On the 19th of June, comedian and writer Jack Rooke brought a friendly and relaxed atmosphere to his panel at The Last Word Festival at Roundhouse, in which he focused on storytelling, writing tips and consequent adaptations of written work for different mediums.
To commence the event, Rooke introduced himself and his work, mentioning his time at Roundhouse Poetry Collective. While confiding that at the start, he never really found his voice when writing poetry, Rooke said that being part of the collective taught him a great deal about storytelling and being comfortable in sharing his work with others. He then proceeded by reading his first poem, titled ‘Lasagna’, which deals with the grief and loss of his father, which was additionally incorporated into Rooke’s hit Channel 4 series Big Boys. After reading it, Rooke reflected on the poem, recognizing things he would do differently now, but said that he is still proud of it due to its authenticity.
In fact, authenticity kept appearing throughout the session as a vital part of writing - especially autobiographical work. Rooke demonstrated this importance while sharing what he believes to be essential principles of storytelling, with the first one being Voice. According to him, writers should be aware of what makes their voice distinct and how they can convey it to their audiences. However, to do that, the writers should be confident in their voices and not compare themselves to others.
The second principle that Rooke focused on was Character. To write a good story, writers should know their characters thoroughly - recognizing how they may respond to situations, what makes them unique, etc. Tying into character is another principle of Place as there is a need to have broader geographical coverage in media for viewers to feel represented. However, for a good narrative, writers should focus on the Story itself. When talking about story, Rooke emphasized that knowing the beginning and end of it is vital as it helps with the structure of the narrative. He also pointed out that while it may be easy to compare one’s story with other works, it is necessary to recall that everyone’s story is individual and authentic – it should not stop anyone from telling the tale they want.
The last few principles Rooke spoke of included Collaboration, Research, and Audience. With Collaboration, he mentioned the importance of having other people around as one cannot do all the work themselves, whether in terms of organization or writing diverse characters to which not everyone may relate. He also spoke of the Audience, saying that while it is necessary to know who their audience is, writers should not write for them and instead stay true to themselves and their plans. Lastly, Research is also important in terms of challenging yourself by watching or experiencing different genres or genres which you do not particularly like, as it will put you on a path of what you truly want to do.
After discussing his storytelling principles, Rooke shared a few writing tips. Firstly, he mentioned free writing, an exercise he finds useful as writing in a stream of consciousness can help identify writers' strengths and limitations based on what and how they describe things. Other tips included writing down memories, lists, interviewing people from your life or even getting away from home as new scenery may bring forward new ideas and inspiration.
The conversation then shifted to Rooke’s view and experiences of working on different media platforms. Firstly, Rooke talked about radio and audio storytelling, seeing it as a good way of honing writing skills as writers cannot rely on physical gags or markers - only on selling their words. Rooke also talked about short films and how there is a lot of merit in telling a short story. Short films may also work as tests for ideas for feature films or TV pilots – thus, they may be a valuable experience for the future.
Rooke then focused on television, illustrating his experience with his show Big Boys. According to Rooke, there are three main genres to pitch: comedy, drama, and soap operas. Nevertheless, he also encourages writers to go through subgenres when writing, such as sitcoms, animation, mysteries, or sci-fi, to broaden the horizons of possibilities. Rooke also admitted that starting and branching out in the industry may be difficult for new writers, especially without contacts in the industry. However, with persistence and hard work, anything is possible. This persistence is apparent with Rooke’s Big Boys, as it took about five years to get it made from the initial idea to the TV screen. Nevertheless, he believes that the time it takes for the show to be made him a better writer with more experience and refinery.
Lastly, Rooke touched upon agents and commissioners, saying that writers should not be scared to send their work to agents as all agents are looking for talents at different stages of their careers. Similarly, commissioners are also up for new things, so writers should be confident in their work and not fear them. He also advised taking care of one’s mental health and well-being is vital when navigating this industry and its hurdles. Rooke emphasized that in writing autobiographical work, writers should be careful of oversharing, and as he puts it: ‘Be authentic and truthful but be aware of the physical evidence of it.’.
During the closing Q&A section, the audience asked a couple of intriguing questions, including when a writer should be contacting agents. To this, Rooke responded by saying, ‘you’ll weirdly know’ - writers should be led by instincts and understand when someone will have their best interest at heart.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor