LAURA HACKETT: First book you enjoyed as a child?
Shehan Karunatilaka: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. That was the first book I read for myself and fell in love with. I showed the BBC adaptation to my daughter, who is eight, and she was unimpressed with the animations.
L.H.: You’ve cited Salman Rushdie as an inspiration — which book of his did you read first?
S.H.: Midnight’s Children, and I’m not the only one from the subcontinent who was mesmerized by that book. This gave us permission as south Asians to write in a language that was our own. I’ve lost touch with him, but he is a profound influence.
L.H.: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a whodunit at heart — what crime fiction did you grow up with?
S.H.: Agatha Christie. The plots are still ingenious. You think you know who it is but she always surprises you. There’s a tendency to be snobbish, but it’s hard to write a good, well-crafted thriller.
L.H.: You’re a musician as well as a writer — what was your first gig?
S.H.: It was Crowded House in New Zealand — my first gig in college. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to call myself a musician yet. I was in bands in the early 1990s. Kurt Cobain was to blame. Grunge was happening, so you could just play three chords and talk about how miserable you were. But now I practice. I bought a keyboard and a drum kit before we left Sri Lanka.
L.H.: Which TV shows influenced you?
S.H.: We got our first TV channel in 1978. There were a lot of American cop shows and British comedies. I remember Miami Vice, but also Fawlty Towers and Mind Your Language — I don’t know if that would be played now because of the racial stereotypes. I think the humor in my writing was influenced by the British sitcoms I was watching.
I was in bands in the early 1990s. Kurt Cobain was to blame. Grunge was happening, so you could just play three chords and talk about how miserable you were. But now I practice.
L.H.: First film you watched in the cinema?
S.H.: If I were being honest, it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but if you want to write the cool one it was Jaws 2. We lived near the beach, but Jaws didn’t terrify me.
L.H.: What are you watching?
S.H.: I binged the Beatles documentary Get Back. I tried watching it with my wife, but she was bored. She said: “This is just a bunch of guys talking.” But it’s the Beatles talking!
L.H.: What are you reading?
S.H.: The Booker short list. The Trees by Percival Everett was my kind of book — we have similar sensibilities. But the one I’m reading right now is Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. I’m loving it, and I didn’t expect to.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, by Shehan Karunatilaka, will be available beginning November 1 from W. W. Norton
Laura Hackett is an assistant books editor at The Sunday Times