Late last year, I had the brilliant idea of doing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
The University of Auckland offers an equivalent MA and is only a couple of hours drive south of Fortress Mamea, but there was a certain je n’ais se quoi that an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters at the Victoria University of Wellington held for me. Part of it was the cachet IIML has. A larger part of it, to be honest, was that the IIML is in my hometown.
The Lovely Wife, gods bless her cowboy boots, arranged her whole year’s work schedule so I could commute between the winterless north and the windy city. I planned a sub-48-hour travel itinerary for each of the 24 workshops that were spread between March and October:
3:30am–6:30am — drive from Fortress Mamea to Auckland Airport
7:30am–8:30am — fly from Auckland to Wellington
8:30am–9:45am — buses from Wellington Airport to Victoria University
10:00am–1:00pm — Tuesday workshop at IIML
10:00am–12:00noon — Wednesday workshop at IIML
times varied according to cheapest flights booked but —
bus to Wellington Airport
fly to Auckland
drive to Whangārei
— with arrival times as early as 7pm and as late as midnight.
I looked at that itinerary and thought, How hard could it be? It’ll be fun — I’ve got several years worth of podcasts to catch up on. It’ll be a blast!
The novelty of that commute wore off after the first week. Six and a half hours of travel each way will do that. But I did it, and I’m here to blog about it.
On the very first day, programme director Ken Duncum had a bunch of portfolios to show us greenhorns what we’d be producing by year’s end. One of them was for my favourite New Zild television show:
I took it as a sign that — commuting aside — I’d signed up for a year of awesomeness.
“What’s it about?” the Webmistresse quite reasonably asked.
The Goddess and I looked at each other. It’s not a procedural. Nor is it a soap per se. Our best description is that it’s a television series that explores the philosophy of happiness. ‘Philosophy’ and ‘television’ in the same breath? Believe it. Not once was it trite as it asked – and didn’t necessarily answer – hard questions about being happy in and with the one life we get.
Most homegrown television has a self-consciousness pouring out of its every orifice. I suspect it’s a hangover from decades of cultural cringe: “Oh yeh, hi, I’m your latest Homegrown Drama. I know you’ve been waiting ages for me to turn up – and thanks to [INSERT BROADCASTER] and New Zealand on Air, here I am. Give us a go, eh, ’cause heh, y’know, you’re watching… New Zealand on air.”
The Insiders Guides are thankfully devoid of such affectation: these are the characters; here are the stories; keep up. Late-weekend-night scheduling and minimal publicity made the Insiders Guides the best intelligent adult homegrown television that few saw. Thank gosh for DVDs.
Jed Mercurio, creator of the excellent, visceral, Bodies, wrote this about adapting novels for the screen. What I found most interesting was –
Cynics argue that drama adaptations for television demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm for original material or, worse, a lack of quality in original scripts. I disagree with both propositions. Commissioners crave original drama, and many (if not most) writers prefer to create their own material, and most (if not all) of them feel more attached to their original script than an adaptation. But marketing original drama isn’t easy. … The audience doesn’t know the story or the characters. That’s hard to explain in a trailer or a billboard poster.
As an audience member, I must confess to a double standard: I want more of the same – but different.
I work hard at trying something completely new though. How else could I have found and sworn by Bodies or The Wire – or even Green Wing or The Insiders Guides to Love and Happiness?
What I admire most about these series is the sheer depth, and complexity of story and character that’s packed into each forty-five minute episode. It didn’t matter if it was a procedural or soap. The writing, directing and acting is so good that the underlying structure is barely noticed.
Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are my poster boys for giving more of the same… but different. They showed that even the tired superhero, horror and fantasy genres of comicdom – and their audiences – could be treated just as seriously as any other form of ‘real’ literature – with maturity and intelligence.
I returned to comic-reading in the last few years – one could hazard that it was a precursor to my true return to reading. And upon my return I’ve found the pleasures of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson‘s blistering Transmetropolitan, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon‘s heart- and gut-wrenching Preacher, and David Lapham‘s mindblowing Stray Bullets. These – and more – are just proof-positive that, just as the good doctor purred,