When Radhika Philips decided it was time to write her first novel, she turned to Google for advice. Her search turned up a recommendation that she produce at least 5,000 words a day and also that she work with a specific reader in mind. She considered her infant daughter for the honour but then decided [...]


The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

A triumph of the human spirit

Author of the recently launched Reyna’s Prophecy, Radhika Philips tells Smriti Daniel why she opted for a fantasy novel set in modern day Sri Lanka

When Radhika Philips decided it was time to write her first novel, she turned to Google for advice. Her search turned up a recommendation that she produce at least 5,000 words a day and also that she work with a specific reader in mind. She considered her infant daughter for the honour but then decided that Rory was far too young. Her second choice was Steven Spielberg.

By the start of 2014, Spielberg has seen her through some trying times, but things were looking bright last week at the launch of ‘Reyna’s Prophecy’ – the first time publishers Harper Collins had staged such an event here.Radhika’s debut is an intriguing work of fantasy set in modern day Sri Lanka. It introduces a host of human and animal heroes, united in their quest to save the Kingdom. The novel has already received rave reviews. But if you’re someone who doesn’t usually read fantasy fiction – don’t worry, neither does Radhika.

Radhika and pet Richard Parker

At first glance, Radhika seems an unlikely author of a novel that features, among other things, talking animals. The editor of Life Times magazine (formerly LT), she’s better known for her business acumen. As one of the youngest female Directors of Business Development & Legal at Investor Access Asia, she was part of the team that made headlines when they rolled out the first seamless Internet trading system for stockbrokers. She never really put her law degree from the University of London to use, but currently is a creative director at LT PRO, a media production company under whose banner the Life Times magazine falls.

In fact when she talks about her ideas for the next two books in the trilogy she refers to them as ‘business plans.’ But ‘Reyna’s Prophecy’ is a deeply personal creation – one that, quite literally, saved her from despair. “There are pieces of me all over this book,” Radhika confesses. Reyna may be the heroine, but it is through Reyna’s mother Karina that readers will get their clearest glimpse of the author – or at least of Radhika as she was then.

Radhika began writing the book when she was struggling with depression. A confluence of personal issues had taken their toll and she found it hard to engage with the world. Like Radhika, Karina cloisters herself in her own home. But also hidden in the pages of the book is what finally drew the author out of her shell. It was around then, that Radhika says she saw baby Rory ‘talking’ to a crow. The two were unlikely but very real friends. It was enough to startle her out of her emotional inertia: “it was then a little bit of hope filtered in. I thought: ‘what if I’m too focused on the physical? What if I’m missing something?’ There was so much beauty in that tiny interaction.” Today the scene is translated into fiction early on in the pages of ‘Reyna’s Prophecy.’

She wrote the book in one long, furious rush. “I wrote 15,000 – 20,000 words a day. I wrote it in four and half months but then I cut a 180 pages out of the book. It was a ridiculously long manuscript,” she says. Its length hasn’t dimmed Harper Collins’ enthusiasm for the project – they’ve optioned books 2 and 3. Radhika describes ‘Reyna’s Prophecy’ as a “happy book” but cautions that the sequel will be considerably darker. “When I wrote it, I was really craving innocence because that was what had been taken from my life,” she says. This translates into a Reyna having the chance to grow up sheltered by her family’s wealth and tremendous consequence. Her grandmother, the impeccable and intimidating Araliya Joseph, is one of the grand dames of Sri Lankan society and has a counterpart in Radhika’s real life “adopted/foster mother of sorts.” “You can’t write a character like that,” she said grinning, when her publishers asked her how she had imagined someone like Araliya into existence. Radhika’s need for a little idealism is also why Reyna’s quest is nothing less than to save the world.

Thinking about it in a Sri Lankan context, Radhika says she realised immediately that there was a growing awareness around the environment and even how we interacted with the animals. To create her memorable animal characters – like Magenta the crow, Reyna’s irascible, long-lived guardian or Ludovig her loyal friend and canine companion – Radhika says she spent hours trying to get under the skin of animals around her. “I wondered what it must be like to be them,” she says. Pointing to a flood of research that supports notions of advanced intelligence and animals having a sense of community, Radhika says she was particularly taken with the cleverness of crows.

That Radhika succeeded in communicating all this, was confirmed by Rukshan Jayewardene, Chairman of the Wilderness & Protected Areas Foundation and a Trustee of The Leopard Trust. Having been called upon to fact check her work, literally on the eve of publication, Rukshan said in a statement to the press:‘One has to be brave or prescient or both, to write a novel such as this, because unlike in the popular genre of magical fantasy fiction, much of what Radhika writes about is becoming the real life experience of several people who work closely with animals.’

Even the setting is all too recognizable, drawn from a Sri Lanka over the last decade. Bombs explode in Colombo, and when the tsunami strikes it leaves Radhika’s literary landscape as devastated as Sri Lanka was in 2004.Despair makes humans dangerous, animals die at the hands of poachers and we are all trapped in a world that values power and wealth above all things. But while exploring notions of captivity and freedom, Radhika taps into another dimension, allowing her characters to exist in a world where the spiritual is made tangible. Reyna has a palpable connection to the animals around her and a real sense of the interconnectedness of all things.

Radhika is hoping that she will provoke her readers to thought but is determined to let her work speak for itself. She wants the book to be a testament to the triumph of the human spirit: “the harder the circumstances, the purer the struggle,” she says, recognising our ability to adapt in ways that call forth magic and hope in a sometimes harsh, cynical world. It’s another quote that resonates on more than one level: once again, Radhika is talking as much about her book as she is about her own life.


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