Dr Margaret Merilees - Smoke and Mirrors: Getting Personal in the Academy

Margaret Merrilees has an MA in Creative Writing (University of Adelaide) and a PhD from Flinders University. Her short work has appeared in dotlit, JASAL, Meanjin, Island, Wet Ink, and Griffith Review. Her novel The First Week (Wake eld Press 2013), completed as part of her PhD, won the manuscript award at Adelaide Writers’ Week. It was longlisted for a Dobbie award and shortlisted both for the Barbara Jefferis Award and for a NSW Premier’s Literary Award. Fables Queer & Familiar (Wake eld Press 2014), a collection from the online serial Adelaide Days and is also broadcast as a radio serial.

Website: http://www.margaretmerrilees.com

After a long gap I came back to university as a postgraduate student in creative writing. The sensation was odd. The task was not to quote from other texts, but to make up our own. Not to seek accuracy and convey information, but to tell fibs, jokes, and tall stories - to write fiction. And this in the sacred halls! The invitation was both shocking and exhilarating.

I was grateful to the university for its acceptance of the creative arts, which I could see was hard won, and possibly not unanimous. For the next eight years I worked a fine balance between the academic requirements of two higher degrees, and the freedom to invent, uncensored and unmediated.

Without the need for that balance I might not have arrived at a form that gives me great pleasure – the personal essay, a combination of fact and imagining. Having started out as a historian I am attracted by what might be called the Grenville/ Clendinnen dilemma. In this presentation I’d like to re ect on my own progress through the academy, considered in the light of that dichotomy: fiction versus reality, or perhaps the personal versus the objective.