Chessie Henry (Writing for the Page, 2016)

The great revelation since leaving the IIML: none of what we learned is contained by that year. It just goes on and on, constantly expanding.

Chessie writes: 'I can remember the first day so vividly – looking around the room, knowing that you're going to share such an intimate year with these people, but not really knowing who they are yet. We were an unusual year in that the teaching was split between two – our first half of the year with Pip Adam, the second with Emily Perkins. I feel like we struck gold with that combination! It's so hard to describe the feeling of being on the receiving end of such genuinely incredible teaching – having these two brilliant women share with you, on such a personal level, their knowledge and advice. It was surreal. I used to just sit in class with my mouth open, hanging off every word.

'I think one thing that stands out for me, when I think about my MA year, is my classmates and all the conversations we had. The whole thing is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, and we somehow pulled each other through it. Everyone just cared so much – about writing, and each other! At no other point in my life have I got to have such ongoing, stimulating and in-depth conversations about the intricacies of writing. We shared and discussed and debated and just grew so much in that room. We also took it in turns to have anxious meltdowns, and buy each other beers. It was an all-round great system.

'Some of those in-class conversations have ended up being absolutely formative for me. And when I meet up with my classmates now, we look back in complete awe that we somehow got to spend that year together, and were able to dedicate so much time and energy to the process of creating something. When you're there – so absorbed in your work and the huge challenge ahead of you – it's hard to fully appreciate it all. But as time passes, you can see more and more how rare it is to find that supportive space to explore your own writing, and to have all these ridiculously talented people putting their energy into developing your work.

'Having said that, we’ve also had a great revelation since leaving the IIML: none of what we learned is contained by that year. It just goes on and on, constantly expanding. The MA course doesn't just teach you how to produce a book – it teaches you about the process of learning, and how to accept your own style and trust your own work. It was a golden experience for me, the hardest but best thing I’ve ever done. If you're about to begin the course… I’m jealous!!'

Bio: Chessie Henry completed the MA in 2016, and is currently based in Wellington. Her first book, the memoir We Can Make a Life, which she wrote in the year following her MA, was published by Victoria University Press in 2018. She's had personal essays published on The Wireless and The Spinoff, and fiction published in Alluvia Magazine.

Read more:

Victoria University Press author page

The other side of bravery: Christchurch Press interview (5 August 2018)

from We Can Make a Life - Spinoff Monday Excerpt (13 August 2018)