhere in the world a woman or girl is raped, killed, abused or discriminated against and no one seems to care. You’d think it was in so called ‘backward cultures’ but it is hard to look away when it happens right in your own neighborhood or to someone you know. We only think we are safe, but seeing the sheer number of instances happening worldwide, we really are far from safe.
“Everyday someone was ground in the dust.
The hands of the woman holding the scales
trembled with fury at the injustice,
but no one could take off the blindfold.” (Lines of Control)
Women’s bodies are still ‘owned’ by men whether we like it or not. For instance, in many cultures, a woman can’t terminate a pregnancy even when the pregnancy is a result of rape because patriarchy barges in, in the form of religion to tell a woman it’s wrong. Yet patriarchy doesn’t tell her how to cope with the trauma of bringing up the child of her abuser, having to see in the child the horror she experienced every day.
We haven’t really come that far in some aspects. And that’s why we need to keep shouting from the rooftops and getting together around the world to ask, nay, demand our right to be who we are meant to be, not some idea that men think we should be. We are not products or valueless objects that can be used and abused and thrown on a garbage dump.
“My body is my own.
Not yours to take
when it pleases you, or
use as collateral in the face
of wars fought for your greed, or zest to own….
It’s not a product.
Not something to bargain, barter for goods
and services, share with friends,” (Chant of a Million Women)
As I watched the hashtag #Metoo on Twitter and repeated in almost every timeline on Facebook I realized the reason we talk about women and what we need, will never stop. It is an undeniable fact that despite the advancement we have made, despite the many accolades women have won and the barriers women keep shattering, women are and will continue to be treated less than what they deserve even in the developed world because, well, sadly one half of the world has yet to appreciate and value the other half of the world and until they do there will continue to be disharmony, discrimination and women will continue to be sidelined. We are more than our bodies. We are half the world and what keeps the world moving.
“I’ve got a vote, but
I can’t use it. Can’t make much of a difference.
I’m the major minority.” (Major Minority)
We are not defined by the color of our skin, length of our hair, the way we look, the clothes we wear or the work or places we go to. You can read more stories in verse in Chant of a Million Women.
Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her poetry collection Chant of a Million Women was self published in August 2017 and is nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award.
Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash:The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Silver Birch, International Times, City Journal, Writers for Calais Refugees, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving Worlds, Citiesplus, Deep Water Literary Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Kitaab, Lakeview Journal, Cyclamens & Swords, New Ceylon Writing, Channels, Linnet’s Wings, Spark, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Earthen Lamp Journal, Asian Cha, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking Poet, New Verse News, The Occupy Poetry Project and in anthologies, Flash Fiction International (Norton 2015),Ballads (Dagda 2014), Short & Sweet (Perera Hussein 2014), Poems for Freedom (River Books 2013), Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel (Plum Tree 2012), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace (Inner City Press 2012 & 2014) and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence (Plum Tree 2012).
She has a BA in English Literature (University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka) and a MA in International Relations (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India).
She interviews, promotes and review books by indie authors on The Writers Space at shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com
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Rajapakse explores identity, values and women’s role in society through the poems in Chant of a Million Women. She also looks at the concepts of beauty and the standards imposed on women to conform. Some of the poems are hard hitting and take on subjects that are uncomfortable to talk about like rape, female gender mutilation, abuse and male dominance. She talks about power and the quiet force that keeps half the world moving even when there is no hope. The language is simple yet the thoughts and ideas are not. They rise from the depth of our very being to swirl through the pages compelling the reader to step into worlds created within the covers. There is magnificence and strength juxtaposed with violence and weakness as are other opposites such as the divine and human frailty. These poems are like a breath of fresh air, provoking, mesmerizing and entertaining. At our core is a chant, soft, like the susurrus of leaves only breezes understand. Sometimes it opens lips to sing like gurgling waters meandering from here to there, to wherever it flows, or the soft tread of footfalls on the path outside. But sometimes, it’s a roar so loud thunder stops in its tracks in awe.
“Truly the voice of millions of women can be heard throughout these pages. It belongs in every school library and the title poem, Chant of a Million Women, should be memorized by every girl (and boy) in every country, its theme, “my body is a temple” chiseled in every heart and holy place across the Earth.” Amazon review by K.M
Many thanks to the wonderfully talented Kade Cook for the interview on her blog Inside a Beautiful Mind posted today, September 22, 2017. Check it out at the link or read it below.
Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday
Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.
For those of you who have been here before, go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the wonderfully talented Shirani Rajapakse.
Good Morning Shirani, thank you for hanging out with me this morning and being a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.
So now let’s get to it and tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi and thank you for having me over for a chat.
I’m a poet and short story writer from Sri Lanka. I live in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo. I have worked in journalism, research and management. About 15 years ago I became a full time creative writer. It wasn’t something I had planned. It just happened. I was in between jobs and had planned to take a year off to do several things I wanted and just relax before getting back to the rat race. I also thought this would be the ideal time to edit several stories as well as put down ideas I had scribbled in note books. But it didn’t seem to end as the ideas tumbled out one after the other and I kept writing short stories and poems, adding to what I already had. I realized how much I enjoyed writing and decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not as a hobby, but full time.
I’ve published two books – a short story collection and a poetry book. I have also published a lot of individual pieces in literary journals and anthologies around the world.
I’m a vegetarian and a chocoholic. I love dogs and have an eight year old dog named Bambi who has become rather dependent on me since her mother died last year.
I enjoy reading anything that is well written. The genres I read these days are literary fiction, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, light mystery, fantasy and of course quite a bit of poetry.
Can you tell us about your books?
My first publication was a collection of short stories. It was called Breaking News and it was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award in 2010 and published by a small traditional publisher the following year.
This year I self published my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. I worked on it the whole of last putting together the poems that would make up the collection, deciding on what to use and the order of the poems and also getting it edited. I spent the better half of this year learning about self publishing – how to format books, do covers (although I didn’t do the cover for this one), and also market and promote the book. I published it last month, and although it’s taken longer than I thought it would to get published it was fully worth it.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I have been writing since the late 1990s. My first book is an unpublished novel and was inspired by a rather disturbing incident that took place involving a young woman. After writing this I began writing short stories and poems. I think it was like a chill out period from writing the novel. I found that I liked writing short stories and poems; the brevity of words was refreshing and I felt intrigued with the shorter forms of writing. Since there were many stories and poems piling up I felt it was time to start publishing them as collections. I decided to go with a short story collection first because I was more serious about fiction than poetry. Breaking News was publishing in 2011. I didn’t think I would write many poems or that it would become a form of writing I preferred over stories until much later. It was only after Breaking News was published and I started looking through my unpublished work that I found enough poems to make up loosely themed collections.
Chant of a Million Women is the first collection to be self published. Each of the poems were written at different times, and although I had a collection ready by the end of last year, I found myself adding three more poems a few months before I signed off on my final draft. The poems are about women in different circumstances and situations. They are influenced by what has been happening to women down the ages and across the world, the treatment of women and children and the responses of society. They cover a gamut of topics and emotions and I hope these poems open up a dialogue to discuss issues about the treatment of women.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Everything I write about is influenced by what I see around me. The stories or poems are not all based on real life experiences but most are. Breaking News is based on incidents that took place in Sri Lanka and consists of stories written about living under the threat of war that a lot of us experienced. Getting attacked by Tamil terrorists, losing family and friends, not knowing if we would return home when we left for work or school, was normal life for us for many years. Yet despite the terror and fear we lived under there was also room to poke fun at our situation and enjoy whatever bursts of sunshine we could have. It also made us realize how transient life was and that gave us a sense of awareness about how precious it was.
