Rachael King (2001)

The difference between the MA and going it alone is the friends you make, the support you get, the permission to live and breathe your creativity for a while.

Rachael writes: 'I often describe the year I did the MA as the second best year of my life. This isn't faint praise - in 2006 I got married, had my first novel published and gave birth to my son, so the competition is stiff.

'It is fair to say that 2001 changed everything for me. Up until then, I had always wanted be a novelist but I had a lack of focus, primarily, but also a lack of confidence. It is a misconception, I think, that an MA in Creative Writing teaches you how to write - that everyone who has one has "done a course" and everyone else is 'self-taught'. Actually, you have to already be able to write before they let you in. You have to want to write so badly that you will give up everything else for a year and immerse yourself in it. The difference between the MA and just going it alone is the friends you make, the support you get from teachers and supervisors, the permission you get to live and breathe your creativity for a while.

'Most New Zealanders remember September 12, 2001, as the day they woke up to news of the World Trade Centre coming down. I also remember it as the day I was due to hand out copies of my folio for a class critique the following week. We all gathered at the door of the IIML and said nothing. I remember being terrified that suddenly novels wouldn't matter anymore, least of all my little story - how could they? But I got as thoughtful and generous a critique as I could have hoped for.

'I found my mojo; I found the certainty I was looking for. I made life-long friends. Everyone in my year has gone on to have books published or plays produced. Some have won awards. Many of us still meet regularly to discuss each other's work, to toast each other's successes and to commiserate and bolster when necessary.'

Bio: After graduating, Rachael decided to abandon the manuscript she worked on during the MA year, and started something new. In July 2006 she published her first novel, The Sound of Butterflies, a story which travels from Edwardian London to the boom days of the rubber trade in the Brazilian jungle.

The novel shot into the New Zealand best-seller list and remained within the top three for twelve weeks. It was greeted with high praise from local critics ahead of its release in the US and USA, and went on to win the Best First Book of Fiction Award at the Montana Awards in 2007.

Reviewers from Book Page, USA Today and the Washington Post proved equally enthusiastic, as did the Tampa Tribune: 'Rachael King's elegant, understated writing style takes the reader from the parlors of England to the wilds of Brazil... The Sound of Butterflies enchants and informs even as it transports the reader to times and places we would like to disavow but make up our emotional and scientific heritage.' The novel is now being translated into five languages.

In 2008, Rachael was awarded the Ursula Bethell writer in residence at Canterbury University, where she wrote Magpie Hall, a Gothic novel with the intriguing combination of tattooing and taxidermy, published in 2009. After editing a collection of her father Michael King's essays, The Silence Beyond (2011), Rachael published her first novel for children, Red Rocks (2012), a retelling of the selkie myth set on the wild south coast of Wellington. It was a finalist in the NZ Post Children's Book Awards in 2013 and went on to win the Esther Glen medal at the LIANZA Book Awards.

Rachael is currently working on new books for adults and children, and is Literary Director of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

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