2 August 2016
Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Ronnie Scott
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.
Ronnie Scott – Sights
How did you begin writing? When I finished school I had no idea what I was doing, so I enrolled in an arts degree and in two years of study, the only subjects I finished were in creative writing. So I quit and re-enrolled at QUT in Brisbane, where there was a dedicated writing course. We had super-motivated teachers, who tried really hard to keep us together and make us hang out during the breaks. A bunch of us started doing workshops and putting on reading nights, and eventually made a magazine; and it’s very unlikely I would be writing today if it weren’t for those friends and those teachers.
What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? I keep thinking about “A Girl of the Zeitgeist” by Janet Malcolm, which has all these long descriptions of apartments. I wish I could come up with a better way to sell it but that would ruin all of its surprises. I like its tone – it’s an investigative profile that finally comes up with an impression of a very normal person. I will read anything by Janet Malcolm, and any biography under 200 pages. I also think we’re lucky to be alive in Australia while so many sharp people are writing essays and criticism but many of them write for the current editors at The Lifted Brow and I don’t want to sound creepy.
Why do you write nonfiction? My favourite part of writing is when you have a messy draft and you’re trying to figure out what to do with it – it feels less like invention (horrifying) and more like puzzle-solving (doable), even though writing and rewriting are always kind of both. But nonfiction always feels like rewriting to me since you’re normally working with some kind of source material. It’s easier to think about things like voice, character and narration if you have that spine in place, even though it’s probably a very meagre structure and the whole thing is embarrassing and self-deceptive.
Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize: This is an essay called “Sights” that is not really an essay, but is the most coherent part of a longer thing that is currently just scraps and fragments. It’s about being basically a shy person in a culture (queer culture) that depends so much on the production and reception of signs. And from there, trying to talk about privacy and surveillance; the work of Sophie Calle; and how when we metabolise the experiences of strangers they come to mean something different from what they really are.
Why did you choose to write it? I’m working on a novel with some similar themes but the situations and characters are fictive. I was trying to say some of the things in this essay in the novel, but these attempts were only causing problems – the characters would not think, say, or do any of these things and I was only clogging up their progress. So I started keeping a kind of nonfiction companion document that has since started producing its own material.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? I don’t think there is such a thing as bad advice on writing – it’s all there for you to make sense of and see what works for you. But I recently lost three months rewriting a story in the third person because a tarot card said to, so I may not be the greatest detector of bad ideas.
What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of? I still like this spray tan piece I wrote in 2012 – https://meanjin.com.au/memoir/dinosaurs-of-the-croatian-wild/ – which is sad to read in the middle of winter.