Chant of a Million Women has a lot of ‘stories’ told in verse about incidents that I’ve read or heard about. It is more global in outlook than Breaking News, but there are many poems that have Sri Lanka, South Asian and even the Middle East as a backdrop. Everything is not factual but most of it is based on fact. Imagination takes over to create something that is uniquely mine.
What was your favorite parts to write and why?
In Breaking News, it was the way the stories developed. My first lines were important to me and these were the lines that started the stories for me. If I couldn’t find the right words to start the story I couldn’t write it and that became a challenge. In Chant of a Million Women all the lines mattered, not just the first lines and this meant I had to work harder at developing every poem. I had to give a lot of thought and make a bigger effort to create the poems, more than the stories. Every line had to work; every line had to be a thought or idea, or even part of an idea. There was no room for fillers or excess words. I already had many poems but I needed to add more to make up a collection. There were sometimes ‘stories’ that I wanted to write about again, with a different angle and it was interesting to see how I could do this without making it seem similar to the one already included. The challenge was to create poems that were different yet addressed the issues I wanted.
How did you come up with the titles?
Both books take the titles from a story/ poem included in the collections. I selected Breaking News as the title of the book because I thought it would be a good title since it was the first book I was publishing and it was like a news item calling emphasis to the book. Also the subject matter being such – attacks on civil society, the disruption of life and destruction of property by terrorist attack – anything happening during that time was ‘news’ and would be splashed across the newspapers. With the poetry book the obvious choice was Chant of a Million Women since the book is all about women. It details the experiences and situations women the world over face and it is also something almost all women can identify with.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I haven’t got much harsh criticism for my writing, but I’ve been told the stories in Breaking News are difficult to read because of the subject matter. I do realize it is not easy to talk about some things, but I don’t believe in shying away from issues just because it is hard to come to terms with. I think that if we can live through horror and come out of it, then it’s also important to talk about it and as a writer I know I will continue to do that, even though it may not be appreciated by many people.
Since publishing Breaking News I’ve been submitting work, mostly poetry to literary journals and anthologies and except for three instances when the editors suggested very minor changes to the work submitted, like changing a word or two or delete a couple of lines, I’ve never had to re-write or alter anything I submitted. I consider this a huge compliment as it means I have been able to create something that is near perfect. Another compliment would be the acceptance of my work by editors of literary journals the world over, as it means they like and value my work enough to include it in their publications that are read by many different people.
Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
I don’t know if this qualifies as quirky or unique, but I tend to do my first draft in my mind. I have to see everything in my mind, like a movie. I can’t write it if it doesn’t unfold in a particular sequence and even if the desire to write it is strong, the story won’t sound good and it won’t be a success. I’ve tried that and have realized it just doesn’t work. So now I let it play inside my head before I take it down and put it in words. Although I love writing I’m a lazy writer. It takes me ages to write what’s in my mind. I’ve lost many ideas because I was lazy to put them down.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I mostly just write, although there are some times when I outline my stories in my mind. When I get inspired by either reading or seeing something I immediately see a story happening in my mind. Sometimes the story I have is not at all related to what I’ve seen or read but is merely influenced or inspired by just reading or seeing whatever it was I saw or read. I let the story flow through my mind like a short movie for a few seconds until I am comfortable with it, then I quickly write it down. It doesn’t have to be the full story or poem, but I have to write whatever comes to mind. Later I add and change things around, but that first line or idea has to be there. It’s the same with poems, although I have to write down the complete poem when I am inspired. The editing later takes care of any discrepancies etc.
Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?
I’ll talk about my second book Chant of a Million Women because it is the first book that is self published and this means a lot to me. The collection was put together in 2015 from poems I had written at various times. I started working on it seriously in 2016 when I began selecting the poems that I wanted from what was there, adding new poems, creating an order and getting it all edited and ready for publishing. Then I left it to learn about how to self publish. I spent the first six months of this year talking to people online and in writers groups, asking questions which later I realized were so silly but at that time felt like they were the most important, learning to format a book, design covers, making decisions about where to publish and how to market the book etc. This was probably the most intense six months of work I’d done for a long time and it felt harder than writing. I was very fortunate to meet some very nice and helpful people and I’ve made friends with quite a lot of people along the way. Writing was the easy part, publishing was hard and I think marketing and promoting the book is going to be the hardest.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I had been collecting poems for a long time and in 2015 I started separating them into themed collections. The strongest to come out was the theme on women. But I didn’t have enough and I started adding more. Then in 2016 I had a rough draft of about 85 poems. That got edited down to 80 and then to 70 by the end of 2016. I decided to publish this and left it to start learning about self publishing. A couple of months before I started to format the book I included three more poems that I had written with the objective of submit to a journal.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I think the genre chose me. I’m more interested in literary fiction probably because that has been the genre I’ve read the most. As for writing, I never thought I’d write short stories or poems since I didn’t much like short stories and I had no idea how to write poetry. I always thought I’d be a novelist. The short stories and poems were written during breaks in writing the two full length novels that are yet unpublished. When it came to publishing I submitted the short stories and one of the novels. The publisher selected the short stories. After publishing I continued to write short stories as I felt some of the stories I had worked better as short stories than as a novel. I also began submitting poetry to journals and this resulted in turning towards writing more poems. I realized that the more I read and wrote poetry the more interested I was in writing verse and also that I was getting better at it.
Where do you get your ideas?
The ideas are all around me. They are to be found in the garden listening to the squirrels chirping in the trees, watching the sun walk across the sky every day and the conversations I have with people around the world and the news happening everywhere.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing
I grew up reading Enid Blytons and the classics like Jane Austen, the Brontes and others. I devoured books. Anything that was interesting was read and re-read. Books were like a lifeline of sorts and I preferred reading to homework. I can’t say a particular book or author influenced me, because there were many authors that I followed and many books that influenced me at the various stages of my life. I also found that a particular author or book I liked at one time in my life didn’t bring me as much joy in another time. I used to think it strange but realize that we outgrow our interests and what we find pleasure in at one time can be boring and uninteresting at another time based purely on our experiences and where we have been in life.
Growing up I read mostly white writers and it was only when I was in my twenties in University, reading for my degree in Literature that I found myself having to read non white writers or writers using Africa and Asia as their background for stories. At first I didn’t want to read them as I had got so accustomed to reading and being familiar with the type of writing of white writers. Then when I started reading I was amazed to find how much I liked the stories I read and could finally identify with the characters and the worlds they inhabited. It was like reading my own experiences and narrative.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Write whatever you want to write because you alone know the stories you want to tell. When you sit down to write let the words flow the way they want. Later, when you have finished your story or chapter go through it and make any changes. Then put it away and go do something else. Write another story, read a book, travel somewhere, do anything to forget the story you wrote. Come back and look at it objectively. Edit it as if it was someone else’s story and not yours. Be as merciless as you can, cutting down unnecessary words, adding new words to make the story stand out. Polish the lines, re construct sentences left hanging. Tighten them like you would tune a stringed instrument to get just the right notes. Put it aside again for another month or two. Let your eyes go over it again and send it to someone to read, maybe a beta reader. Edit based on the feedback you get. Keep editing until you are happy with it and know that there is nothing you can do for it anymore. But of course, writing and editing is never finished and you will always have something you want to add or change even minutes before you hit publish.
