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02 September 2020

Mignon Bravo Dutt: ‘Believe in yourself and don’t listen to naysayers’

Migs Bravo Dutt, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students

Mignon Bravo Dutt was a student on our six-week online Edit & Pitch Your Novel course in 2019. Her debut The Rosales House was published by Penguin Random House SEA earlier this year.

Read on to find out about Mignon’s time studying online with CBC and the inspiration behind her debut novel …

You took our online Edit & Pitch Your Novel course in 2019 – what was your experience of studying online with us like?

The course was highly engaging and it sustained my interest and involvement through the end, which is not an easy feat for an online class. The instructional videos and readings were well-interspersed with application (writing and workshop) helping to steady the pace of the course.

In terms of class bonding, I had not expected to connect well with my classmates, it being an online group. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised to find very well-meaning classmates who were warm and generous. We’ve maintained our connection long after the course, and we continue to share and learn from each other’s experience.

How did the course impact your approach to pitching your debut novel?

After the course, I approached pitching as an important project in itself, and not just an auxiliary task that could be accomplished in half a day. I paused and took stock of my material. I looked at my manuscript through a new lens, this time broadened by the inputs from the course, which I had subsequently incorporated in revision. These inputs definitely helped The Rosales House become a stronger and tighter material.

As for the pitch letter itself, a lot of effort and iterations went into distilling the promise of the novel into a crisp one-pager. But all these helped make the pitch more effective. So thanks to Anna and the team at CBC for this approach.

Your debut novel The Rosales House was published by Penguin Random House South East Asia earlier this year. Can you tell us a bit about your novel and the inspiration behind it?

The Rosales House is the story of Claire, a young Filipina advertising executive in Singapore, and her discovery that she’s a product of one of many scandals that beset her influential clan in the Philippines. It follows Claire in her search of the truth, an emotional and geographical journey that takes her to many parts of the globe.

The novel grew out from a short fiction I had written much earlier for a Creative Writing course (organised by the Birkbeck College and British Council in Singapore). I let the muse take over and before I knew it, the two-pager short fiction evolved into a two-hundred-pager novel. Ultimately the short fiction (about Claire’s parents) that inspired me to write further became the strong back story of The Rosales House.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I wrote The Rosales House while working part-time in IHG and later on in Royal DSM in Singapore. I was most creative on weekend mornings: I would get up early, grab a coffee, and start writing away while the world outside was still quiet and the weekend bustle had yet to begin. Then I’d edit and do further research on weekdays when I was off from work.

Since coming to the US in late 2019, I’d typically start writing after the morning chores and ensuring that my family is properly nourished for the day. I’d grab my second cup of coffee, and go to my designated ‘writing room’ (which has become a family writing/reading/study room since the pandemic). On good days, I’d clock in about a thousand words while my ‘song of the day’ is playing in a loop in the background. On bad days, especially when I’m disturbed by current events, I tend to stare off at my screen so I’d take a break, go to the backyard and look at or listen to nature for solace and inspiration. Then I try to pick up where I left off and write onward.

If you could only pass on one piece of advice to aspiring authors what would it be?

Believe in yourself and don’t listen to naysayers. All of us are at once capable and incapable, and we have a choice which frequency we tune into.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’ve just completed the draft of my second book, Room 216 (working title), written over the course of the pandemic. Room 216 is about four strong female characters and their complex experiences. It tells the story of four university roommates, each with a unique motivation and struggle. After graduation, Sandy, Tintin, Serene, and Issa embark on separate journeys that take them to different parts of the world. Following several relocations, Tintin now lives ten thousand miles away from her ancestral home in the Philippines, one that she keeps revisiting because it houses all her memories and has been the only permanent home she’s known. But her mother and sister now want to put the property for sale. Sandy is an achiever who wants both career and family, but soon faces a marital crisis that may also threaten her most important role: being a mother. Serene is a doctor who realizes how life, in its real essence, is truly short. This awareness emboldens her to follow her heart, even if it means shunning her traditional Chinese family. Issa is simply stunning. She loves every inch of her beautiful body for the strength it gives her and making her capable. It shatters her when she is diagnosed with stage IIIA breast cancer.

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