Published on 9 March 2018

Credit: Choo

The stay-at-home mother of three young girls shares her journey in launching her debut novel “Rainbirds”, which has already received global acclaim.

By: Melanie Lee

The evocative writing of Indonesian-born Singaporean Clarissa Goenawan has captured much international attention from the literary world. Her debut novel, “Rainbirds”, won the 2015 Bath Novel Award after beating hundreds of manuscripts from around the world. Slated to be published in 10 different languages, “Rainbirds” is also currently one of the Book of The Month’s March Selection.

“Rainbirds” is a dark and spellbinding novel which revolves around a young man called Ren as he grapples with his elder sister’s sudden death. Goenawan, a 29-year-old mother-of-three, shares her journey in getting her debut novel published.

Tell us more about how you started writing fiction.

It has always been a childhood dream to be a writer. But as I grew up, I felt that this was not realistic and did jobs such as marketing, sales and banking. However, in late 2012, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had very bad morning sickness and my job then involved travelling a lot. Upon discussion with my husband, I decided that I would take a sabbatical. I felt that during this break, I would give my dream of writing a novel one last shot. I wrote the first draft of “Rainbirds” in November 2013 as part of National Novel Writing Month.

How did your debut novel “Rainbirds” get published?

Around the same time I was working on my first draft, the Singapore Writers Festival organised a Three-Day-Novel-Writing Boot Camp by Curtis Brown Creative which I attended. This was my first creative writing course and I really learned a lot – before this, I never even knew there were things like plot or point of view. The tutor there said my manuscript had potential and encouraged me to keep working on it.

From 2014 – 2015, I was a mentee with The WoMentoring Project and my mentor encouraged me to submit my work for competitions. To be honest, I wasn’t very keen on this because hundreds of people join these things and I felt I wouldn’t stand a chance. However, to my surprise, “Rainbirds” won the 2015 Bath Novel Award (for best unpublished novelists across the globe). This recognition helped me in getting an agent a few months later, and today, the novel is set to be published globally. I’m especially  happy that the novel will be translated to Indonesian because my parents don’t speak English and they have never been able to read my published writing before this.

Credit: Math Paper Press

What made you want to write a novel set in Japan and from the point of view of Ren, a young bachelor?

I love the Japanese language and culture. In high school, I studied the Japanese language and joined the Japanese Club. I was still learning Japanese when I worked, and manga is my guilty pleasure. In terms of point of view, I usually choose this in terms of who would be the best person to tell the story. If you read my short stories, I’ve taken on a wide range of characters.

How do you find the time to write? 

Regardless of what occupation you are in, finding the time to write is always difficult, but you just have to make the time for it. For me, I have learned to ask my husband for help in taking care of our children. I used to feel guilty about writing because I felt it took time away from my children. But I realise that when I come back from a writing session with a friend, I actually feel better and more refreshed. Some people say that you can’t be a good writer if you’re a mother. However, for me, if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t be writing! I also feel that by pursuing writing, I can be a role model for my daughters and show them that it is possible to go after your dreams.

The Singapore edition of “Rainbirds” (published by Math Paper Press) will be launched this Sat, 10 March, 5.30pm – 6.30pm at The Arts House as part of the #BuySingLit campaign. Click here for more information.

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