What is your favorite quote or saying?
Write with your heart. Edit with your head. Not my words but they work for me.
Tea or coffee?
Love them both. Sometimes I’m a coffee drinker and at other times I’m a hopeless tea drinker.
Sweet or salty?
As long as it is chocolate then it’s sweet.
Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?
Here are two very different poems from Chant of a Million Women.
Because I crossed over
no man’s land one day, a few steps
of nothingness between two countries
that drew borders to fence us in.
A sliver of territory
just enough for a road to run through,
a few kiosks that might make it
livable, but not
sufficient for homes
to make you feel loved, or
to put down roots.
No one feels
at home in no man’s land.
No one stops there. Not for long.
Only lonely birds swooping down infrequently
to rest awhile, taking wing as they sense
all is not quite right. Or
the occasional curious cow that wonders
if the grass is really greener
yet doesn’t venture further.
A feeling of unease she can’t quite understand;
fear of death by slaughter, slow and painful,
cold breeze carrying messages of anguish
and terror waiting on
the other side.
Because sometimes words
are not required to make one understand or
experience joy and grief
at the same time.
Because of this you left, unable
to comprehend, refused to accompany me.
Stood for an hour at the threshold until
the gates closed behind me.
You gazed as I went over
to the other country.
Past the entrance,
the men in uniform, the plumed hats,
the paperwork, the stamp of finality,
to get lost in the rest of what makes it theirs.
Not yours anymore.
Because it happened so long ago you
don’t remember the words spoken
as you watched people
stride away. Like me.
But I remembered your face that day
and the words you
wanted to speak,
so you let your eyes converse instead.
Because it sounded so good,
like a violin crying in an abandoned house,
like a dog howling in the lonely ruins,
like a peacock singing in a desert dream,
and I remembered.
Somewhere in the Middle East After One War Ended
Child in the classroom unable
to speak. Staring at the space in front
silent to the teachers urging.
Mouth refusing to shape
words that don’t come out, they died,
crumbled to dust and got lost
in the sands swirling not so very long ago.
What thoughts hold her back afraid
to open lips that might howl out secrets
best left hidden amidst the ruins
piled up like garbage?
Numb to the people, deaf
to the voices moving around, she hears
strange noises in her mind
deafening the songs
trying to rise up from a corner where
she stored them for safe keeping,
to make her smile.
Gunshots in the street,
the heavy fire of machine guns in
the dark of the night, a river
nonstop taking with it the trees
uprooted, buildings collapsed.
Flares lighting up the
sky as she hid under
the bed seeing neon signs flash across
the sky through a hole in the roof
that brought in the sun during the day,
hot and burning, like the sting of the bullet
in her mother’s chest.
The guns are silenced for the moment,
only the distant low hum of
sporadic fire in some other town
not so far away.
People walk the streets unafraid, go about
their work like
nothing ever happened.
The past erased.
Yet the guns inside
her head continue to fire volley after volley
as she struggles to live each day.
Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13850404.Shirani_Rajapakse
Universal ebook link: https://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse
Big thank you to Benjamin Douglas for featuring my work on his podcast. Episode 26. Go to the link here.
or check it out below.
Episode 26: Shirani Rajapakse
As always, today’s readings are presented here with the author’s permission, and do not come from an official audiobook. Come back next week for another indie author reading! You can find Shirani online in these places:
And you can find her book, Chant of a Million Women, at the following vendors:
I’m so excited because my book was just nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards! Please vote for it at www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting.
It is listed under the category General Fiction Book.
Here’s an excerpt of a review to give you an idea about the book.
“Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.” Sam Rose, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine
Here’s an interesting post about AMS.
More product searches start on Amazon than anywhere else, even Google. It’s the world’s biggest bookstore and by far the largest ebook retailer.
But Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is still very much a work-in-progress, particularly the slightly pared-back version authors get to advertise books.
Self-publishers tend to focus on making books visible on Amazon. Aside from being a market leader, and having famed frictionless purchasing, there is another key reason why such a focus often gets the best return. Unlike other popular sites, anyone visiting Amazon is generally there for one reason: to buy stuff. You aren’t interrupting them while they share dank memes with friends, or search how fast a raven can fly during winter.
AMS is often referred to as “new” but it has been around for more than two years now. While AMS offers a variety of ads to third-party sellers which can increase app downloads, drive traffic to websites, or boost sales, we’ll specifically focus on the bits open to self-publishers: the Sponsored Product ads and Product Display ads for selling books.
AMS has seen an explosion in popularity this year, with a range of courses and webinars and books and workshops all promising to teach you how to be an AMS whiz. They are probably all over-egging it at least a little bit, because the platform is fundamentally under-developed, and hasn’t changed much from what was first launched in beta a couple of years ago (and I’m told it has implemented little of the feedback provided by beta testers).
Success on AMS is tricky to attain, frustratingly fleeting, and difficult to scale. There are some pretty basic flaws with the system that are holding us back from becoming better advertisers.
The marketing world is filled with talk of Amazon plans to take on the dominant duo of Facebook and Google in the advertising space. I have a bit of experience in this area, having previously worked for Google AdWords and managed multi-million dollar campaigns. I recently refreshed my AdWords certification to make sure those skills are up to date, I’ve been running Facebook campaigns for several years now, gaining a pretty good understanding of that endlessly complex platform, and I have gained some good experience recently with BookBub ads also.
One thing is clear: Amazon has quite a bit of work to do if they are going to convince large brands and big marketing agencies to spend significant portions of their budgets on AMS.
I think we can assume Amazon isn’t done iterating, though, and with that in mind I’ve pulled together some suggestions on how to make things better for everyone – authors getting a better return when advertising their books, Amazon themselves through increased advertiser spend, and readers too in the form of more relevant and useful ads.
Some of this feedback is quite negative – actually nearly all of it is very negative indeed – but the sole motive is to get features and tools which will allow me to be a smarter advertiser, one who can spend more at AMS. I hope it’s taken with that spirit in mind.
One of the first obstacles you might run into is ads getting rejected, often for unfathomable or inapplicable reasons, and any appeals regarding same can take seven days or more to process as AMS has no actual direct support at the moment, and everything must go via KDP – and customer service agents there don’t seem to know the policies very well.
This isn’t good enough. We’re spending enough money on the platform to get actual support. Remember, we’re not suppliers in this context, we are customers of the AMS platform, and Amazon’s famed customer focus is a little blurry here. We shouldn’t have to wait seven days for a response to an email. It usually means the money I planned to spend on AMS gets spent on Facebook or BookBub instead.
Some examples of how this plays out in practice:
I was split testing different creatives for Let’s Get Digital. One focused on how it was endorsed by many other writers, and I had some phrasing like “the guide that bestsellers recommend.” That was rejected as books can’t claim bestseller status without it being proven. But the ad wasn’t claiming bestseller status (even though it has actually sold enough), it was claiming the book was endorsed by bestsellers, which is demonstrably true, and visibly so on the product page. Anyway, I went around in this loop with Amazon, with seven days between responses, and wasn’t getting anywhere so I just changed the ad. The next ad text said it had “over 300 five-star reviews” and that was rejected for referring to reviews “which are dynamic and can change.” Maybe that was an edge case anyway, fair enough.
