Joanna Cho (Writing for the Page, 2020)

It was the social dynamics that shaped my time at the IIML into one of the best years of my life.

Joanna writes: 'The morning after the hand-in party, Ferg, Olly and I took our paper bags of McDonalds down to the beach. The sea and sky shared a luminous flatness: a warm balm. Softened by the grit of the night, we ate mostly in silence, sitting in our togs, dipping in and out of the water as the sun got going. It was a comfortable silence, earned after weeks of walking to the IIML together in the mornings, working on our manuscripts, and then cruising home in the still-light, summer nights. Olly rolled a joint, Fergus did a handstand, everything a sparkly haze. We were tired, but there were good feelings, hopeful feelings.

'When I think back on the MA, it's those moments with new friends that stand out. The workshops, reading packets and discussions were great, but it was the social dynamics that shaped my time at the IIML into one of the best years of my life—and it was the best thing I could've done for my writing, being immersed in a tight group of talented, passionate, inquisitive people, from a range of ages and backgrounds, who encouraged me to take my writing seriously but not too seriously. "Fuck it up more," Anahera, one of my convenors, would say.

'We got matching tattoos. Early into our course, level 4 lockdown happened, so we commiserated on the group chat and overcame challenges that come with workshopping over Zoom, such as WiFi issues or the chattier people dominating the lags. Being in a creative non-fiction/poetry class meant that often the content shared in workshops was quite intense and we'd leave emotionally drained, but that was special too, sharing the energy. The trust, respect and love in the classroom was crucial to me improving my writing, because it allowed me to become more vulnerable and experimental, and able to take feedback in a productive way.

'I was shy and uncertain going in, and I guess I still am in some ways, but the MA helped make me feel more confident and grounded. It was the sense of community and routine that really secured me, and in that sense the MA was good for more than just my writing. I definitely suffered from imposter syndrome at times, especially as an Asian writer with a nagging anxiety about diversity box ticking, but generally I felt welcome and it all felt right, like it made sense to be getting stuck into something I'd loved forever.

'I was lucky to be one of the editors for Turbine | Kapohau, which was exciting and humbling work—reading and publishing work by writers I admire a lot—and my fellow editors Rose and Olly made it a super fun time. The day before the journal's launch, we met up at 120 Wallace and got a little boozy on GP's Turbine beers, sprawled over sagging couches, checking everything over one last time. There is a blurry selfie we took on the balcony, sharing durries in the moonlight, almost midnight, against a wall of black mould. We are grinning, and those were the same good, hopeful feelings.'

Read more:

Turbine | Kapohau (2020 editorial: Joanna Cho, Olly Clifton and Rose Wunrow)