14 August 2016

Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Anna Jacobson

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.


Anna Jacobson – How to Knit a Human 

Age: 28

How did you begin writing? As a ten year old I’d make up poems and stories and illustrate them for fun. But I didn’t start writing everyday until after being unwell in 2011. I found that writing and poetry helped me through a hard time and continues to be a powerful form of expression for me, along with other forms including photography and art. I decided to enrol in a Creative and Professional Writing degree at QUT to learn more about writing and graduated in 2015.

What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? Summer and Antipsychotics in the City by Elmo Keep, published in Meanjin. The first paragraph took my breath away because it encapsulated exactly how I felt.

Elmo writes: “When I try to explain to people what happened to me last summer when I went insane, I have what is the fairly common experience of anyone who’s been through a traumatic event: it feels as though I wasn’t the person it happened to. It happened to someone who was me, but not me. Trying to picture that person now, I brush over recollections of terror and see an image of myself that never comes quite into focus, like waking with hazy memories of having met yourself in a dream.”

She writes with clarity and makes her experience with psychosis more relatable, which made me inspired to write about my own experience.

Why do you write nonfiction? I write to make sense of the world, to share my experience out of the chaos. To document characters I observe. To capture that man pushing his wheelbarrow of pumpkins up and down Indooroopilly nonstop and put him on paper. I write to become the detective, be the hero and be the villain. I write to run down hidden pathways, to explore buildings and discover their secrets. I write as an excuse to venture into the basement of the Old Museum Building and find broken pianos lurking under staircases, brimming with stories. I write to get through difficult situations, store the material for later and then unleash it. I write to have a voice. I write because my fingers itch if I can’t document something straight away. I write to create: to express, to learn, to understand, to piece together. To gather all my notes in one place and make a story.

Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize…How to Knit a Human is my quest of finding my self and my memory after a severe episode of psychosis at age 23. How To Knit a Human begins in August 2011 when I awake from a round of emergency ECT. I have no memory of my six-week stay as an involuntary in-patient in the psychiatric ward at the Royal Women’s Brisbane Hospital. On my release, I resolve to untangle the clues and events that led to my admission. I meet Dr James Scott, my newly assigned psychiatrist who suggests I take up Mind Gym to help with my memory. After twenty weeks of Mind Gym I begin to remember the two months prior to my episode and realise the memory barrier is crumbling.

Why did you choose to write it? As well as providing understanding for myself, I want this memoir to help and give hope to those who are going through recovery from mental illness, particularly those whose memories have been affected or their sense of self ripped away. I also want to create awareness. I hope my writing helps to challenge stigma, illuminate understanding and give hope.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? I’ve had amazing writing and poetry mentors over the years. Best piece of advice is: write something that only you could write. We all have our own experiences, perspectives and insights and it’s all in the detail.

The worst piece of advice came in grade four at primary school: to avoid using dialogue in our stories. But that was because they hadn’t taught us how to use quotation marks yet! Even so, I’ve now learnt that writing is all about experimentation.

What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of?  I have a preoccupation with memory. Here is a poem I wrote about my grandfather that was first published in RABBIT (a journal for nonfiction poetry), guest edited by Felicity Plunkett, Issue 10, 2013.

Crunchy, No Bruises

When we visited next, he didn’t recognise me. He stared

right through me and out the other side. I wanted to pick

out his pupils, whisper my name and toss them back

into that blue grey sea. See a flash of recognition if only

for an instant.

He still had his eccentricities. We assured

him the apple was washed and the knife was clean. Cut

segments and ate a quarter each.

‘Crunchy, no bruises’ he said.


You can find out more about Anna and her work at www.annajacobson.com.au