An author friend has written a romance novel which has the words “Rock Star” in the title. But her ad was rejected and her appeals ignored on the grounds that Amazon has rules about referring to the star-rating in ads. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that Amazon is testing out some kind of customer service AI, with decidedly mixed results.
2. Making Changes
After you have set up your campaign and navigated any potential rejection issues, you may realize you made an error in your ad text, or you might have thought of something snappier. If you want to go back and edit your creative, sorry, that’s not possible. You have to start a brand new campaign, and lose any positive click/purchase history on your keywords. Everything should be editable once a campaign is live. This is pretty basic stuff, something a smaller platform like BookBub can easily handle, let alone Facebook.
And it’s not just ad text. On Amazon, you can’t change your campaign name once it is live, meaning you can be left with the garbled nonsense that inexplicably forms the default text. You can change your bids, but you only individually. When you have 1,000 keywords in a campaign, this can take quite some time indeed.
As a result, people often just copy the campaign and start again. But then the new campaign will have wildly different results, on all metrics. Impressions, clicks, and sales can all be dramatically different for reasons that are completely indiscernible, which I’ll talk about more below.
3. Reporting Delays
As anyone who has ran an AMS campaign will know, it can take three days or more before sales will appear in your ads dashboard. Problem is that clicks (and related costs) come in sooner than that, and impressions come in even quicker. You might see impressions on the first day and clicks on the next, but often have to wait until the third day to see if that exposure and spend is turning into sales. This makes it really tricky to measure success.
Maybe this isn’t an simple problem to solve (but I’d note BookBub does it far better). It would be better if all numbers had the same delay. I don’t mind as much if it takes AMS three days to report impressions. If clicks, sales, and impressions are coming in at the same time, then I can measure things properly. Right now, it’s impossible.
4. No Customization
AMS requires a lot of trial and error, and that when you get something to work, you are often loathe to touch it in case it stops working. This means you can have several pages of campaigns, with most of them defunct and no way to archive them, or organize your account in any useful way. Even crudely ordering the dash by Campaign Status will put the Terminated accounts on the top, meaning the active ones can spill onto the next page.
What we really need is more tools to see the data we need in an instant, so we can make smarter decisions (i.e. spend more money on ads that are more relevant to customers). I should be able to filter Active campaigns only. I should then be able to slice and dice those campaigns and order by ACoS or Impressions or Spend or whatever I want. Again, this is pretty basic stuff that every competing platform can handle. AdWords, for example, had this functionality ten or fifteen years ago.
5. No Filters
On that note, I should also be able to filter my dashboard by date so I can see what served today, or what my spend was this week, etc. At the moment, everyone is flying blind. We only get cumulative lifetime numbers, which is crazy! To find out what you spend in the last week, or yesterday, or in July, you have to manually track those numbers as you go along. There is no way of doing it after the fact.
Again, this is standard at Google and Facebook and BookBub and anywhere else that has a paid advertising platform. Why Amazon doesn’t provide this basic data is beyond me. Again, it’s preventing me from making smart decisions, and the dumb money is flushing out the savvy advertiser – threatening the long term-health of the platform, for everyone, including Amazon. I could track it manually, but I just don’t have the time. Which means I either don’t do it and make bad decision on AMS… or spend the money elsewhere.
6. Sales & ACoS
This is a big one. Sales and ACoS are the two metrics we use to judge the success of our campaigns. But they aren’t reliable. ACoS is just a function of Sales, so I’ll focus on the latter.
We are given just the raw sale price of any books sold as a result of an AMS ad. So if my book retails for $2.99, that’s the number that will appear in the Sales column, regardless of whether I received 70% royalties or 35% royalties for that particular sale, or whether delivery fees were deducted, etc. Needless to say it would be much more valuable to get a number related to what I’m actually receiving for that sale.
Much more serious is the problem related to paperback sales. I could have an e-book retailing for $4.99 and a paperback retailing for $12.99. All of these sales are just thrown together. So I could see Spend on one campaign of $16 and Sales of $25.98, and conclude that the campaign is profitable. However, if that figure relates to two paperback sales rather than a number of e-book sales, I could be making a huge loss. And because we only get cumulative lifetime numbers (which is completely nuts), it becomes impossible to tell over time whether the sales number contains paperback sales which are hugely skewing the numbers.
The net result is that we end up wasting lots of money on unprofitable campaigns. This is unsustainable for Amazon, and means readers are getting served more untargeted ads than they should.
7. Information Vacuum
We are constantly guessing with AMS. Did this previously successful and ROI-positive campaign stop working because it had a low CTR overall? Will it restart if I prune the worst keywords? We never really know for sure.
Facebook ads can stop mysteriously too, but it’s usually a case of fiddling with a few things to get them running again. With AMS, this process is maddening. You can go through the laborious process of upping your bids on hundreds or thousands of keywords, and you will have to wait three days to see if that has done the trick – and have to manually compare the numbers to see if any effect is present, because all we get is cumulative lifetime data. (Have I said how crazy that is?)
And even if you go through all that rigmarole, you might just find that you misdiagnosed the reason, and that your ads haven’t resumed their previous level of serving. A standard process of elimation that can take a few hours on Facebook or BookBub can take days or weeks on AMS. Often you just give up and start a new campaign. Which then has completely different results for equally indiscernible reasons.
I know that Amazon is famously tight-lipped. I know how tech companies operate. They want all your data, but don’t want to share any of theirs. Even their data about you!
But, really, some more information about how AMS works will make us better advertisers. When I worked at Google they were just beginning the process of being more open about how everything worked, and now they have a full outreach effort teaching advertisers how the system works and what best practices are. I hope Amazon goes on a similar journey – it really does benefit everyone, without needing to compromise any proprietary information.
8. More Relevancy
Did I mention I want to be a better advertiser? This is important, not just so I can get a good return and add to my already impressive collection of Fabergé eggs, but also so that we are all serving more relevant ads to customers, which will increase user trust in the ads, and increase CTRs, and make the ads more viable, and make everyone more money, including Amazon.
I’m sure relevancy is a factor in the ad auction somewhere, but because AMS is a total black box, I don’t know what exact role it plays – which makes it harder to optimize my campaigns. Is it better to have multiple 1,000 keyword campaigns, for the same book, targeting every tangentially comparable author and title, and to prune as I go? Or is it better to regularly start new campaigns with all my keyword winners from each campaign into one keyword supergroup?
I have my suspicions that the relevancy or quality score the system assigns is at a keyword level rather than at a campaign (or account) level, but can anyone really say that for sure? There could also be campaign-relevancy weighting applied at a lower level. Or I could be wrong. AMS isn’t easy to figure out.
I can say this though: whatever relevancy is built into the system isn’t weighted heavily enough. The penalty for being a bad advertiser is too low. (By bad advertiser, I mean someone serving untargeted ads – taking a scattergun approach and just targeting anything and everything.) Which means the dumb money is flushing out the good advertisers. Which means the ads will get less relevant and more expensive over time, which means users will click on them less, and so on. I’d argue this process is well underway already.
Increasing the relevancy factor in deciding which ad is served will have the opposite effect. It’s the long-term view, the one I hope Amazon will take, and the one which will cut across their core proposition less – i.e. the aim to show customers the products they are most likely to purchase.
