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  • Writer's pictureJen Rodrigo

When literature and cobbled pathways merge

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

The Fairway Galle Literary Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, has garnered mixed reviews by many over the years. Whilst some eagerly await the day Box Office opens, other Lankans like to point fingers at everything that is wrong about this mammoth effort by the GLF team.

Leaving the typical ‘let’s complain about everything’ Lankan spirit to wilt in its pot, I’m choosing to write about the highlights from my experience of this year’s Festival which concluded on Sunday 20 January.

1. The Fort of many colours

The Galle Fort (where most of Fairway Galle Literary Festival events take place) no doubt, has an unparalleled allure in itself. Cobbled stone pathways, cafes dotting the streets, plenty of food spots serving up a variety of cuisines, and bars to wind down at in the evenings – all make for a very ‘Parisian’ experience right here in Sri Lanka. What’s not to love about the following being thrown into the mix? Renowned authors discussing their authoring process, books, and life with us audience members. And 2019 was no different. The Fort mesmerised. The authors and other artists dazzled. The food kept you going back for more.

For food, you can’t go wrong with Lucky Fort on Parawa Street, Chambers on Church Street, Hoppa, Isle of Gelato, and The Original Rocket Burger on Peddlar Street, Crêpe-ology on Leyn Baan Street, Pasta Factory on Leyn Baan Cross Street, and Hammock Cafe at Dutch Hospital.

2. The candid and self-reflective nature of Sir David Hare

It was hard to miss the full-house at Royal Court Spa Ceylon for one of Britain’s best known screenwriters and playwrights - Sir David Hare. With over 30 acclaimed plays that have appeared on Broadway, in the West End, and The National Theatre, and 25 screenplays for film and television to his name, Hare got honest, witty and ruminative when he discussed his debut work of autobiography titled ‘The Blue Touch Paper’.

He described his parents’ union as a ‘odd’ one but his childhood as being one of freedom, when compared to kids’ of these days.

Sir David Hare. Pic:

“The thing wrong with theatre now is that young people have to wait 10 years before they are part of a production. In those days, people could enter theatre young. This makes me very sad,” he shared, offering an affecting account of becoming a writer amid the enormous flux of postwar England.

Hare wrote the screenplays for the hugely successful films The Hours, Plenty, and The Reader. Most recently, his play Skylight won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Revival on Broadway.

“I left my wife for Kate,” he said, candidly, reflecting on his first marriage to Margaret Matheson whom he described with fondness as being a “genuine person.” But him falling for young actress Kate Nelligan, he says “wasn’t far from happening.” “Kate and I were on a mission to change British theatre. If you’re artistically in love, the other step isn’t far away from happening.”

He spoke of how he was torn with a sense of self pity for most of his married life and this was his ‘fuel’. “It’s a great shame to be honest. I’d love to have such a grievance now,” he concluded, laughing.

3. Mama's Rooftop Guest House

For my choice of stay for the length of the Festival, I was looking for quaint and convenient, and found it in Mama’s Rooftop Guest House at 76, Leyn Baan Street. The three storey property, housing a reception area, host’s quarters, and kitchen on the first floor, two spacious rooms on the second floor and a rooftop dining area with views of the Galle Fort lighthouse and sea beyond, was an ideal pick. If you’re attending the GLF sessions, most of which were at the Fairway Pavilion and The Royal Court Spa Ceylon this year, you’d find you’re within walking distance to them. Kasun, one of the hosts, was amicable and ever ready to help with anything I needed.

Mama's Rooftop Guest House. Pic:

The room was spacious, with a separate lounging area and terrace all to myself. The terrace was an ideal spot in which to sip my morning coffee, whilst looking out the windows at the pathways below. There’s free WiFi, air-conditioning, breakfast and laptop friendly workspaces in the room.

4. A life on Stage by Simon Williams

Possibly one of the most engaging sessions I’ve ever attended in the history of Galle Literary Festivals, In Conversation: Simon Williams, A life on Stage was amusing and lively. The English actor known for playing James Bellamy in the period drama Upstairs, Downstairs, was a charming mix of humour and humility.

“Dad, you’re the happiest when you’re acting!” he recalled his son and daughter as having said to him once; and this was apparent in his pensive smiles and jubilant nature while reliving his life as an actor during the session.

Famous for frequently playing upper middle class or aristocratic upper class roles, Simon is also known for playing Charles Cartwright in the sitcom Don't Wait Up and Charles Merrick in medical drama Holby City. His recent films include Viceroy’s House and Goodbye Christopher Robin, and his last London stage appearance was in Alan Bennett’s Allelujah!

“I like to separate my life from my work,” he said when asked how he takes on such roles whilst claiming to have “default setting of happiness.”

Simon Williams. Pic:

With six stage plays and two novels to his name, Simon currently has a weekly column in

The Telegraph Magazine.

“The freedom of writing, after the constriction of acting was great,” he mused when asked what he liked best about the move from acting to writing. Having not had a great experience with teachers when he himself was young (describing his educators as “very angry, after the war”), he ventured that “teachers should celebrate what’s good in children, not what’s deficient.”

With seven grandchildren and a content life with his wife, Lucy Fleming and their cockapoo, in Oxfordshire, Simon concluded that he’d like to think his entire life as being one long highlight.

5. The Lighthouse

Calling dreamers and people with wanderlust - The Galle Fort lighthouse at night, with its hypnotising glow, is a sight to behold. Luckily for me, I could do so in the comfort of the rooftop of the guesthouse, at the close of a long day exploring The Fort.

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