Each month, we, the editors of Affinity Magazine, choose to spotlight one young writer whose passion and voice the magazine couldn’t be the same without. For September 2019, we’re honoring Aly Balakareva, a teen journalist from Cyprus, as our Writer of the Month. Though Aly is still in high school, she has already shown the world that she has skills and expertise beyond her years.
As a self-professed cinephile and budding photographer, Aly is possibly one of the most knowledgeable teens about art in the world. Aly just exudes passion for all things art-related in her thoughtfully crafted work. And according to us editors, she just writes “the coolest articles ever!” We know that every time we see a byline listing Aly Balakerva, we’re in for a treat. Don’t believe us? Just check out her piece on Kazimir Malevich and the quiet allure of abstract art or her article about the magic of Wes Anderson movies. We promise that her words will make you see the world a little differently and take a closer glimpse at the beauty that surrounds you.
We can’t imagine Affinity without the vibrant beauty that Aly brings to her work. Here’s just a tiny peek into the artsy, passionate mind that belongs to Aly Balakerva.
Alice Ao: How has your childhood in both Russia and Cyprus shaped who you are today?
Aly Balakareva: Living in two countries has definitely influenced who I am as a person. I believe that moving to Cyprus when I was eight — a more or less conscious age — has allowed me to preserve childhood memories from both countries. This, in turn, shaped me as a person, as I absorbed different bits and pieces from both cultures. I wouldn’t call myself exactly Russian or a complete Cypriot. I’m probably somewhere in the middle of this self-invented spectrum. And I find it to be something that I’m grateful about since I have insight into the politics and culture of two completely different countries.
Besides making me learn a completely different language, moving to Cyprus has made me more open to other people, as well as new experiences and possibilities. Being surrounded by people that are of so many nationalities and come from so many different backgrounds, it is only natural that you become inquisitive about their stories and their cultures. Moving to Cyprus has opened up not only many doors for me opportunity-wise but also my eyes to a completely different world — I dare say a bigger and a wider one.
AA: When did you first become interested in writing, and how did you become more involved in writing?
AB: To be honest, writing has never been something I thought I would pursue. From a very young age, I’ve been interested in the visual aspects of storytelling, such as art or film or photography. However, after devouring a large part of my school’s library, I spontaneously decided to taste what writing felt like and began writing short (and some longer) stories, including fanfiction. It wasn’t something that I took seriously and was just doing it for pure enjoyment. That was a few years ago when I knew I didn’t want to be a writer. The idea seemed so remote, like, other people do that but not me.
That was before the summer that I discovered Affinity — once again, it was very spontaneous. I was just searching for magazines “for teens, by teens” on Google, not impressed by what Elle Girl or Teen Vogue had to offer. I decided to submit an application, having had no experience of writing articles or actually being interested in journalism whatsoever. It was summer, I had a lot of time on me, so I thought I’d give it a try. And when I received the acceptance letter, I was over the moon.
It was by writing articles for Affinity that I found out I was really invested in writing. Gradually, I developed a passion for the writing process and its every stage: finding an idea, researching it and writing an article. It has become a craft that now has a special place in my heart — so special, that it is now one of my future career options.
It is interesting to reflect back on this and examine how the tiles have tessellated into one large mosaic. Every single part of my journey contributed to the writer I am today, even the simplest Google search.
AA: What’s your favorite source of inspiration? Do you have any favorite authors, artists, etc.?
AB: I wouldn’t say there is this one special muse that inspires me: it ranges from music to art to the weather. At times, I begin writing about something, and this is when it hits me: the beautiful feeling that urges me to continue creating. I believe that one should not wait until they finally attain the inspired state to begin doing something. If I did, with some of my pieces, I would probably have waited forever. Sometimes, it is in the process that we find ourselves so hooked and urged to create.
With that being said, I draw a lot of my inspiration from classical art — perhaps, this is why I am so invested in art, in general. I am also a great cinephile, with films being a significant contributor to some of my ideas and writing subjects. My tastes range from the action-packed Tarantino movies to the aesthetically-pleasing pictures of Wes Anderson. I find the cinema to be such a powerful industry, comprising of so many groups of people, that even the thought of the amount of time and effort that goes into a movie is somewhat inspiring.
AA: What’s your favorite part about being a writer?
AB: One of my favorite parts is the ability to express myself. Ever since I was a child, I preferred the visual forms of expression: “show, don’t tell” was probably my motto. It’s interesting to notice how writers also incorporate this motto into their work — with words, phrases and sentences forming meanings that are often beneath the surface of the text. By shaping your text in a certain way, you not only share an explicit message in it but can also choose to add one that the reader will notice subconsciously. It’s a process that not only interests me but also brings me great satisfaction.
If I were to sum it up, I would probably say that I simply enjoy the process of writing. Seeing words turn into sentences, which in turn construct paragraphs of text, is quite rewarding (at the very least, you know that you don’t have writer’s block). I also love the research that comes every single time before I start writing… Alright, I think I will give in and say that I like everything about being a writer: there are so many things about it that I can highlight, that I will probably go on forever. I think I love writing so much that all the positive parts cancel out the negative ones.
AA: What’s your favorite part about writing for Affinity?
AB: I love writing for Affinity because I am provided with a platform to publish my articles and find my reader-base with virtually no restrictions and complete creative freedom. Because of this, I have no excuse not to write, since I can choose any topic I am interested in and just get going.
I think it’s also the way Affinity is crafted as a whole that I love: the editors, the writers and the readers, who are engaged in your work. For the young and inexperienced, the world of journalism (and writing) seems quite daunting, but being in a place like Affinity helps get over your fears and speak up for the world to listen. I think this is why I love it so much — the sense of an actual unified community, comprised of like-minded people. When you see how many people have read your article, it is one of the best feelings, because you know you’re finally being heard.
AA: What’s the hardest challenge you’ve ever had to overcome?
AB: I would say that one of the hardest challenges that I had (and still have) to overcome is accepting who I really am inside: I am a creator, a writer and a dreamer. For a teenager, realizing and accepting one’s true identity sometimes feels like a struggle. In a world which still hasn’t quite grown out of the creative-jobs-will-not-feed-you mindset, it can seem difficult to continue doing what you love, despite the pressure that may come from your environment. And sometimes, you’re not even sure about what you really love…
It is a challenge that takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to overcome, literally and figuratively. However, the key is to remain positive and to continue doing what you love.
AA: What are your plans for the future?
AB: The future is somewhat foggy for me right now. Currently and in the near future, I would like to continue writing for Affinity. This will be my final year in school and after that will come the great big world of university and adult life. To say that I am nervous and scared would probably equate to saying nothing, to be honest. However, I will devote myself to creativity — whether be it writing or something else in the creative field. Reminding myself that once I finish school, I will be able to start doing what I love certainly eases the stress.
AA: What advice do you have for the young, aspiring writers out there?
AB: Get yourself out there! There is no point in writing if you’re storing it all in your desk and never letting anyone see it (unless it’s something intimate and personal, of course). If it’s something you want others to see, to read, then find a medium where you will be found by your readers. Writing, like most forms of creativity, requires two parties, which in our case are the writer and the readers. Even if you have certain doubts about the quality of your pieces, get yourself out there. There is a certain point in your writing when you need someone else to review them and provide you with criticism.
So, apply to an online (or even paper) magazine or start your own personal blog, and share whatever you want to say. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, allow yourself to finally make a statement in the open. Never fear the possibility of receiving negative criticism and above all, never let that stop you, especially if it’s something you really enjoy.
Read Aly’s work here!
Featured Image courtesy of Aly Balakareva