You know what else could help? Some more options other than just “broad” keywords. I think “exact match” options are available in the wider AMS system, it would be good to see that here too, given that particular innovation hit AdWords in the early 2000s.
9. For The Love of All Things Holy: Borrow Data
This is tricky for Amazon for two reasons: first, it’s something that would have to be engineered specifically for us. Second, KDP doesn’t currently give authors borrow data. We get reads, but can only estimate borrows. And not very accurately either.
That said, we really need borrow data. The key metrics of Sales and ACoS are already a little misleading for reasons mentioned above, but being in KU ads another twist. Borrows are a function of visibility, so AMS ads can and do have a positive effect on reads in our KDP dashboard. But we don’t get any metrics in AMS related to them. Ebook sales, paperback sales, and that’s it. No borrow data – and reads often make the difference between a profitable campaign and a money loser. At the moment, we can only guess, which means we are probably often killing good campaigns and letting bad ones roll.
AMS has huge potential. Huge. But it hasn’t developed much since launch. Reporting is like an early beta that should have been updated before going live. It’s amazing that the only data we get is cumulative lifetime numbers. It makes it difficult to optimize, and hugely time consuming too.
The tools we do have just aren’t fit for purpose. Most of the major issues above surround problems related to reporting, presentation of data, and general usability – basic issues which should have been resolved already at this point.
AMS is also too much of a black box. Amazon doesn’t really share how the system works in any kind of detail – it’s all pretty vague and opaque – and we can’t figure it out because we aren’t given enough data. I’ve been running AMS ads all year on and off, and I’m not entirely confident I can say that I’ve gotten that much better at using the platform – which stands in marked contrast to BookBub, and even Facebook, despite it’s incredible complexity and constant changes.
If we had more data and better tools, everyone would benefit – Amazon and readers too.
* * *
I’m very open to the possibility that I’m a dumbass, so if I’m talking nonsense above or you have solved any of these issues, or have any general AMS tips, I’m happy to hear them in the comments!
Check out the review below or go to Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine to read poems by other writers in Issue 29, September 2017.
Editor’s Book Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse
This month I had the joy of reading Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan poet and fiction writer.
This poetry collection covers lots of themes, including identity, relationships, freedom, dignity, war, struggle and rape, but its main message is captured in the title poem, “Chant of a Million Women”, which opens with:
My body is a temple, not
a halfway house you enter for
temporary shelter from
the heat and dust swirling through trees.
This poem really embodies the spirit of the whole collection, giving women a voice, a reminder of our self-worth and ownership of our own bodies.
“I Live in Dreams” is a mingling of dreams, reality and longing, and a similar mix of melancholy and hope can be found throughout the collection. In particular, “Asking for It” is a powerful commentary on rape and victim-blaming culture, and “Unwanted” is short but touching, and one of my favourites. “To Dance with the Wind” has some wonderful imagery which really did make me feel like I had been picked up and taken by the wind.
Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Chant of a Million Women is available in print from Lulu.com and Amazon, and also as an eBook at http://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse.
You can also find Shirani Rajapakse in Flash Fiction International, Mascara Literary Review, Asian Cha, Deep Water Literary Review, Dove Tales, Earthen Lamp Journal and City Journal, among others.
Several issues are discussed in Chant of a Million Women. There’s also quite a range of emotions carefully placed between the pages. In the following weeks I’ll talk about a few poems.
But I’ll start with the first poem. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” This not only sets the stage as it were to the collection but it also kind of pulls in the idea of the role of women from history to the present not being very different.
The influence for the poem was a statue of a woman at the side of a mandir (temple) in India. The old beautiful carvings on the outsides of temples depict women in many poses. Almost all of them are of women with large breasts and voluptuous hips.
I’ve traveled a lot in India and seen many interesting places. Since I like art, history and culture my travels tend to take me to places where I can find all of this in abundance and the old temples are a definite must see on my itinerary.
Viewing the statues and images I came across an interesting find. In quite a few of the images of women in the carvings in mandirs and abandoned places the breasts were darker and I used to wonder why, until one day I saw why when I turned a corner in a lonely mandir and surprised a devout follower of whatever God resided inside that mandir.
The image of that encounter I witness stayed in my mind although I wrote about it many years later.
They come to this place every day
to touch you.
Lonely men with desires unfulfilled.
Can’t afford the real thing, costs too much
these days, a glance, a caress.
They can barely afford food for the day.
You’re the best they can have;
voluptuousness in stone.
They ogle and marvel, then
gradually draw nearer.
A furtive glance in every direction to check
if anyone’s watching and a hand
lifts up to cup a breast.
Human and rock merge for a blissful moment.
An eternity passes as time
drags itself to a screeching halt.
Sighs of contentment escape.
they return to a place at a distance,
to admire and hope.
Later, moving inside they speak to God, plead
with him, cajole, sometimes demand.
Karma always questioned in times like this.
A truth hard to accept.
The reasons why never defined, lying hidden
in the cosmic ether beyond their
Your breasts are a shade darker than
the rest of your body,
colored from constant caresses of
lonesome men seeking stolen pleasures.
A slow smile playing on your lips, one arm
resting on a hip pushed out to the side,
the other raised from the elbow,
fingers encircling lotus, you stand waiting
for what might be, as they shuffle past,
like the devout, softly singing praise
of the one within.
Quietly taking in their fill they return to
homes devoid of love and desire.
Who are you,
proud woman standing nonchalantly
gazing into the distance as they walk past?
What was your fate?
Willed by the hand that chiseled
you from a large rock hewn out from
another place one sunny day eons ago.
Who was the man that yearned for you so,
he cast you in stone in remembrance
to watch over the years
and give hope to
a multitude of desperate souls?
This idea behind the incident I saw and the image of the dark breasted statues reminded me of something I saw in a telephone booth on a street in London. This was a time before the mobile phone and if you needed to make a call you’d use a public phone. I don’t know if those still exist, but one of the things that greeted you when you entered one of those phone boxes was a whole load of calling cards with photos of women, much like the statues of the women in those ancient temples. It appeared as though modern women were trying to emulate the statues which were probably carved out by men who were seeking the ideal woman and not finding that around them, they were creating images in stone.
It seemed very sad. We’d come so far yet as women we hadn’t given up the notion of pleasing others – of turning our bodies into objects of pleasure for men and it didn’t matter that we were getting exploited as well. “On a Street in London” ends the collection. Between those two poems there’s just about every emotion and situation women have faced, put down in verse.
The book launch for Chant of a Million Women concluded a little while ago. I’ll share a little bit of the history of my book.
Chant of a Million Women has been in the making for about five years. I never thought the poems here would be part of a collection because when I started writing poetry I had no objective of publishing collections that were theme based. My poems are on diverse topics that are as far off as the sun and the moon. I was submitting to literary journals and anthologies and it was very encouraging to have many poems published.
But as I started accumulating more poems I realized that the only way I could keep track of all the poems was to separate them into themes. I was already finding it quite tiresome to wade through folders to find poems to submit to journals. Separating them into themes and sub – themes was definitely the way to go. I found some themes had more poems while some, less. Soon sub themes were merged or changed and I had about four themes.
The strongest was about women.
I had enough for a chapbook but I didn’t want to publish this collection as a chapbook because I realized that there were more stories I needed to tell in verse; stories that were getting written down in my mind. All I needed was to get my lines organized to write them down.
