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Finding Inspiration for an Epic Novel

The Devil Dancers - A brush with history
An incurable history buff, I have always written for a living and my imagination was fired by stories my husband told me of 1950s Ceylon. When he mentioned monks involved in politics my antennae twitched. Wasn't this like medieval Europe? The period I had studied at University: fascinating for its twists and turns before the separation of politics and religion prevented the natural interplay of powerful forces. I had to know more.
I began writing The Devil Dancers with its intricate human interest stories while researching the historical background. But standard textbooks brought me little joy until a chance encounter with a Sri Lankan history student introduced me to Tarzie Vittachi's extraordinary account of the 1950s race riots: ‘Emergency ‘58".

Another coup was a visit from my mother-in-law who began to tell me how she had lived in the same street as Vimala Wijewardene. Even better, as a 15-year old girl she had seen the influential Buddhist abbot, Buddharakkita Thera, passing her house in a car. She said "He smiled at me". The significance of this was lost on me until my husband explained that "smiling", in this context, is a Sri Lankan euphemism for a lecherous look. I included this scene in the book as well as another story told by my mother-in-law regarding Mr Bandaranaike's father, a larger-than-life character who had brought a neighbour a bag of oranges for her sick child. I also have my mother-in-law to thank for other details, such as the ribald song about the shooting of Somarama Thera.

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The Author

  T. Thurai studied Medieval History at London University where she gained a BA Honours degree at University College, followed by a Master of Arts at King's College.
  She worked as a journalist for ten years before qualifying as a lawyer. However, even during her 10-year career in the legal profession, she followed her natural instinct for writing, producing numerous journals, articles, press releases and two editions of a book on Internet and eCommerce law.
  Her husband was born and raised in Sri Lanka and although the couple live in Britain they have extensive contact with the ex-patriot community and visit the country whenever possible.

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Pictures on a wall

She leads him into a long, narrow passage, illuminated only by the dim light that overflows from adjoining rooms. On the walls, photographs are packed so tightly that sepia figures seem to emerge from the plaster. All fix the newcomer with the same sombre stare.

Neleni's gallery of family photographs is a recurrent theme in The Devil Dancers. It was just such a photograph that fired my imagination and gave me the idea for the book.

My husband had a collection of family photographs which he brought with him from Sri Lanka. One, in particular, fascinated me. It showed a man, long dead, who had been the love-child of an illicit union. What struck me was not only the sensitivity of his face, but also its sadness. I found myself standing in front of that photograph day after day, wondering what he had been like. Having questioned my husband, a picture emerged of a person who was highly talented and loved by his family, but who had also lived a relatively short and tragic life.

Although this character only has a minor role in the book, he was the catalyst that got me started. I spent a lot of time thinking about the dynamics of a love affair carried on within the home. Would the atmosphere of secrecy kill passion or increase it? This was to become the story of Neleni and Arjun, the central theme of the book.