Emma Martin (Writing for the Page, 2009)

There was no conveyor belt – everything achieved was earned. Magic did happen in that room...and yes, I did despair. The end of the year came all too soon.

Emma writes: 'By the time I arrived at IIML in 2009, "the course" had assumed mythic status in my mind. Miraculously, there I sat in the famous MA room with nine strangers and Damien Wilkins, our teacher. Pip Adam, who had done the course a couple of years earlier, had told me: "Magic happens in that room". Would it? My classmates and I eyed each other nervously, waiting.

'The MA year would be a wonderful one, but also a testing one. In the end two things saved me: the insight, humour and generosity of my classmates, and the prescient design of the course itself. On the first day, Damien handed out a list of dos and don'ts for workshopping, written by Ken Duncum. (Example don'ts: "I disagree so strongly with what your writing is expressing that I must stop it before it reaches the world, you were rough on me so I'm going to pay you back, I don't like you, I really like you and want you to like me, you didn’t act on my brilliant insights last time so now I can’t be bothered, I've got a great suggestion for you but the way I see it we're in a race and I don't want to give you an advantage / why should you benefit from my creativity?" The relief of it! Knowing not to even bother trying such shenanigans!) Damien counselled us to keep on top of our reading journals otherwise the due date would creep up on us and we'd be left having to write the damned things in a weekend. He told us we would each of us find classmates, perhaps one or two, whose feedback was especially valuable to us – those with whom we "shared a tone". And he told us that as the year drew to a close we would despair that our folios weren't all we'd hoped.

'The funny thing was, despite all the foreshadowing I experienced every moment of the year that followed with the scorching sense that it was entirely my own. I've heard the MA described as a conveyor belt, but there was no conveyor belt – everything achieved was earned. Magic did happen in the room. I did ending up writing my reading journal in a weekend. My folio wasn't all I'd hoped, and yes, I did despair. The end of the year came all too soon; I hurtled towards it with a strange mix of grief and euphoria. At the hand-in party I stood drunkenly in Damien's living room with Melissa Day Reid and we clinked our glasses. "It's been an honour," we said to each other, "sharing a tone with you." Then Breton Dukes rushed in, his face flushed with excitement. "It's happening!" he said. "Come! Quick!" Damien had foretold this moment too: that some time around midnight, Fergus Barrowman would gather up our folios into a New World supermarket bag and make his exit. We made it to the window just in time and stood watching, the three of us, no longer strangers but fellow writers. We caught a brief, hallucinatory glimpse of Fergus – the supermarket bag was flapping in the wind – and he disappeared into the night.'

Bio: Emma Martin grew up in Dunedin and studied philosophy at Otago before winning a Commonwealth Scholarship to the UK. She eventually completed a PhD from Manchester University, but only after a long detour in which she worked as a taxi driver and film censor. She started writing fiction seriously in 2009, when she was accepted to do the MA at IIML. She was awarded an IIML project scholarship in 2010, which enabled her to continue working on the stories she had started during the MA year. In 2012 she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, chair Bernadine Evaristo commenting that her entry was chosen for 'its gorgeous, elegant and spare writing; its nuanced handling of time, place and relationships; its daring, provocative subject matter and clear-eyed exploration of the choice of heterosexual conformity in the face of sexual mutability.'

Emma's collection Two Girls in a Boat was published by Victoria University Press in May 2013.

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