29 October 2015
Spotlight On Scribe: Eric Gardiner
This week, 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.
Eric Gardiner is a writer and playwright from Melbourne, Victoria. His writing has previously been published by Meanjin, Overland and Seizure, and shortlisted for the Emerging Writers Festival Monash Prize. His most recent play, Bounty, premiered at the Melbourne Fringe in 2015.
How old are you?
What state or territory do you live in?
How did you begin writing?
A friend I haven’t seen for years sent my mum an email recently, after hearing about a play I’d written, and they said: ‘Eric seemed to spend his whole childhood with his nose in a book so I presume he ran out of things to read and decided to write something himself.’
I was lucky enough to be taught by John Marsden for several years when I was younger, and that experience alone was enough to make me believe in the possibility of making a life as a writer.
Why do you write nonfiction?
Someone said that we like our stories to have ‘ribs of truth’. I’m attracted to writing creative nonfiction because I love the tension you can create by working in the space between what is real and what’s untrue, or what is ancient and what’s contemporary.
Tell us a bit about your longlisted Scribe submission.
It’s called Blood Sports. Above all it’s an examination of the ways that the systems of representation developed in the ancient world live on in the way we shape our lives and stories today.
It tells that story by combining creative non-fiction and memoir to look at those broader systems and structures in action, through the specific lens of my own small experience.
Why did you choose to write on this topic as a young writer?
The project was developed in response to questions about the various kinds of privilege held by male Australian writers of creative nonfiction. More broadly it’s also an opportunity to play around with various forms in a way that takes advantage of different styles without compromising the subject matter.
How long have you been working on your submission, or where in development was your piece prior to entering the Scribe prize?
I was doing a class with Tony Birch earlier this year where I worked up the first of the stories. At the beginning I was ambivalent about what I’d done but he was very supportive and that encouraged me to persevere with the story and to work towards creating a connected, book length work. From there I squeezed in writing the stories for my entry in between my thesis and first full-length play, Bounty, which has just wrapped up at the Melbourne Fringe.
How important is Australia to you and your writing?
A few years ago I performed in a play called 1938: An Opera, by Fregmonto Stokes. It was a re-imagining of a true story from Australia’s 150th anniversary of settlement, a time when Aborigines from Menindee were rounded up and forced to perform in this grotesque, fanciful re-enactment of Captain Cook’s landing at Sydney Cove. No-one has ever heard of this story. The script from the 1938 re-enactment and a newsreel of the celebrations survive, and you can go to ACMI and sit in a little black booth with your headphones on and watch it. But unless Australian writers are willing to tell Australian stories it is lived experience and history like this that will go untold, and then forgotten. So Australia is very important to my writing.
What the best and worst piece of advice that you’ve received about writing?
The best advice I’ve been given is from the playwright Lally Katz, who told me that ‘if writing is what makes you happy, then you’ve got to put it first.’
I really like this from Neil Gaiman too: ‘Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.’
Also Phillip Pullman: ‘My main rule is to say no to things like this [Q&As about advice for writing], which tempt me away from my proper work.’
What is your favourite or most influential work of nonfiction that you’ve read? How has it affected your writing?
I got into Janet Malcolm’s Journalist and the Murderer by way of John Safran’s Murder in Mississippi. Her book has affected me the most because of her persistence – her unwillingness to let the story go until she has exposed its every twist and turn, without sparing herself along the way.
Can you share a piece of your published nonfiction work that you’re particularly proud of?
This is an interview with Fregmonto Stokes I wrote for the Meanjin blog after working on 1938. At the time I was trying to come to terms with how I felt about political theatre and satire in Australia, and this exchange with Freg informed and inspired most of my work in the two years since.