Who Writes The World? — Clarissa Goenawan

Posted on November 08 2018


'Who Writes The World' by BooksActually is an interview series that celebrates prominent Singaporean women writers of 2018. In this post, we interview Clarissa Goenawan, who released her bestselling debut novel Rainbirds (published by Math Paper Press), to various accolades and international acclaim. We congratulate Clarissa and eagerly look forward to more works from her in the future!


Hi Clarissa, tell us more about yourself!
I’m an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. My debut literary mystery novel, Rainbirds, was published by Math Paper Press earlier this year. I love rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.

Tell us about your journey as an author. What inspired or compelled you to start writing?
Ever since I was a child, I’d enjoyed reading and writing. I wanted to be a writer. However, as I grew up, I thought it wasn’t a viable option and pursued a more ‘realistic’ career instead. I spent my early twenties in marketing, sales, and banking before making a bold decision to quit my job. I wanted to spend more time with my family. At the same time, I felt like I had to give myself at least one proper chance to pursue my childhood dream. I’ve never looked back.


What inspires you and your writing now?

Anything and everything, really! Books, comics (my not-so-guilty pleasure!), music, poetry, paintings… Also, everyday encounters, like stories my friends told me, or conversations I overheard!


Tell us about your creative process.
First drafts are always fast and furious. Typically, I spent a couple of months to write the first draft, followed by years of editing and polishing.
Also, I don’t plot. I usually have a clear idea of a beginning, a sense of ending, and some sort of key scenes I’d like to include—but nothing in-between. I just write and write and write, hoping that eventually, they’ll turn into something. I’m a believer in trusting your characters and letting them lead you to unexpected places.


Everyone’s probably asked you this a million times, but tell our enthusiastic new readers how Rainbirds came about. Did you draw inspiration from personal events that occurred in your life? What else inspired it?
The inspiration for Rainbirds came from a question that floated into my mind: What if someone I cared about unexpectedly passed away, and I realized too late I never got to know them well? The idea left a deep impression, and I knew I had to tell this story.

With the huge acclaim Rainbirds has received, everyone’s keeping you on the radar as a writer. What are your thoughts on being a writer – and although the adjective shouldn’t be needed in the first place, we identify you as a female writer in a largely androcentric world. What are your thoughts on being a female writer specifically?
Even though I do identify myself as a female and as a writer, I completely agree with you that the adjective shouldn’t be needed in the first place. We should never be defined—or worse, restricted—by our genders.

Do you feel things might be different if you were a male writer?
I probably get less questions about balancing writing and parenting ;)


What struggles have you had to face as a female writer?

I kind of feel that there is some sort of expectation for women writers to write in a certain way—for instance, writing about women’s issues or female experiences -and my writing does not always conform to that. For instance, my debut novel, Rainbirds, is told from the point of view of a young man and follows his journey to self-discovery in the wake of his sister’s unsolved murder. However, I’m not sure if I can truly call that a ‘struggle’, mainly because I never give it too much thought.


In this very competitive day and age, it is increasingly difficult to forge a career in the Arts, let alone trod down an author’s path. What advice would you give aspiring writers who are struggling to make this lifestyle work for them?
Pursuing writing as a career is not easy. It involves a lot of hard work and patience and to a certain extent—luck. But if writing is what you really, really want to do, then nothing should stop you. Be realistic, open-minded, and flexible. Sometimes, being a writer requires keeping a day job or having a supportive partner. A healthy amount of savings never hurts. I’m not sure about you, but I certainly can’t write hungry.


Lastly, writers have a very special relationship with books. They say that to write you must first read, and most of us learn to write first and foremost from the books we read. What are some of your favourite books you’d recommend to your readers?
I’m a huge lover of Japanese novels. Some of my favorites are Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, Keigo Higashino’s Malice, Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief, Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and The Professor, and very recently, Sayata Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. Non-Japanese favorites include Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Shin Kyung-sook's Please Look After Mum, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s Stay With Me, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, and the ultimate bible for all writers, Stephen King’s On
Writing—worth re-reading every year.


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