16 November 2017

Meet the 2017 Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist – Michael Dulaney

In the lead up to announcing The 2017 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers, we’re introducing you to every name and face on the shortlist. These are some of the brightest nonfiction minds in the country and they’re all aged 30 and under. Read their profiles on the Express Media blog to learn more about their writing journeys, love of nonfiction and their tips and tricks to writing the best real-life stories.

Michael Dulaney, 30, NSW
‘The Prisoners of Colour’

How did you begin writing?

I wrote a blog for several years. It’s deleted now, mercifully. I think if I went back and re- read it I would have a crisis of confidence.

Why do you write nonfiction?

There are a few reasons: it’s predominately what I read, I think there’s a lot of freedom in the form, and I’m pretty hopeless at writing fiction. Also, if I’m honest, I think it’;s to connect with people, an attempt to diminish some sort of profound loneliness or leap over an experiential barrier that seems to separate me from others. It’s an impossible task – no one can share your inner life – but maybe writing is a way to come close?

Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize…

It’s an account of my visit to Coober Pedy, a town that produces 90 percent of the world’s precious opals and where residents live in underground houses to escape the stifling desert heat. Mining here is lonely, dangerous work. The town is one of the last holdouts of the prospector myth and is full of people who, despite dreaming of fabulous riches, spend most of their life in poverty searching for treasures in what was once a vast inland sea.

Why did you choose to write on this subject?

About a year ago I visited Coober Pedy to make a radio package for the BBC, and came away fascinated with the place. I remember that for most of the 10-hour drive home I had this powerful sense of fear, maybe even awe, and a morbid curiosity with the town. It kind of stuck with me once I got home, and the more I learned – about opals being fossilised creatures that once lived in an extinct sea, about just how crazy and dangerous mining has been in the area – the deeper I went.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I’m struggling with my writing, I often think of an interview with Ta Nehisi-Coates from a few years ago, where he says “It’s as though you have a certain music in your head, and trying to get that music out on the page is absolute hell. But what you have to do is give yourself a day, go back, revise, over and over and over again.” Especially at times when I feel like whatever I’m churning out is the worst thing ever written, it’s a little reminder to persevere, and remember that the first draft (or the second, or the third) doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. When your mood and self-confidence is at a low point it’s comforting to know that
even someone as gifted as Ta Nehisi-Coates has been through the same.