Q&A with The Bath Novel Award 2015 WINNER CLARISSA N GOENAWAN

palerCongratulations Clarissa. How does it feel to have won with your first novel?


clarissaIt’s so hard to believe. Even now, I keep on telling myself, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’

I still remember just a few months ago, my writing mentor, Jenny Ashcroft, had suggested to send Rainbirds for BNA, and I was like, ‘Are you sure? I don’t think I’ll stand a chance,’ and she was like, ‘Why not? You should just sent it.’ Thankfully, I listened to her.

palerWe’re obviously very glad you did! During the competition, what was the hardest part of waiting to hear how RAINBIRDS was progressing?

clarissaThose teasing tweets! I stalked BNA’s Twitter account together with fellow contestants and each time something came out, we were like, ‘Do you think it’s yours? Do you think it’s mine?’ And on each announcement day, I kept on refreshing the website over and over even though I knew it was not time yet. Everything was good fun, but also very, very nerve-wrecking.

palerDescribe RAINBIRDS …

clarissaThis is my pitch: An apathetic young man, his enigmatic sister, and a precocious teenage girl, each with a secret of their own. Japan 1994: Twenty-four-year-old Ren Ishida’s humdrum life is shaken by his older sister’s murder. Guided by recurring dreams of a little girl, he discovers a painful truth that unearths secrets from his past.

palerWhat inspired you to write the book?


The idea came when I thought of what would happen if someone died unexpectedly, and no one really knew what kind of life she had been leading. After that, the rest of the story grew organically.

palerWhy did you choose Japan as your location?

Iclarissa wanted an Asian country with four seasons and a wide range of backdrops, such as mountains, lakes, etc. I shortlisted a few options, and eventually decided on Japan. During high school, I used to study Japanese language and read copious amount of manga (actually, I still do!)

palerHow long did Rainbirds take to write and how was it plotted?

clarissaI spent one and a half months writing the first draft (excluding the preparation time – like staring at the wall, looking for inspirational photos, etc.).  After that, I spent another one and a half years editing the manuscript (I’ve got seven drafts in total!) before sending it out to competitions and agents.

For Rainbirds, I didn’t really plot. I just continued to write and write, hoping that it would eventually lead to something. The first draft was a mess, of course, and required a lot of rewriting and editing.

palerWhat are you currently writing?

clarissaI have two WIPs at the moment (probably the best strategy in a bid to stay sane during the querying / waiting process). One of them is a love story, and another one is a mystery. Both are still in the early stages, so things might change.

palerTell us about you…

clarissaI’ve always wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and finally decided to give it a serious try when I took a break from the workforce. Previously, I had done marketing and sales, including a three-year stint in a book distribution company.

palerYou’re an alumni of CBCreative’s online course. What was the best thing about studying creative writing?

clarissaThere are too many great things to mention, but the highlights are the great advice I’ve received from Anna Davis and Chris Wakling, and the support and feedback from my fellow classmates. They are amongst my greatest cheerleaders.

palerTell us about being a WoMentoring mentee.

clarissaI’m lucky to have Jenny Ashcroft as a mentor and a great friend. We met through The WoMentoring Projectwhich offers free mentorship for female writers. Jenny helped me a lot with getting my manuscript ready for submission. It makes a huge different when you have someone—who has been there and succeeded—to guide you along.

palerDo you belong to a writing group?

clarissaIn Singapore, I joined the Writing the City writers’ group. We meet once a month in the library to do writing exercises and give feedback to each other. Recently, our group launched our first print anthology in the National Library.

I often join #writingchallenge in Twitter, and am a regular NaNoWriMo and CampNaNoWriMo participant. I’m also part of Bali Emerging Writers Festival Online Writing Class.

palerYou’re currently seeking agent representation. How have you found the querying process?

clarissaA lot of waiting, and hoping, and waiting. Andrew, one of the BNA shortlistees, has kindly written me a ‘be patient’ haiku.

At times, querying can get emotionally challenging, especially when faced with so many rejections. A classmate from CBC once said, ‘You need to grow a Rhino skin,’—and I couldn’t agree more with her. It’s always good to gather your personal cheerleaders.

P.S. Some of the BNA people are cheering me now. One of the best things about being part of BNA is the amazing and supportive people you’re going to meet.

palerSaving or splashing your prize money?


Iclarissa treated my family to a nice Chinese dinner and bought some Royce’ chocolates for my local writing group, but I’m saving the rest for now.


palerAny advice for writers thinking of entering their novel?


clarissaJust do it, really. Just do it. It might be the one decision that changes your life.


Read the first chapter of Clarissa’s winning novel, RAINBIRDS, here.

The Bath Novel Award 2016 is now open to entries from unpublished and independently published writers.  Full details.