Tim Corballis (2001)

Did I learn to write? I'm still not sure I’ve learned that. If I have, it was the MA in Creative Writing that started me learning how to learn it.

Tim writes: 'In the mid-1990s I was working as an administrator at The University of Auckland. Among other things, my office was the point of contact for the inter-university Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP), which oversaw the creation of new university courses in New Zealand. This was where I first heard of the proposal from Victoria University of Wellington for its MA in Creative Writing. I seem to remember seeing the CUAP proposal, discussing it with the academic staff member responsible for Auckland's response, then drafting a letter to the committee. I had studied mathematics and philosophy and was taken, temporarily, with philosophical ideas of personal authenticity. I took that to mean that I should be carving my own path, my own tunnel, through life's surrounding material. I should not, I thought, be doing what "They", sometimes also known as "The They", did. I didn’t know who "They" or "The They" were. It was about 20 years ago. In any case something made me decide to try to write. Something: vapid philosophical rebelliousness? The institutional hint coming across my desk? I wavered. I wrote for a year, but didn't write. I studied philosophy for another year. Then I wrote again. I had some stories published. They were terrible and enjoyable, irrelevant exercises in grammar and irony. By then I was living in Dunedin.

'All this, I suppose, is by way of prehistory. I was confused, and regularly found my feet whisked from under me. I was accepted for the 2000 MA class. It was one of those moments when it seemed like the confusion would end, when I would find certainty and solidity after all. After moving to Wellington, I missed Dunedin right away, and thought I would return after the end of the year. The day after I moved, Bill Manhire resigned from his job at the University. I read about it in the newspaper, and very nearly returned south there and then. But, as it turned out, he taught the course after all. This is all prehistory in another way too: the IIML did not exist; the course was held in a 10th-floor room in the English Department; and something was going on behind the scenes, perhaps to do with Glenn Schaeffer’s offer of financial support to the University. I don’t really know, not completely. I'm guessing—it's only a guess—that Bill has also sometimes found his feet whisked from under him; and that at other times things happened to him that seemed to offer him certainty and solidity after all.

'There were ten students then: poets, novelists and memoirists all in the same room. Five women and five men; ages ranging from early twenties to sixties. Two of them are now dead—friends and comrades, people I spent that year with, talking and digging. I can't say what I learned. Well, I learned who in the class to listen to and who not; I learned, I suppose, to speak, to read, to listen, and to live writing. I'm not sure what that means. Did I learn to write? I'm still not sure I’ve learned that. If I have, it was the MA in Creative Writing that started me learning how to learn it. I still find writing immensely slow. I still find my feet whisked from under me. There are still, of course, occasional times when it seems like I might find certainty and solidity. I'm not sure what will happen if I do. Maybe then I'll stop writing.'

Bio: Tim completed the MA in Creative Writing in 2000. He won the Adam Foundation Prize and a Modern Letters Fellowship, and has since held the Randell Cottage Writers' Residency, the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers' Residency, and in 2015 the Victoria University of Wellington Creative New Zealand Writers' Residency. He writes novels—most recently Our Future is in the Air (VUP, 2017)—as well as art writing and criticism, essays, short fiction and academic work. He has a doctorate in aesthetic theory from The University of Auckland. He lives in Wellington with his partner and two children.

Read more: