15 August 2016

Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Anastasia Kanjere

In the lead up to announcing the winner of The 2016 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers, we’re introducing you to every talented young writer on our shortlist.  Read on for more information on their work, writing journeys, and all their tips, tricks and advice for budding young non-fic creators.

headshot kanjereNEW

Anastasia Kanjere – The Lighted Door

Age: 29

How did you begin writing? I began writing in grade 1. We got to write stories and our teacher would type them up into little books that we could illustrate. I wrote about our goats and how much I loved them. Later, I got the bug and wrote a much longer, quite involved piece about a demonic dwarf living on an island. That one never got the book treatment.

What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? I adore nonfiction so this is a very tricky one. But Hilary Mantel’s Giving up the Ghost stands out as a piece that I can just read over and over again and still get more out of it.

Why do you write nonfiction? I’m worried that the answer to that is that I don’t have sufficient imagination for fiction. But if I was in the mood for self-flattery I might say that it’s because the oddness and richness of ordinary life fascinates me so much that I haven’t yet seen the need to invent beyond it.

Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize… This is a memoir about the first months after my daughter Otti was born. I found that time incredibly overwhelming and devastating. I’d been writing away on this stuff and it was just sitting there on the computer growing and growing and then I heard about Scribe Prize. It was for nonfiction, for writers 30 and under, and submissions closed 25 days before my 30th birthday. I thought: OK, universe, that’s a strong enough hint. So I pulled out some parts of this much larger, much rougher whole, and fit them together as an excerpt that made sense on its own. It was pretty full on to submit, because of all the usual reasons about submitting writing but also because the piece is pretty intimate. But using pseudonyms helped with that – I said to myself I was doing it to completely anonymise it, as the entry criteria requested, but the truth is I think I would have needed to do it anyway just to get my courage up to send it in.

Why did you choose to write it? I don’t feel that I did – choose to, I mean. Writing was incredibly important to me at that time, it was something that I turned to. Once I came out of the worst of it I could have stopped, I guess, but by then I was intrigued as to where it was going. I also feel like motherhood is an experience that can get short shrift in writing. It’s such a passionate, messy, devastating, profound experience and I don’t feel like many writers capture that. Or not at least in anything that I managed to find when I was looking for it.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received is: write. It’s also the worst because it’s absolutely the last thing you want to hear when you’re struggling with something and need some inspiration. But like with the bear hunt, the only way forwards is through it, and the sooner you confront that the better. I find that piece of advice particularly inspiring when it comes from someone who acknowledges how much it sucks (Anne Lamott is brilliant for this). I read her Bird by Bird recently and found it incredibly uplifting in its hard-headedness. I still have a lot of imposter syndrome, of course, so I actually found it quite wonderful to hear that oh, OK, real writers hate writing too.

What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of? This is a very hard question. I think like a lot of writers I struggle quite a lot to evaluate my own work. One piece that I found incredibly enjoyable to write is a short story I wrote for Going Down Swinging about taking Otti to the VWFL grand final. The piece just wrote itself. I found it so easy to write I thought it couldn’t have been any good, so it was quite thrilling to get it published. But the truth is I think it’s the piece I’ve submitted to Scribe that I’m most proud of. It certainly is the work I’ve sweated the most over. I think as a writer you have to be proud of yourself for effort because everything else can be quite ephemeral. Recognition might come and go but the hard slog will always be there! And there’s something lovely in that.

You can find more about Anastasia on Twitter at @a_kanjere.