Michelle Law, Writer
Michelle Law is a Brisbane-based writer who has been winning awards for her screenplays and winning hearts with her fearless take on life – just wait until you see her TEDx talk below! She's an unapologetic Frozen fan and a lover of Amy Poehler (aren't we all). In her spare time she tends to a very aggressive tropical fish (just the one – it’s eaten all of the others), which sounds pretty badass. Let's all take a moment to get to know how awesome she is.
What do you do?
I’m a writer based in Brisbane who writes all kinds of things: fiction, non-fiction, TV, film and theatre. I also work as a bookseller and tutor at university.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
“I can’t do this but I’m doing it anyway.”
“Great people do things before they’re ready.”
The second one is something Amy Poehler says. It’s about not doubting yourself and your capabilities, and being courageous in the face of risk.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
In chronological order:
1). Having my first piece published. I was in my final year of high school and my brother forwarded me a national callout for pieces about growing up Asian in Australia, for a book being put out by Black Inc that was being edited by Alice Pung. I remember writing my submission in-between writing assignments and studying for exams, and was quietly hopeful about it, but expecting to be knocked back. So I was shocked when Alice got in touch to say that she loved the piece and wanted to include it in the book. It was so reassuring to have an established writer encourage me and make me feel as if I had a voice and a story worth telling. She really took her time with me and stayed in touch, and now she’s a family friend.
2). Breaking up with someone! (Sounds nuts, but I feel like this is a common story.) I went through an awful breakup when I was younger that forced me to re-centre myself mentally and creatively. I think being a young woman, in love for the first time, it’s easy to lose yourself when you’re embroiled in something as consuming as a relationship. It starts to define who you are. After that breakup, it was necessary for me to spend time alone to reassess who I was, what was important to me, and to find my voice again.
3). Talking at TEDxSouthBankWomen . It was the first time I’d spoken about having alopecia publicly and the outpouring of support and love from people on the day, as well as after the talk was posted online, was surreal and overwhelming. From there came a lot of opportunities to speak and write about feminism, and the social and political issues facing women.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
I’ve been lucky to have amazing female mentors in every field of writing I’ve worked in, as well as some amazing dudes who have stepped up and supported me and invited me into industries that can be a real dick forest. These women have been through the wringer before and when you’re around them there’s a very noticeable shift in dynamic; you feel like you can ask questions, and you feel supported. I can’t name all of the women who have been there for me in both big and small ways because the list would go on for ages, but I never forget those people and want to do the same for other women and give back. Very rarely, I’ll come across competitiveness and meanness among women in the industry, but I put a lot of that down to the fact that there are so few opportunities for women sometimes that that’s how people feel forced to behave. But if we’re not working together, we’re not really getting anywhere. To me, it’s wasting energy on a problem when you should be focused on fixing it.
What is your dream project?
Creating a comedy TV show that I write and act in, with a super diverse cast and crew.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
My main project is a feature length play that’s been commissioned by La Boite Theatre. That will hopefully be up soon. I’m also drafting a feature film and a web series.
If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?
Amy Poehler. She’s smart, funny, talented, assertive and has impeccable taste. I love her work as a writer/producer/actor, but also as an activist and champion of girls through her online collective Smart Girls. She’s unafraid of being vulnerable and would have a lot of wisdom to impart.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
To trust yourself. And that it’s ok to say no to things, whether it’s working for free, or shutting down some creepy dude. Value yourself and the work you do, otherwise no one else will. Also, Laurie Anderson’s advice about creative jobs. You should do a project only if it fulfils two of the following categories: it’s interesting; it’s fun; or it pays money. Money can be a very awkward thing to talk about, but when you’re a) creative and b) a woman, you shouldn’t feel awkward. It’s important to be paid fairly. And it’s your right.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
I really love trash. (Well, quality trash.) Recently I went on ABC RN to talk about my favourite movies and when I listed Frozen and The First Wives Club among my top five films, people laughed. I really brought it right down. It was great. Pop culture is a lot of fun and so indicative of the broader themes society’s engaging with and being affected by; it’s deeply informed by literary theory, and the people who enjoy it aren’t all vacuous dummies. So I’m listening to a lot of 90s hits and musical theatre to wind down at the end of the day, as well as getting excited for Dami Im competing at Eurovision. When it comes to books, I’m only reading POC (people of colour) authors this year to offset the 500 million white authors I was prescribed at school and university, so I’ve started off with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Yassmin’s Story by Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. And I’ve been watching Black Comedy, The Katering Show, Brooklyn 99, and One Born Every Minute UK, because I’m disturbed.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
One thing I’m particularly passionate about, and something that’s a hot topic in the performing arts right now, is diversity — whether that’s behind the scenes or in front of the camera/on stage, lack of diversity (whether it’s gender, cultural or those living with disabilities) has and continues to be a serious problem. But I’m optimistic that things are changing, despite how long it’s taken. You only need to look at the emergence of new theatres like the National Theatre of Parramatta, and diversity programs like LOTUS, the Asian Australian playwrights initiative developed by Performance4a and Playwriting Australia. I spoke about the issue more extensively with my brother recently for Junkee.