The Creative Manoeuvres: Making, Saying, Being

I’ve been to writers festivals before but a creative writing conference seems a different sort of beast. Writers festivals is a place to fangirl. Academic writing conferences –well…I envisioned writers firing pithy comments at each other, shouting down each other’s arguments with what Derrida or Borges have to say about it. (I don’t know who Borges is but his word seem to carry the same weight as what my mother said in the school playground.) Incidentally, when I returned home, I found the complete works of Borges on James’ bookshelf— which made me wonder who would have actually gotten more out of this conference.

It turns out that creative writing conferences can be both a place to fangirl and have (or in my case, listen to) intelligent debate. There are plenty of like-minded people to swoon over favourite authors but there’s definitely a literary edge, a critical mind that picks over the writing with a fine tooth comb. They are there, after all, to hone their craft. So, there were awkward moments when my untimely contributions (‘Sure, Hunger Games isn’t very well written but doesn’t the bow and arrow thing just do it for you?’) didn’t go down very well. Also, who knew Proust is actually pronounced ‘Proost’ and Barthes is ‘Bartez’!?

When it’s my turn to present, I mumble my research question real quick ‘How can the marriage plot be deconstructed in the transmedia space building on concepts from hypertext, choose-your-own-adventure and interactive fiction?’ I proceed to roll out a smoke and mirrors routine designed to distract the audience. Three short animations explaining the user experience of my story app with very little creative writing tacked on at the end. The audience is appreciative of the animation – as I intended them to be, and skipped over my prose which is obviously the least sophisticated performance of the session.

I wish I was a poet. Is there any such thing as an inelegant poet? They waltzed into conference room like gossamer faeries. Willowy. Lithe. Weighed down by ennui.

Our keynote speaker was a poet. Professor Michele Leggott, the 2008/2009 Poet Laureate of New Zealand and lecturer in English literature at University of Auckland. I didn’t think I would like poetry. I almost didn’t go to her talk but then someone told me that if you’re inexperienced in poetry, then you should start by listening to it. For forty minutes, Michele held the audience in her hand with her story of how she went blind from retinitis pigmentosa and thought she couldn’t write anymore. The first part of the story was told in prose but she quickly moved to poetry. Half the audience was in tears. I was holding up okay until she said ‘Poetry is the language to hold on to when other languages start to disappear.’

I’m lucky to have so many adventures since the beginning of my PhD journey. The AAWP conference has been by far the most illuminating. I no longer have the same artistic practice from a year ago. It’s not only that I feel I’ve improved (Obviously, that’s something all writers and artists strive for). The best way to explain it is this quote I read awhile ago:

‘…(Darwin) spent four years sailing around the world, collecting, describing, collating in order to discover what was under his nose at home. He had to shift his frame of reference in order to make new connections with information that was so familiar it was invisible…’

(Miller cited in Grierson and Brearley, p79)

Maybe I’m becoming philosophical because the Christmas season is approaching. Maybe it’s because my father recently passed away. For whatever reason, the way I make and know my practice has changed.

Here are some photos from the conference – mostly of the food, because I happen to spend a lot of time near the catering table.


(The letters were painted with blackboard paint so we were able to draw on it with chalk!)

(One of the delegates with the awesome Shane Strange, the fabulous conference coordinator)




(Speaker in the middle looked like a young Eddard Stark from GOT. Couldn’t really focus on what he was saying after that)


(Morning tea!)



Grierson, E., Brearley, L., 2009. Creative arts research, Educational futures : rethinking theory and practice. Sense Publishers.


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