Emma Robinson (Writing for the Page, 2022)

It was wonderful to have ten people thinking deeply about my work... I returned to my desk stimulated and ready for the next chapter.

Emma writes: 'After years of doodling and thinking about the stories I'd like to write, in 2015 I plucked up the courage to apply for the IIML undergraduate short fiction paper. The 10-week course passed too quickly but I loved it and wrote some stories I felt reasonably happy with. In the years that followed I wrote in bursts and while I had a few pieces published I struggled to develop a consistent writing practice – life and paid work got in the way, as did my own fears about committing to writing. The MA seemed an impossible dream and I convinced myself I didn't want to do it anyway.

'Then…a whole lot of life happened, including COVID, and I wondered if perhaps, now was the time to apply. I didn't tell anyone until after I'd submitted my application. The wait to find out was excruciating but when the email arrived offering me a place on the course, I wavered, suggesting to my partner that perhaps I should just do the two undergrad writing papers I'd also applied for (always good to have a plan b!)—I mean, really, the money, the time, was it such a good idea? "Just say yes!" she yelled. For a month there was a feeling of invincibility, followed by general panic until the first day which was like starting high school but a thousand times more terrifying. Thankfully, our class convenor Kate Duignan threw us in the deep end, getting us to read aloud something we'd included in our applications. Definitely an ice-breaker!

'I'd thought (hoped) that the worst of COVID had passed. Instead 2022 began with Omicron, mandated mask wearing and protests at parliament. For the first trimester we always had at least one person joining via Zoom from their sickbeds or because they were isolating as a precaution. It was weeks before we saw each other unmasked and could meet for coffee. But none of that mattered once I walked through the doors at 16 Waiteata Road—in there I got to immerse myself in the world of writing. For the first six weeks we completed short writing exercises, learning to give and receive criticism before starting work on our manuscripts. Visiting writers enlightened us as we realised everyone wonders if their work is any good and the path to publication is rarely a straight one. It's hard now to pick out the highlights from such a jam-packed eight months, partly because some aspects (e.g. the Next Page public readings) were excruciating at the time yet seem worthwhile in retrospect. A definite plus was lying on the sofa reading for the afternoon without feeling guilty. Keeping my Reading Journal up to date was a welcome distraction when I didn't feel like working on my novel and it was a course requirement, providing a place to reflect on work that influenced and inspired—podcasts, TV shows, films, concerts and many books. The weekly class dedicated to an aspect of craft was always fascinating and provided unexpected insights, like the time we started out discussing crime fiction and it morphed into a wider discussion on building character and plot.

'Two classes per week may not seem like a heavy workload at the beginning of the year but you spend a considerable amount of time reading and responding to other people's work as well as doing your own writing. The workshops were often exhausting but it was wonderful to have ten people thinking deeply about my work, offering suggestions, pointing out plot holes and helping me clarify my thoughts. I returned to my desk stimulated and ready for the next chapter. By mid-year, the MA was all I could think or talk about. Having a very supportive set-up at home made my life easier than some. I'm in awe of my classmates who managed moving houses, commuting between cities, looking after teenagers, and getting COVID on top of working 20 hours a week, not to mention one who made the best ever Biscoff cheesecake for morning tea. I'm extremely grateful to Kate Duignan who was a terrific course convenor and supervisor. And to have been part of a class that genuinely liked each other. We ranged in age from early 20s to mid 50s, came from a variety of educational and social backgrounds, with writing styles that included crime, magic realism, comedic, domestic, speculative and auto-fiction.

'I'd applied for the MA with three goals—to see if I was good enough to get in, to produce a book-length manuscript, and to find a community. Once I'd achieved the first, the next took me on a roller-coaster ride; starting with the intention of writing a collection of short stories and completing the year with the draft of a novel. Life beyond the MA is where the third goal gets a big tick; the majority of our class meets regularly providing feedback on each other's work, as well as offering encouragement when we lose faith in ourselves and our writing. We've also had a group outing to watch the Barbie movie!'

Bio: Emma Robinson graduated from Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School in 1987, working in theatre, film and TV for the past thirty years. Her short fiction has been published in online and print journals. She completed the MA in Creative Writing in 2022 and received an IIML project scholarship

Read more:

'Bitten' (Quibble)

'Something to Cry About' (The Cortland Review, Issue 75)

'Shelter' (Headland, Issue 8)

'Adjusting the Shadows' (Headland Narrative Voice Blog