'Unfinished Business' Author Shankari Chandran Is Only Just Getting Started

From winning a top award to releasing an audiobook, the Sri Lankan Australian writer has no plans to slow down in 2024.

Shankari Chandran

Image Source: Supplied

To say the past two years have been incredibly exhilarating and eventful would be an understatement for Shankari Chandran. The Sri Lankan Australian woman not only released her popular book, Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, but received the $60,000 Miles Franklin award – the country’s top literary award for fiction. 

Now, as she looks to what the next year will bring, she says the significance of her recent achievements are certainly not lost on her. As a writer, Chandran’s joy naturally stems from inspiring and entertaining readers through powerful and thought-provoking writing – not from glamorous awards. But she’s also aware that clout aside, what a shiny accolade like the Miles Franklin award symbolises is monumental from a representation and community perspective. 

“The award is such an important award in Australia, and it gave my storytelling and the storytelling of people of colour enormous validation in Australia,” Chandran tells Draw Your Box. “As much as I'd like to be someone that doesn't want it or need it [the award], for South Asian and writers of colour, the playing field is different for them. 

“So when a book wins an award like this, I think it gives all of us an opportunity. It strengthens the likelihood of publication and success of all of our storytelling,” she continues.

“It felt like a win for me, but it also felt like a massive win for the whole writers of colour writing community, and it felt like a win for the global diaspora.”

This year only promises to be busier for the lawyer and author, with the first release of 2024 being her first Audible Original audiobook, Unfinished Business. The fast-paced spy thriller is set in 2009 in Sri Lanka, after decades of civil war are being brought to an end. With the plot following CIA agent Ellie Harper’s investigation into the murder of journalist Ameena Fernando, Chandran highlights the real-life events that have inspired her gripping fictional tale.

Shankari Chandran.

Image Source: Instagram/shankarichandranauthor

“The moment that really inspired Unfinished Business was the real-life assassination of a political journalist in Sri Lanka called Lasantha Wickrematunge,” she explains. 

Wickrematunge, a journalist and editor of the Sunday Leader, was shot in the head in Colombo, by two gunmen on a motorcycle as he drove to work on January 8, 2009. He had been known for his political columns and investigations that raised questions about the expression of freedom in Sri Lanka and government corruption. This was during the civil war in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. 

“It was such a big moment in Sri Lanka and in the global diaspora,” says Chandran, who is of Tamil heritage. She describes Wickrematunge as a “speaker of truth” and a “journalist who had been brave enough to stand up to the Sri Lankan government, criticise them for what they were doing in the north and east, and to criticise them for generations of corruption”. 

“Shortly after he was killed, this newspaper published an obituary that he wrote for himself, pointing the finger at those that he believed would be responsible for his death,” says Chandran. 

“It has led to a lot of reflection within Sri Lanka and within the diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, and I really wanted to explore that and honour it [in Unfinished Business]." 

She also explores what she describes as the “geopolitics of the regions, the role of these rising superpowers and ageing superpowers, the way that they play God in small countries and the impact that that has on real people's lives”. 

Chandran believes fiction is a powerful tool to dissect some of these sensitive issues.

“I love using fiction to explore that truth particularly because in Sri Lanka, it is not easy to tell the truth. When you tell the truth, your own life is in danger,” she says. 

Whether it’s on a page or in audio form, authenticity plays a big role in Chandran’s storytelling. Attention to detail wasn’t confined to the development of the manuscript, but also applied to selecting who would narrate the audiobook. 

“When we were first talking about talent, my only request was that the voices be of South Asian ancestry,” says Chandran. “I've learned from previous adaptations that there's something about the authenticity that we as South Asians bring to a reading of a book like this that is different.” 

Actors Pallavi Sharda and Nicholas Brown, both of Indian heritage, ultimately landed the gig of narrating Unfinished Business

Amongst the launch of this audiobook, the release of another novel Safe Haven next month, and a string of writers’ festival appearances in coming weeks, Chandran still ensures she has her finger on the pulse – ready for the next big thing. 

“I'm already thinking, what can I do for Audible next? What can I do for Ultimo Press next?” she laughs. “What is the next manuscript that will take me to another world inside my mind?” 

Unfinished Business by Shankari Chandran is available to access on Audible here.

Unfinished by Shankari Chandran

Unfinished by Shankari Chandran. Image Source: Audible