A former NiTH competitor, you might remember Clarissa Goenawan’s clear prose, quaint characters and simple, beautiful tales from a couple of years back, when she duked it out with other NiTH alumni like Amber Fernie, Debb Bouch, Maya Spore and Adrian Collins. Now her wonderful debut novel, RAINBIRDS, will be published by Soho Press is 2017.
Hailing from Singapore (where the food is excellent) Clarissa tweets at @ClaireClaire05. We sat down with Clarissa to talk about her journey so far.
Firstly, how excited are you to be piblishing your first book
It’s beyond words! Seriously, it’s hard to describe. I’ve been dreaming about it for so long.
Tell us all about your journey to publishing RAINBIRDS.
I wrote the first draft of my first novel, Rainbirds, in November 2013 during NaNoWriMo. After that, I edited it for the next 1.5 years. Encouraged by my mentor, Jenny, I sent my manuscript to the Bath Novel Award.
In July 2015, it was selected as the winner of the Bath Novel Award 2015, chosen out of 806 manuscripts submitted by writers in 41 countries.
I spent the rest of the year querying agents before getting multiple offers. I signed with Pontas Agency early this year. In July, we accepted an offer from Soho Press!
How did you go about securing an agent? Internet? Recommendations?
I did get some recommendations, but all of the offers I’ve received were from the old-fashioned querying way. I found most of the names online. Interviews, listings, #mswl. My friends also recommended some names. I also tried to find my favourite authors’ agents, and I got a copy of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.
What was your approach to writing RAINBIRDS
I had an idea for the beginning, a sense of an ending, and some random thoughts for the middle portion, but as a whole, I didn’t really plot. I let the story developed organically. The first draft was an epic chaos. It took me another seven drafts before I sent it out to agents.
What advice would you give to writers who wish to emulate your success
Never give up. It’s really cliché, but it’s true. There are plenty of rejections along the way, and it’s easy to get demoralized. But if this is what you want, and you’re committed to it, then you should persevere.
And it’s always good to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Never underestimate the importance of having great cheerleaders.
What role did Needle In The Hay play in your journey as a writer.
I struck gold when Martin invited me to join the NITH private forum when I’d just started writing. I learned a lot from generous fellow writers such as Maya, Debb, Lance, Joey, Adrian and many others. A number of them became long-time friends and critique partners, and their feedback was invaluable.
What’s your favourite story st NiTH?
I’ll vote for this: The Boy Who Took The Sunshine Away.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was special – the first time I used Singlish in my short story.
Thanks for speaking with us Clarissa, it’s great to see you moving forward, and I can’t wait to see RAINBIRDS in print.