By the end of 2015 I had my collection. I took the name of one of the poems as the title of the book – Chant of a Million Women – because this is not just poems about women. It is about our stories, our lives, our loves and losses. It is about the despair and heartache we face as well as the humiliation, violence at the hands of our male peers and family and friends. It is also about the strength we have within ourselves even at the most trying times and of our ability to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs.
Several incidents that took place around me influenced my thinking. The horrendous gang rape of a young girl in Delhi and the lukewarm response to the child that was raped, the vehement outcry against a Tunisian woman from Femen for exposing her body in public, young girls caught up in the war in the Middle East and most terrible of all, the attempt to stone a defenseless Sri Lankan woman working in Saudi Arabia for allegedly having an affair out of marriage, and several others became topics to explore issues of violence against women, exploitation and patriarchy.
Yet everything is not dark and dreary. There are moments of fun and amusement and also power and strength of women who not only rise up like the lotus rising from the mud, but they also play equal if not superior to the male.
It is a chant.
And now I bring it to you. Seventy three poems about, and, for women, that were influenced by women – mostly unknown women, sit within the folds of the cover.
Take them as you will. You may see your reflection in some or recognize a friend in another. They travel from history, through continents and time. They are a chant that bubbles low at times but roars at others.
“My body is my temple.
Enter with reverence.”
Chant of a Million Women is now available in stores worldwide.
Audrey Barber is the founder member of Silent Women Saving Women (SWSW) and an hotelier based in the Middle East. In January 2000 her life changed when she and her fiancée were attacked by a group of six men. Her fiancée fought off the men and her life was saved. But his wasn’t, and he died in her arms at the hospital. That experience left her shattered but she didn’t give up the fight for justice. Five years later the attackers were sentenced to death. Audrey made up her mind to fight for others who didn’t have a voice.
Volunteering at various charities and centres for women and children she came across many young girls who were abused, raped and molested and some even committing suicide as a result of the trauma they faced. Joining with women in the Middle East who had experienced similar tragedies and atrocities she formed SWSW, a group of women from the Middle East actively working towards uplifting the lives of women and young girls who have been abused and exploited, turning her tragic story into one of hope for many other women.
After seeing a 14 year old Yemeni girl who had been sold off to a 41 year old man brought to the child welfare center brutally raped with acid thrown on her private parts, she decided to act. The girl didn’t survive but Audrey vowed she would do whatever she could to help such girls to get an education and live the life they rightfully deserved.
She visited Yemen to meet other women who are “doers” and strengthened SWSW. When SWSW becomes aware of any child about to be sold, or sold as a child bride it intervenes making contact with the Man or his counter-parts/family and negotiate a reasonable price for the child to be given to SWSW. The child is taken out of the country and brought to the specific location where she is treated/checked by a doctor within the group. The child is provided shelter and counselling as well as placed in a local school. This is for children who have not been raped or sexually assaulted. For those who have been molested, raped, sexually abused the process is more intense because apart from medical attention they also require assistance in dealing with trauma, as these girls are physically and emotionally destroyed.
SWSW has now extended its work beyond Yemen and work in Egypt, Afghanistan and several other mid-eastern countries. SWSW is not affiliated to any organization or human rights group. It is merely a group of women who have endured atrocity and trauma who have come together to help other women and save girls. The work it does is self funded.
Audrey has two wards – two Afghan sisters she rescued. The elder was raped by her uncle and the other is just 5 years old. Both girls are orphans but are now leading a happy life. They will be handed over to the state since she is a single female and a non Muslim and therefore cannot adopt, according to the law of the land.
Celine Leduc is a poet, artist and activist for women’s rights. She is the founder of “Waking Up Women” a Facebook group that brings news and the story of all women and offers alternative news and perspectives.
Celine’s M.A. in religion history and philosophy specialty is Women in Judaism and Islam. Her thesis was about Jewish women from Egypt who live in Montreal between 1947 and 1967, a look at their struggles as immigrants.
She is currently working on Decolonizing the Euro-mind and mindset that is based on the Romanizing of the mind. Rome is the first colonizer who wanted control of the whole world in the name of god. They took away the rights of women and most laws or legal systems that come out of Roman Law. Napoleon and British Law (English Law) destroyed legal systems and created religious wars as it took away right of women.
She is also writing a book on the We-story and introspection of non-inclusive European history. Because, we have His story, Her story that is a copy of history which is a We-story as it does not include the contribution of all women and men from around the world. Inspired by Professor Bello who wrote the story of Ayiti and called it OURstory which is an introspection on the story of Ayiti.
Sarah Lamar King is California made, moving to Washington early in life, where she currently resides. Born to a musician and a free spirit who weren’t ready to be parents, she was adopted when she was 6 months old. She met her biological father for the first time when she was 23. They remained close until his death on Valentines day 2003. She met her biological mother a handful of times throughout her life, few and far between, as her mother went where the wind and the alcohol took her. These events as well as raising a disabled child, dealing with loss and hopelessness, domestic violence, and walking in others shoes, have all contributed to the pieces she writes.
Sarah has been writing elegiac poetry for most of her life. With adversity and melancholy as a constant companion, she pours real, raw, dark emotion into every piece she writes.
Her first published book of dark poetry, published by Creative Talents Unleashed, titled ‘My North Star Misled Me’, has received numerous, profound 5 star reviews since its release in January of 2016.
Her 2nd collection ‘Melancholy’s Autograph ‘ delves into the darker side of the human condition and turmoils so many of us face. Summarized as “Deep and raw, Sarah’s words are soul food, providing sustenance for those hungry for real art.” ~ OD
After many years of keeping quiet, Madeleine Black decided in September 2014, to share her story on The Forgiveness Project’s website and she completely underestimated what the response would be.
Many women and men got in contact and explained how reading her story gave them strength, hope, and a different perspective of what’s possible in their lives. The founder of The Forgiveness Project, Marina, often refers to the various people on her website as “story healers” rather than “storytellers” and now she completely understood why.
In March 2015, Jessica Kingsley Publishers released a book called The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age, by Marina Cantacuzino. It’s a collection of 40 stories from the TFP website, including hers and has forewords by Desmond Tutu and Alexander McCall Smith.
The sharing of her story also opened many doors for her in ways she never imagined and after that the invitations started to pour in.
She has taken part in a film interview for a documentary about rape and the anonymity laws, which will be shown on Dispatches, Channel 4 and has been interviewed for STV News.
In December 2015 she gave her first public talk at a Festival of Light at the University of Keele. The theme was “Making Peace with the Enemy”. From that night she was asked to give three more talks on the same theme and has spoken at many other events too.
She has been interviewed by Dan Walker on BBC Radio 5 Live and talked about Forgiveness and Health, which led to interviews with Stephen Jardine on BBC Radio Scotland sharing her story and most recently with Sir Trevor McDonald on BBC Radio 4 talking about Redemption.
Her voice has been weaved into a performance called Foreign Body Play by Imogen Butler-Cole and has taken part in questions and answers after the show which will be taken to Edinburgh Festival next year.
She has been invited to share her stories with younger audiences too and recently spoke with 150 5th year pupils at a High school in Cork and hopes to do more of this work.
She recognises that she was a victim of a crime that left her silent for many years, but has now found her voice and intends to use it. Not just for her, but for so many who can’t find theirs yet. Sexual violence is so deeply entrenched in our culture and she hopes that by simply speaking out and writing about it, she can help to combat it by reducing the stigma while promoting a cultural change.
