10 August 2016
Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Emily Clements
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.
Emily Clements – The Lotus Eaters
How did you begin writing? With an orange Derwent pencil! My first story was populated by my classmates and school staff disguised as giraffes, unicorns and benevolent sea monsters. I remember using the project as an excuse to ask my teachers what their first names were – an early exposure to the heady power of writing.
What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? Brenda Walker’s essay The Long Fall into Steel. Her voice is stunning in the literal sense; I was totally immobilised after reading. Walker takes her reader from dust-blown Texan border town to outdoor cinema in Perth; her story pocked aquatic, nervous fish flailing in bubbles of their own saliva, evaporated bodies hanging their shadows over the walls of her oncologist’s office, a timeline bridged by rusted walkways over pits of molten death – and somehow it is all absolutely crucial. Brenda Walker opened my mind to what nonfiction can be, and what it can give.
Why do you write nonfiction? I sort of tricked myself into it. Until I started RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing degree, I had both hands buried in fiction. Pete Barrett – my teacher in first year – dug them out again, and then the wonderful Sian Prior dusted them off. I had been using fiction as a crutch for my project, convinced that I didn’t have enough of a story without it. It was gently suggested that my narrative limp was actually psychosomatic, so I took out the fiction ‘for now’. A year later and it still hasn’t come back, as more and more I learn the value of writing from life.
Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize… The Lotus Eaters is the (working) title of my manuscript – my submission to the Scribe prize an excerpt from about halfway through. On one hand, The Lotus Eaters is a coming of age sex memoir (geddit, geddit), but it’s also about the interplay of identity and place, experience and selfhood. The excerpt I chose offers a self-contained impression of these themes, tracing the darkening arc of a relationship entered into for the wrong reasons.
Why did you choose to write it? A bit of a cliché, but it feels more like it chose me. If I had my way, I’d be happily tapping away at a good ol’ cli-fi dystopia or dabbling in time-travelling erotica. Instead I’ve spent the past two years slogging through a memoir. Rather than a conscious act of choosing, it was more like stumbling on a root, and then hunkering down on knees and ankles and pulling at that root for all I was worth. Once I’d started, I had to keep pulling until it was all out, for better or for worse.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? The best advice is the two words you’ll often find scrawled at the end of a workshopped piece: keep writing! There are books filled with tips and tricks but in the end none of it counts unless you persevere – put in the work, put in the words. Keep going, keep pushing, keep writing. The worst would have to be anything that involves the words ‘international market’. This usually means ‘America’. Which usually means ‘if I use the word “gumtree,” will they know what I mean?’ Bit of a personal gripe, I guess, but I feel like if the story is forced into unnatural terms, it will asphyxiate real quick. Let your characters be genuine, whatever this looks like.
What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of? Am I allowed to say this one? The Lotus Eaters is the longest piece I’ve ever written, and I’ve loathed and loved it in equal measure. I’m proud of myself for sticking to it, for putting in the hours and getting it on the page. It has made me a better writer, and brought me to a greater understanding of who I am and want to be.