Yesterday I taught my first tutorial at the University of Queensland. Quite fortunately, no-one threw things, and I started to remember all the things I actually quite like about teaching and talking to aspiring writers.
I’d never really been to UQ before this. I visited once or twice about fifteen years ago, back when I was trying to work out where I was going to go to university and UQ was my more-or-less second choice due to the lack of an actual undergraduate writing program and my parents informing me that I’d spend my first year living in an all-boys Christian college. I went back once again for a friend’s art show, but that only required me to find a building very close to the car park, right on the outskirts on the campus. Apart from that, it was unfamiliar territory.
Turns out it’s quite big, and they’re very fond of stonework. Also, when printed, the campus maps have very titchy numbers that are hard to read after dark.
I made it to the initial meeting okay, whereupon I met with the other tutors and lecturers, and I got to follow them to the lecture theater, and then I could more or less follow a cloud of students to the class. It wasn’t until after the first class, when I said man, I’ve only got an hour between the end of the dayjob and tomorrow’s tute, I should probably figure out where it is now to save time that things became a problem.
I checked my map. I figured out where I was. I traced the path with my finger, using those landmarks I knew to figure out where to turn. It all looked very simple, so I set out full of confidence and energy.
An our later I was lost and taking wrong turns, keeping a wary eye out for roaming minotaurs, while the skies merrily opened up and dumped rain on the campus.
Eventually I found my way out, drove home, ate take-out food, and wrote five hundred words before crashing into a comatose slumber.
I have to find the same tutorial room again today. If you don’t hear from me over the weekend, assume I’m wandering the campus , subsisting on vending machine chocolate. Or that the minotaur finally caught up with me, ’cause I’m pretty sure they’ve got one.
Today the word went out that Clarion South was on indefinite hold, largely due to the loss of an affordable venue that could hold a motley crew of seventeen aspiring SF writers for six straight weeks. The full story has been posted on the Clarion South website and the vast majority of the Australian speculative fiction email lists, should you be interested in the details.
To say this is a loss to Australian SF is something of an understatement.
I count Clarion South as one of the single most useful things I ever did as a writer, largely because it’s relatively easy to find resources that will tell you how to write better, but significantly harder to find places that will give you good advice on how to be a writer.
Which is not to say that Clarion South won’t make you better at writing – it will – but for me the true value of the experience came from being exposed to six writers, all of them either neo-pro or pro, and finding out how they approached their careers.
And it came from being around seventeen other writers who were determined to move their career forwards, writing every day and cheering each other on, many of whom I’m still chatting with every week and cheering on as best I can in my own grumpy way.
For someone who’d been tucked away in the academic system up to that point, working in creative programs, it was the kind of revelation I needed to get me working and moving forwards.
Chris Lynch has recently posted a list of publications and other achievements my Clarion South year has achieved in the last four years, and it includes over 170 short stories, plays, poems, novellas, award nominations, and other entries. Which, when you consider that 3 of the seventeen attendees don’t have entries for various reasons, averages out at a whole bunch of work being put together and submitted.