She has certainly felt the power and healing effects in sharing her story and hopes that her book will help other victims of sexual violence, crime, PTSD, and anyone who has struggled with forgiveness. She wants to spread her message: It’s not what happens to us that is important, but what we do with what happens to us and if we choose to, we can get past anything that happens to us in life.
She is 51 years old, married, work as a psychotherapist, and live in Glasgow with her husband, three daughters, her cat, Suki, and dog, Alfie.
The launch of my poetry book Chant of a Million Women will take place on August 22, 2017 on Facebook. Drop in to find out about the book, learn about why I wrote some of the poems, read excerpts of poems and talk poetry. Post questions and join in the discussion about issues raised in my poems and also in the work of my co-writers who will take over for short spells. There will be giveaways of cool stuff including copies of the ebook.
Joining me in hosting the launch are,
Madeleine Black (Unbroken: One Woman’s Journey to Rebuild a Life Shattered by Violence. A True Story of Survival and Hope, John Blake 2017),
Sarah Lamar King (My North Star Misled Me, CTU 2015; Melancholy’s Autograph, CTU, 2017),
Celine Leduc (poet, artist and women’s rights activist), and
Audrey Barber (poet, survivor and women & children’s rights activist).
The launch will be for one and a half hours. Wherever you are around the world log in at this time from your time zone.
0330 hrs Pacific Standard Time
0630 hrs Eastern Standard Time
1030 hrs GMT
1600 hrs Sri Lankan Time
2030 hrs Melbourne, Australia Time
See you there and bring your friends.
I’m launching “Chant of a Million Women” on August 21 at 2100 hrs Sri Lankan Time. Drop in at my Facebook Event page wherever you are in the world. Bring a friend. Lots of friends. Spread the word. Let’s talk poetry and about the book, and issues faced by half the world’s population.
Toward the end of Shirani Rajapakse’s plaintive and eloquent book of poetry, she has a piece called “The Poetess.” In its final lines she writes:
She walked with a spring in her step.
Her expression serious. They turned around
as they saw her pass.
She felt such pride. At last to be known.
Even if to just a few.
They did not know she had
nothing to show.
The last line surprised me, and moved me to immediate disagreement. Chant of a Million Women is certainly a notable achievement: it chronicles so many moods, in so many stories, from ancient Indian epic legends to the insurmountable challenges of every day. It consolidates and focuses our attention on the myriad ways men subjugate and objectify women, and the paltry few effective means women have to fight back. This applies particularly to cultures bound by tradition, such as one finds in India and the Middle East.
And women’s situations are so hopeless in this collection that fighting back isn’t really what it’s about. It’s about maintaining something so basic as one’s identity. So often used as a simple ornament, a status symbol, or property to be hidden away, the women in these poems lose their onetime promising selves to a male society, be it as some idealized – but definitely owned – prize, or a simple, reviled piece of furniture, or worse, a victim of violent crime.
Ms. Rajapakse places her poems in a number of milieux: traditional sexist households, dangerous, sometimes murderous, public thoroughfares, urban settings and rural. Often, no setting is specified, except the consciousness of the dispossessed woman.
A million women would indeed raise this chant. They would be fortunate were they to make it this resoundingly, with such force. The poetess distills their suffering to a specific litany, as though a bell were ringing to toll the offenses, forming a high-relief frieze of the hundreds of thousands of wives, daughters, and princesses whose stunted lives impoverish us all.
This is a distinctive, consistent collection in which the milk of human kindness has no place. Nowhere are the kind whispers of a lover or even the support of a life partner. Ms Rajapakse has consistently chosen her pieces with a eye to the plaints and sorrows of women. I salute the courage with which she lends her voice for the forgotten and uncared-for women suffering in so many places in the world. Take up Chant of a Million Women and experience its elegant phrases and its moral force.
A while back I did a promo for the first book Discovering Witchetty Waters on The Writer’s Space. Quite a few people who saw the promo liked the excerpt there went on to buy the book. Now Trisha is giving all 5 books for free.
For five days starting today, you can download the books for free. The books are, Discovering Witchetty Waters, In the Wrong Lifetime, The Rise of Sorcha, When Some Were Missing and The Great Storm of 1397.
Grab your copy before the offer runs out on August 15, 2017 and find out what Scarlett and Mason are up to in this children’s fantasy series. Share the news with friends and don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon.
After many days of working on it, my cover is now ready.
What are your thoughts?
Cover Image by Shirani Rajapakse
Cover Design by FayeFayeDesigns
I finished formatting my ebook. Yes, it’s now officially ready for release.
I thought it would be hell since poems have a different way of formatting even if they are all left aligned. I also had several poems running all over the page.
I contacted several book formatters and they gave me all kinds of responses when I sent a list of things I needed done. They all were skeptical, telling me it won’t look like it does on print. One formatter though, assured me he could do it. He even did a sample of one of the poems that has a different look with the lines all over the page. He agreed, but the funny thing was when I uploaded the book he suddenly raised his price from USD 10 to USD 200 giving me reasons that didn’t make sense for that huge price difference.
So there I was stressing out about what to do for two weeks, going up and down with formatters. Should I pay so much to get something done or should I take a chance on someone who was offering much less but cautioned me saying it might not look exactly as I want it to look?
Then a a couple of friends on Facebook assured me that,
a). it was ok if the poems in the ebook didn’t look the same as the print. Because the ereader takes on the frames and needs of the readers including font size and type that can be changed, it will never look exactly the way I want it to, and
b).book formatting was easy and there were several places offering it for free.
That made me decide to do it myself. After all, I did format the book for print and had it on PDF. What could possibly go wrong with the ePUB? I got rid of the unusual formatting for the few poems that had words crisscrossing the pages and made them all left aligned (it would have all become left aligned even if I didn’t change it).
They were right. It wasn’t hard.
I uploaded the book on D2D and after a few changes, it came out looking just the way I wanted. Wasn’t expecting that, but I’m thrilled. I’ve been playing around with the draft, making changes, but it’s done. What a relief.
Next step, uploading the PDF for POD and sending for a sample to check before pressing the publish button.
Yesterday, July 27 was #WorldHeadandNeckCancerDay. This note is from a #writer and #friend who is battling #cancer. It’s hard to see people go through so much suffering, and I hope those of you fighting your way will find the strength to believe in yourself. #writerslife #inspiration #amazon#fightcancer
“In March 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable throat cancer and underwent intensive courses of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Shortly afterwards, I contracted both double pneumonia and sepsis, and was rushed into intensive care just hours from death.
I decided to journal my battle against cancer from diagnosis, through treatment, to the life-changing after effects of the disease. I did this on a new blog, promising to be open and honest about my journey at all times. Not only did this help me to make sense of what I was going through, I also hoped my posts might help anyone who was just starting out along a similar path – and their loved ones – but didn’t know what to expect.
I’ve now turned that blog into a book: Tommy V Cancer, adding lots of extra content and bringing my story right up to date. It can be a tough read in places, especially when I posted in the early hours, unable to sleep, and scared of leaving my wife and two sons to cope without me. However, I made sure to include plenty of humour to balance those posts out. 😉
Tomorrow – 27th July – is World Head and Neck Cancer Day, so I’ve dropped the price of the book to 99p/99c for the week in an effort to help raise awareness. If you are a sufferer, or you know someone who is (or just if you want to know more), please take a look and tell your friends and family. If you can share this on your own timeline, I would be extremely grateful.
