I suspect that the editors and publishers of Colombo’s Write magazine, which features poetry, short fiction and literary articles by Sri Lankan and Sri Lankan-based writers, must have felt cursed recently.
Production problems meant that their latest edition, Volume 2 Issue 2, was delayed for over a year. Then, in March 2020, just as the new edition was about to go on sale, the Covid-19 virus made its unwelcome but inevitable appearance in Sri Lanka. As a result, the authorities declared a curfew and the outlets that would have sold the magazine were temporarily closed down. Not that potential customers would have been able to venture out to buy it, anyway.
This was a wee bit frustrating for me, as my short story The Yellow Brick Road was due to appear in that issue of Write. (Well, I am a Sri Lankan-based writer…)
Happily, I can now report that the curfew has been eased somewhat and many Sri Lankan workplaces, businesses and retailers have reopened. This includes the Barefoot Shop at 704 Galle Road, Colombo, which is the best-known outlet where you can pick up a copy of Write. I popped in there the other day and saw the magazine’s newest issue, containing The Yellow Brick Road, stocked on its shelves.
In addition to some 40 general poems and stories, the issue features a section with poignant tributes to the victims of last year’s Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. It also has articles remembering three major figures in the contemporary Sri Lankan literary and arts worlds who sadly passed away in 2019: the poet and writer Jean Arasanayagam, the theatre director and producer Vinodh Senadeera, and the writer, poet and journalist Carl Muller. (I was particularly a fan of Muller, whose work, besides being very amusing, served as an invaluable record of the minutiae of traditional life in Sri Lanka’s Burgher community.)
The Yellow Brick Road isn’t attributed to my usual nom de plume Jim Mountfield, as it doesn’t contain any of the grim, macabre stuff that Mountfield specialises in – for example, children with worm-like and super-intelligent conjoined twins growing out of their shoulders, or elderly farmers’ wives with Alzheimer’s who are haunted by the ghosts of the husbands they murdered and fed to their pigs 30 years ago, or Tunisian medinas in alternative universes that are inhabited by vampires who inhale blood-fumes out of shishas. Instead, it’s published under my real, ordinary and boring name, Ian Smith.
While it isn’t a horror story, The Yellow Brick Road was slightly inspired by those dark gambling stories that Roald Dahl liked to write, such as Taste (1945), Man from the South (1948) or Dip in the Pool (1952), wherein someone gets involved in a highly unusual wager, with potentially ruinous consequences. However, unlike Dahl’s protagonists who, if they lose, face marrying off their daughter to a complete creep, or having a finger chopped off, or parting with their entire life savings, the main character here is an unhappy and superstitious man who simply makes a bet with himself – one night when he’s alone on Colombo’s Duplication Road and a little bit the worse for drink.
Handsomely printed, and containing some gorgeous colour illustrations, Volume 2 Issue 2 of Write is a bargain at 500 Sri Lankan rupees. The magazine’s Facebook page can be accessed here.