15 October 2015
Spotlight On Scribe: Drew Rooke
For the next two weeks, we’re bringing you daily Q&A’s from our Scribe Nonfiction Prize Long-listed writers. Read on for more information on their work, writing journeys, and all their tips, tricks and advice for budding young non-fic creators.
Drew Rooke is a freelance writer from Sydney, Australia.
1. How old are you?
2. What State or Territory do you live in?
New South Wales
3. How did you begin writing?
Writing, as I practice it now, really only began a couple of years ago. I studied journalism at university but never enjoyed writing news reports and having to stick to the inverted pyramid format. There’s definitely a place for that but I knew then it wasn’t for me. So when I graduated I held off jumping into a job and began freelancing and experimenting with the non-fiction genre, pitching to magazines and journals and waiting nervously in for a reply. Thankfully some of them said yes.
4.Why do you write non-fiction?
Firstly, I’m shit at fiction. Secondly, I’m fascinated by the world in which we live, a beautiful, emotional, terrifying and often unbelievable one. Writing is my way of trying to better comprehend and decipher at least a snippet of that world and the people within it.
5. Tell us a bit about your longlisted scribe submission.
Machine Highs explores the world of poker machines in Australia from multiple perspectives – gambling addicts, relatives of addicts and health professionals.
6. Why did you choose to write on this topic as a young writer?
Choosing a subject to write about is much like spinning a globe, closing my eyes, and saying that wherever my finger lands is where I’ll next buy a plane ticket to. So it was with this. I was curious about the poker machine industry in Australia so decided one day to head down to The Star casino, and there met a pokie player who was happy for me to shadow him around for the time he played. That only heightened my curiosity and raised questions in my head like ‘Why do people get so addicted to the pokies?’, ‘Is it the machines themselves or the people?’ ‘Why is it such a problem in Australia?’ ‘What is being done by the government to address the problem?’. I wanted to show a holistic picture of the issue, from as many people affected by poker machine addiction as possible, both directly and indirectly.
7. How long have you been working on your submission, or where in your development was your piece prior to entering the scribe prize?
It was in mid-May that I began work on this after going to the casino and writing up a piece which was published in The Saturday Paper. For the next two months I met with more problem gamblers and their family members and gambling counsellors, and these meetings provided the material for the submission.
8. How important is Australia to you and your writing?
Australia is an ancient and beautiful land, one I’m lucky to be able to call home and one I’ve grown deeply connected to. The power of Australian landscapes, in all their variety, to induce humility and wonder is extraordinary and is something that influences not only my writing, but everything in my life.
9. What’s the best and worst piece of advice that you’ve received about your writing?
I’m struggling to recall any bad advice so I’m going to give two good pieces of advice instead. The first is from my Pop. “If you’re gunna do a job, do it properly.” He didn’t say that about writing, and it may be cliche, but it is something I remember whenever I do write. The second is from a friend, Joel Meares. He said that as writers, we mustn’t get over our heads and think every piece we write is going to be read by thousands and change the world. But, he added, that doesn’t make it any less indispensable, nor should it diminish the urge or passion to write.
10. What is your favourite or most influential work of nonfiction that you’ve read? How has it affected your writing?
I’ll resist the temptation to list more than one because it will then become a case of how long is a piece of string. ‘Hells Angels’ by Hunter S. Thompson highlighted to me how narrative techniques could be used in non-fiction. It’s the first book I read in which a strict writer-subject distinction seemed to be absent; it was clear that he had gained the trust of the people he was writing about – an exclusive motorcycle gang well known at the time for being hostile to outsiders – and was able to speak with them on a deeply personal level. It’s also deeply analytical without the dryness of academia. No one can ever emulate Hunter, nor should they try, but there are invaluable lessons in his work to learn from.
11. Can you share a piece of your published nonfiction work that you’re particularly proud of?
It’s an article published in Voiceworks #99 called ‘Enter the Glitz’. You can buy a copy of this issue here.