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Please note: the conference is in BUILDING 2 on the UC Bruce campus. 
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DAILY FORECAST (care of Describing Things in Canberra):  

Wednesday Canberra weather: regardless of any thing Neil Finn may have said, you don’t really have your own personal weather bubble. You can easily test this by travelling from the Woden Valley to the northside on foggy morning. Or getting on a plane in December and flying to Helsinki.

So those of you who are in Canberra today will probably experience much the same weather as each other. Warm to hot and slighty sticky. The weather equivalent of spilling cocoa on your new trousers.

Chemical interventions such as deodorant, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and anti-histamines are strongly indicated. Consider long before you commit to opaque tights, however hairy your legs are. Once the sun is over the yard arm, applications of gin and tonic may be beneficial.



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Wednesday, November 30 • 9:00am - 10:00am
Lying, Stealing and Life Writing :: 2A4

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Daniel Juckes: ‘Forgotten! Dreadful Word …’

The French historian Jules Michelet considered the act of history to be one of resurrection, something joyous, beneficial to the dead brought back into the present. But there are two sides here: rescue and then wresting; resurrection or disturbance. Some days I am sure that what I am doing is right, and on others the choices I have made and the steps I have taken gnaw at my conscience. The thing I am doing is writing family history, composing a memoir of the journey I have been taking and making to discover the pasts of my grandparents, their parents, and their parents’ parents. The results are partial, exhilarating, and disturbing. The search was impelled by objects, by thousands of things left in an upstairs room, and I have stolen some of those things. The developing story was (and is still being) complicated and embellished by stories pinched, personalities surmised, and moments filched. Everything about the tale is questionable, including my desire—sometimes need—to tell it. And yet, do we not have a responsibility to remember and record? How could an amnesiac world in which we don’t remember even be considered? Michelet knew that the dead do not go away.

This paper will present a snapshot of the ethical dilemmas inherent in appropriating and telling my own family history, through the prism of some of those stolen objects (a note I wrote to my grandmother, a diary my grandfather kept, an old click-to-operate Viewfinder, 78 rpm shellac records). The levels of theft involved in telling family history are intricate and conflicting, and I will try to address these complexities. The paper will consider my desire to tell the past, and the need I feel to be transparent in how that reported past has been formed.

Marie O'Rourke: The Lustres: Life Glimpsed Through a Lyric Lens

“My past…was both simpler and more complicated than I had ever thought it to be,” writes Eula Biss—how might contemporary memoir reflect this apparent contradiction? A genre based on theft, memoir takes situations and characters from real life, appropriating the techniques of the fiction writer even as it claims the factual bedrock underlying traditional nonfiction. This paper will propose a way of recording our personal past which embodies the experiences, anxieties and understandings of our post-postmodern world.

Advances in memory studies have questioned the relationship between an actual event and how we remember it. Stealing insights from the growing fields of cognitive neuroscience and so-called ‘Neuro Lit Crit’, my creative practice aims to reflect the complexity of the workings of our mind. With an awareness of the brain’s tendency to create snapshots of key moments, I’ve adopted the form of lyric essay, a genre which steals the best qualities of lyric poetry and personal essay to offer flashes of intense clarity within the blur of everyday life.

‘Borrowing’ its title from lyric essayist Lia Purpura—who venerates “Scraps and spots, moments and lustres passing and glimpsed sidelong”—this presentation will argue that fragments stolen from memory, explored through symbol, metaphor, blank space and silence, may tell a more authoritative story than traditional memoir’s neat narrative progression. Reading from my own creative work-in-progress, I will explore the potential of the lyric mode when working in that zone where memory and imagination collide.

Melanie Pryor: 

‘When the people we used to be come knocking in the night: writing between old and new sleves'

This paper addresses the temporal and psychological space between the ‘I who wrote’ and the ‘I who writes now’ that the memoirist must often navigate. Using the journals I kept during a period of travel and my PhD’s creative work-in-progress, a memoir about place, in this paper I consider two selves: the self that is found in my journals, that represents immediate, corporeal experience, and the self that seeks to craft these journals into a memoir. Examining what writer and academic Micaela Maftei asserts is ‘the very real emotional, intellectual and psychological changes human beings undergo over time’, this paper considers selfhood, memory, and truth, and the intricate relationship between them.

