Childhood of Arthur C Clarke Revisited: New Sinhala book reveals the making of a 20th Century Genius

Read Sinhala version of this note:

තරු අතරට ගිය දරුවා: ආතර් සී. ක්ලාක්ගේ ළමා කාලය පොතක් ලෙසින්

Tharu Atharata Giya Daruwa - Childhood of Arthur C Clarke - by Nalaka Gunawardene
Tharu Atharata Giya Daruwa – Childhood of Arthur C Clarke – by Nalaka Gunawardene

A new Sinhala language book, being released this week, traces the formative years of Sir Arthur C Clarke (1917 – 2008), author, undersea explorer and futurist.

Titled ‘Tharu Atharata Giya Daruwa: Childhood of Arthur C Clarke’, the book is written by Lankan science writer Nalaka Gunawardene who worked with Clarke for 21 years as research associate at his personal office in Colombo.

The book, in story-telling style in conversational Sinhala, is suitable for readers of all ages, and especially for parents, teachers and children.

Clarke’s accomplishments are known much more than his humble origins and early inspirations in life. He was born in rural England as the First World War was ending, and spent his childhood years in Minehead, Somerset, close to the sea. His experiences were shaped largely by growing up on the family farm, exploring the local beach, and working part-time at the village post office.

Arthur was the eldest in a family of four, who were raised by their dynamic mother, widowed at a young age. Despite cycling 20 km to school and back and helping on the farm, he excelled in studies and pursued serious hobbies — star gazing, mechanical experiments and nature observations.

“Early on, he cultivated habits like good time management, thrift, careful storage of everything and multi-tasking – all of which lasted a lifetime,” says Nalaka Gunawardene. “He knew the value and limits of money, respected the dignity of labour, and appreciated honesty and hard work in everyone.”

The book is widely illustrated with 74 photographs including many drawn from family albums preserved by the Arthur C Clarke Trust that now manages the Clarke Literary Estate. It also carries some original caricatures drawn by cartoonist and artist Dharshana Karunathilake who designed the book.

Chapters are devoted to facets of young Arthur Clarke, covering pursuits like avid reading, fiction writing, rocket building, movie watching and his elaborate yet harmless pranks. Throughout the book, readers discover less known facets of the global figure – such as his fondness for animals, dinosaurs and comics.

While confining mostly to his first 20 years, the book connects Clarke’s childhood exploits with his later feats in science fiction, undersea diving, space exploration and telecommunications.

In a career spanning over six decades, he wrote some 100 books and more than 1,000 short stories and essays covering both science fiction and science fact. He was the first to propose geostationary communications satellites, and one of his stories later inspired the World Wide Web.

Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008): "He never grew up, but he never stopped growing"
Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008): “He never grew up, but he never stopped growing”

“Sir Arthur used to joke that one secret of his success was his careful choice of parents,” says Nalaka. “More seriously, what roles did family, education, peers, travel and social interactions play in producing the distinctively his combination of sharp wit, irreverence, playful humour and, above all, vivid yet realistic imagination? My book goes in search of some answers from his childhood.”

The book collates information, images and insights Nalaka has accumulated over the years working closely with Clarke on the latter’s literary and scientific projects. Nalaka twice visited Clarke’s home town of Minehead, family farm Ballifants and town of Taunton where he schooled. Photos from these travels enrich the book which quotes Clarke’s biological and Lankan family members.

In 2012, Nalaka was a collaborator to the extensively revised and expanded edition of Clarke’s authorized biography, titled Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke. It was written by Neil McAleer, who also wrote the original 1992 biography.

Nalaka reiterates that the best way for Sri Lanka to celebrate the legacy of Arthur C Clarke is to adapt his ideas for a better world based on knowledge, ethics, compassion and imagination.

The 120-page large format book, published by Suratha Books, is priced at LKR 600. It will be on sale at several booths the Colombo International Book Fair from 10 to 16 September 2014, with significant discounts. A book launch event is to be held later.


Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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