Plus, if you work in healthcare (such as the NHS here in the UK), please get in touch and I would be delighted to send you a free copy.
Pardon my language, but cancer is a bastard! It affects more than just the sufferer, and leaves utter chaos in its wake. We MUST find a cure, and that will only happen when everyone is aware of just how destructive cancer can be.
Many thanks for your time. Please contact me if you have any questions.
If you are interested in getting a copy of the book go here.
I’m going to be at the ICES Colombo next week, July 11 at 4 30 pm, for the launch of City: A Journal of South Asian Literature in English.
The launch is for the special edition of City which features Sri Lankan literature in English and in translation from Sinhala and Tamil.
If you are in this neck of the woods, join us at the ICES and meet the editor, Ajmal Kamal and the other contributors.
Here’s an interesting blog post about Kindle Book covers that I stumbled upon today. It’s old, from a few years ago, but it’s helpful for newbies, like me going it on our own, to try and figure out what works best. Read it here.
Some writers are confident writing under their own name while some opt for a pen name, like Mary Anne Evans who became George Eliot. There are many reasons for using pen names. Do you feel comfortable writing under your own name? Or do you think a different name would sound more exotic, more in keeping with the type of stories you tell?
I’ve never felt a need to write under a different name, mostly because my name is my identity. Although I tend to write from different perspectives and view points both fiction and poetry I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a different name. It would feel like being someone else, or like being in character. But that’s just me.
Other writers may have various considerations. It could also be quite exciting. Getting a pen name is like reinventing yourself.
Would you write under a pen name and where would you go to look for a name? What would you consider when looking for a pen name? How do you select a pen name and where can you find names? Read this interesting article here about selecting pen names.
Have you ever come across strange books at the top 20 with no reviews or sales and wondered how they got there? Or who wrote them? Well, maybe no one wrote them? Here’s an interesting article about how they got there. Read it here.
Amazon has started taking down reviews because they believe the reviews are done by people known to the writers. As if that’s something wrong.
Now we all know that self published writers rely a lot on reviews to get their books out there. It’s part of the marketing strategy for most indies.
But do we know all the people who review our books? I don’t think so.
I don’t review books by people I know. I review them because I find a book interesting, or I follow an author and I like her/his style of writing and want to read more, and once I’ve read the book, if I like it, I leave a review. It’s my way of saying thanks for writing a great book.
I have ‘met’ a lot of writers on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a member of an unimaginably large number of writer groups. We discuss writing, share experiences and help each out out, not necessarily in that order. We also have loads of fun hanging out in the community. Sometimes, if we find we click, we include those new writers in our friends list. But do we personally know all of them – no.
So when someone reads and reviews our books, it mean s/he is doing it because s/he likes our book and is appreciative of it and wants to let us know in the nicest possible way – by leaving a review.
But Amazon has started to take down reviews because in some strange logic that they only seem to understand, they assume that we have asked, or personally know all the people on our Facebook or Twitter lists.
Maria Lazarou has just started a petition to get Amazon to reconsider their decision. If you are an indie author, or if you support indies, or if you love reading, please consider signing the petition. You can also leave a comment to let Amazon know why you think their move is not a good one. To sign and leave a message, go here.
Barb Lieberman and her daughter Ellie opened Pipe & Thimble, a bookshop exclusively for Indie authors. Read about what they do and their success.
Ellie and Barb outside their store.
(Photo courtesy Self Publishing Mastery)
You’ve probably skipped through the first few pages of any book, or, if you may have merely glanced through them before getting to the story. Have you ever wondered what it all means and why the front matter is there for? Susan Oleksiw has an interesting post about formatting where she discusses what should go into the front matter of a book. Or read it below.
Recently I’ve come across a number of self-published books that all have the same flaw. The writers have hired editors and proofreaders, book designers and formatters, and cover designers. But they have still failed to get one part of the book right. And this is the arrangement of the front matter.
The extent of the front matter may vary; not every book needs a preface or an introduction. But the order in which the required items appear has been well established, and serves a purpose. The front matter leads us into the work by offering important clarifying detail. Arranged correctly, the front matter orients distributors, booksellers, and librarians, and provides necessary information in the expected place. They know where this information is located. Only, now it isn’t.
The front matter on too many self-published books has me flipping back and forth among the first few pages looking for the critical details (copyright, publisher, ISBN, etc.). The experience is disorienting. But learning the correct arrangement of the front matter is simple—just examine a book published by a traditional publishing house. All of them use the same setup, the one prescribed by manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style. My copy dates from 1982. Another option is Words into Type, from Prentice-Hall.
The front matter consists of everything before the main text, which begins with Chapter 1, opening on the right-hand page. Traditionally, everything begins on the right hand page—opening chapter, section title (and following first chapter in the section), division title. After the first chapter, each chapter can begin on the recto (right-hand page), or verso (left-hand page), but the writer should be consistent about this throughout the book. Here is the standard list of front matter for a print book and its arrangement.
Half title (recto)
blank (verso) or series title or list of previous publications
Title page (recto) with title and author and occasionally the title of the foreword, along with the name and location of the publisher and date.
Copyright page (verso) with copyright notice, foreword or preface copyright notice, publisher and additional publisher’s information (if a special imprint), ISBN, Library of Congress Control Number (if known), jacket or book designer’s name, place of manufacture, edition. This is also a permissions page if the list of permissions is short enough to be placed here. If not, place a note here referring the reader to the end of the book for the list of permissions. This will also be indicated in the Contents. Some publishers put the list of previous publications here.
Foreword (recto if the first page of text; if not, either recto or verso).
Section title (recto)
Chapter 1 (recto)
Pagination doesn’t usually begin until the first page of text, be that a preface or foreword or introduction or chapter 1. But some publishers begin pagination on the Contents page. If the front matter is paginated, the choice is roman numerals. Arabic numerals begin on the first page of chapter 1. But some publishers begin the Arabic numerals on the title page.
If you’re putting together an eBook, you have more flexibility. You can omit the half title and blank pages, and combine some of the others. The Title page can include the dedication, followed by a copyright page with list of permissions. A series title can also go below the title on the first page.
The back matter in a book of fiction is the place for links to websites, other books, and teaser chapters for your next book.
The front matter is important for providing a lot of technical information, and the point is to make sure anyone looking for it can find it. This may sound confusing at first, but putting things in their expected order makes the entire publication appear more professional.
To find my books (with front matter), go to:
Two courses coming up this summer.
On May 15, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in fiction and nonfiction. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities.
This MOOC will:
Professors Christopher Merrill and Venise Berry will lead you through this course. Christopher Merrill is Director of the International Writing Program and University of Iowa Professor of English; he has published six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation. His new work Still Life with Dogwood has just been published. Venise Berry is Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa; she is the author of four novels as well as four books on African-American representation in film.
On July 17, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in poetry and plays. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities.
This MOOC will:
Professors Christopher Merrill and Lisa Schlesinger will lead you through this course. Christopher Merrill is Director of the International Writing Program and University of Iowa Professor of English; he has published six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation. His new work Still Life with Dogwood has just been published. Lisa Schlesinger is Associate Professor at the Playwrights Workshop at the University of Iowa; her plays include Celestial Bodies, Wal-martyrs, Same Egg, Manny and Chicken, Rock Ends Ahead, The Bones of Danny Winston, and Twenty-One Positions.