3 August 2016
Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Michelle Balogh
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.
Michelle Balogh – Shan-Yi
How did you begin writing? I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, so it’s hard to say when I began. When I was about ten I was obsessed with writing a novel ‘like Little Women.’ My mum told me that stories like that weren’t just made up, they were supposed to come from real experiences. I was totally disheartened at the time, but I’ve ended up writing non-fiction so it turns out she was right.
What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? I want to say Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, even though that seems the most obvious answer ever. I just love it. I’m always reading Vanity Fair, which is full of amazing non-fiction. I’m obsessed with their online crime archive, where you can find all the best crime stories they’ve published over the years. They are fantastic and addictive, and you can see the way the writing at the magazine has changed over time.
Why do you write nonfiction? I completed my Masters in Creative Writing at UTS, and most of the writing I did there was young adult fiction. I took a non-fiction class basically because it fit well into my schedule, but it totally turned my writing around. I realised I was way better at blabbing about my own experiences and the people and places around me than I was at constructing a fictional plot.
Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize. Why did you choose to write it? In a way my submission is born of blind luck. My step great grandmother lived an extraordinary life – stranger than fiction – and it fell into my lap. I had the bizarre experience of living in her apartment, surrounded by her things, for eighteen months after her death. I was so absorbed in her life it didn’t feel like an option not to write about her. I struggled for years with figuring out how to tell her story in a way that didn’t violate the truth of it, and without the funds to visit many of the places where it took place. Once I realised that between all the letters, diary entries, and transcripts I could actually tell the story using her own words, everything flowed from there.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? Just write. I’ve heard this in many forms from many people, and yet failing to put pen to paper is still the biggest obstacle I face. Thinking too much and worrying too much are the enemy of productivity. I don’t think I’ve ever received any bad writing advice, I find the more advice the better – it all gets put in the pot and simmered together to make me the writer that I am.
What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of? I am usually most proud of my most recent piece and horribly embarrassed by everything I wrote in the past. I guess that’s a good thing because it means I am improving? Hopefully. At the moment I am most proud of my Scribe submission Shan-Yi, because it took me a long time to figure out how to piece it together in a way that was meaningful to me and seemed to work. After working on it so hard I’m still excited to develop it further which feels crazy and great.