Creative non-fiction writer Sean Prentiss uses philosopher Immanuel Kant’s notion of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds to describe two different kinds of truth: the noumenal, actual world, and the phenomenal world of appearances, that we experience individually through our senses. I argue that this distinction between truths is a critical means by which, in their process of remembering and writing, the memoirist can navigate the multiplicity of selves that inevitably emerges in their work.

Rather than seeking to answer the many questions that the themes of truth, memory and selfhood prompt, by illustrating how I navigate numerous selves in my creative practice, with this paper I wish to open a dialogue about how we might view and move between old and current selves when writing memoir.

Nicholas Velissaris: “Now where I have seen that before?” - Using Genre Conventions as Shortcut to Aid Narrative Comprehension

Melete’s Story is a choice-based narrative similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series published by Bantam books in the 1980s/90s. In choice-based narratives the reader is able to choose how the story proceeds and many examples of this form use genre as a shortcut to assist the reader in making decisions.

Using genre rules and conventions enables a writer to borrow from existing stories and events to help the reader quickly understand the narrative. This type of priming allows a reader to more easily grasp the flow of the story and encourages a level of agency that permits the reader to make decisions about how the story should proceed.

Melete’s Story borrows heavily from the genres of political and conspiracy thrillers and from world events from the 1970s and 80s.  The narrative is based upon three major world events: the Watergate scandal, the end of the Cold War and the rise of military dictatorships throughout South America. Several sources, both fictional and factual, serve as the backbone for the story, these include Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976), and Costas-Gavras’ State of Siege (1972) and Missing (1981).

As these events have occurred in the recent past (the last 50 years), this presents an interesting dichotomy that allows for a blurring between the facts and the fiction. The writer can (and does) exploit this so that the reader will make assumptions about these events, and these assumptions can be used to control a reader’s focus and to anticipate how they will make decisions within the story.  This paper will look at how ‘borrowing’ from genre and recent history has shaped the development and construction of Melete’s Story and how this has extended my creative practice.


Rachel Robertson

Senior Lecturer, Writing, Curtin University
Dr Rachel Robertson is a writer and Senior Lecturer in creative and professional writing at Curtin University, Australia. Her memoir Reaching One Thousand was shortlisted for the National Biography Prize and she is co-editor with Liz Byrski of Purple Prose, a collection of life writing by Australian women writers. Rachel is a past winner of the Australian Book Review Calibre Prize for Outstanding Essay and her creative non-fiction has been... Read More →


Daniel Juckes

Daniel Juckes is a creative writer and PhD candidate from Curtin University, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts (History and Politics) and then from Curtin with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication (First Class Honours). His book reviews have been published in the Australian Book Review and on the Westerly blog, his creative work will be published in Westerly: New Creative, and he... Read More →

Marie O'Rourke

PhD Candidate, Sessional Academic, Curtin University
Marie O’Rourke is a Perth-based creative writer and PhD candidate from Curtin University whose research interests lie in the field of life writing, specifically, investigating the quirks of memory. Her current creative work-in-progress is a collection of lyric essays that experiments with form and language to push the boundaries of post-postmodern memoir. Previously published in Westerly and Australian Book Review, her work is soon to feature... Read More →
avatar for Melanie Pryor

Melanie Pryor

PhD candidate; sessional tutor, Flinders University
Melanie Pryor is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University in the area of life writing. Her thesis examines experiences of embodiment in contemporary memoirs about place. Her work has been published in Overland, Southerly, Lip magazine, and short story anthologies. Melanie teaches Creative Writing and English at Flinders University, and co-founded The Hearth: A Night of Readings, a series of creative reading and... Read More →

Nicholas Velissaris

Nicholas Peter Velissaris is a doctoral candidate at RMIT University who is in the process of finalising his submission for his PhD. His practice-based dissertation is on identifying and defining a poetics of choice-based narratives and establishing a framework that creative writers can follow to create their own choice-based work. Through his practice he has written a choice-based narrative called Melete’s Story which tells the story of... Read More →

Wednesday November 30, 2016 9:00am - 10:00am
2A4 Building 2, UC

Attendees (6)