Friday, March 4, 2011

First Creative Writing Classes

I'm learning many new things in my pursuit of New Zealand literary culture.
At the Janet Frame lecture, where Joy Cowley addressed the state of the children's literature in New Zealand, I learned that we didn't really get going until in that arena until the late 70's, early 80's. That, in fact, The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy was originally published overseas.
I also learned that at some point in her life, Joy Cowley had a few too many martinis and vomited in Roald Dahl's swimming pool (to learn more about the incident, I guess I'll have to read her memoirs!). Is that not the coolest thing you've ever heard?
Wait... I have something cooler. While trolling the Alexander Turnbull website, I discovered a little blurb on the NZ Poet Laureate. Apparently this position nets you a grand total of around $70,000 over 2 years... not much for what amounts to a full time job (admittedly a job that includes a lot of free nibbles). But, this is entirely made up for in the next sentence... the NZ Poet Laureate receives a wine stipend.
Seriously. The position was originally sponsored by a vineyard, but that's not the origin of the stipend. It comes from a tradition in Britain where the poet would receive canary wine.

But you don't want to hear about this. You want to hear about my first lessons in the Masters of Creative Writing (I assume... otherwise, why are you reading this?)

My class is lovely. Nine women and one man, I'd estimate mostly around 10 years of my own age (late 20s)... except a couple who are probably older. And very talented. I don't feel hugely intimidated now as I did when I first read the short biographies that were handed out before we met. All I saw then were stacks and stacks of awards next to almost every name but mine!
Now I have faces to those names, and I've seen their work... and it is so good, but I don't feel like I'm hopelessly outmatched. Though I'm not going to be able to slack off at all, if I want to keep my pride up!
Bernadette Hall, our teacher, is also wonderful... I guess I had this idea that anyone who taught a Masters course was going to be... well, a dragon. But she is anything but... she seems sweet, smart and generous and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year!

My first class was on Tuesday, and was three hours long. Usually we are going to use this class to critique each other's work, and to do exercises. But, because it was the first lesson, we spent it reading out a piece each (chosen by Bernadette Hall from our application poems and stories), and talking briefly about it. We also heard from two women who had completed the course last year, one poet and one prose writer. We were also given a lot of administration info, and shown around the building (which I already knew relatively well from my summer courses).

On Weds we had another, 2 hour class. This class is the one we will sometimes share with the other stream. We did some exercises and read out an auto-biographical piece that Bernadette had asked us each to write.  There is to be a lot of reading aloud in this class (and I kind of like it!).
Then we did some exercises surrounding the fairy tale The Frog King, including some automatic writing. And we've been given a lot of homework until next class.
Finally, after Weds class, we had a get together with the scriptwriting class and the other stream of poetry/prose, as well as some local celebrities like Elizabeth Knox and Bill Manhire. The tiny room was crowded with nice looking nibbles and polite and interesting people... too crowded. I have to confess when I was being introduced to Ms Knox and her husband (who seemed really nice) I could barely understand a word anyone was saying. I left. I'm not good in a crowded room, when I'm tired and I don't know anyone (who is?).
It's a shame because I honestly love Elizabeth Knox's books, and I would have loved to get to know some of the other students better, but oh well. More opportunities await I'm sure.
Hope this is some help to someone out there. I'm also going to mention the books I'm reading (since I have to keep a reading journal as part of the course anyway). Currently I'm onto the third of the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay, called "Dexter in the Dark" (I got a 3 book omnibus out of the library). I've also got out the 2nd and 3rd "Flight" anthology, which are wonderful collections of graphic novel shorts that I highly recommend. I'm also halfway through The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. This seems like an appropriate place to include my Goodreads link, in case you're interested.
Take care of yourself, dear reader.

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