Writing about nature in a changing world 

Associate Professor Ingrid Horrocks and Dr Laura Jean McKay are excited about a new creative writing course they have designed for writers wanting to explore the relationship humans have with nature amid concerns about the environment.

Creative writing and nature

Nature is hardly a new theme for poets, novelists and essayists. But a new creative writing course at Massey University, titled Eco-fictions and Non-fictions, focusses on how the perils of 21st century life might inform how we think and write about our relationship with nature.

The undergraduate course reflects an emerging trend of writers embracing concerns about climate change, environmental degradation and a deadly pandemic in increasingly inventive and innovative ways, say course convenors Associate Professor Ingrid Horrocks and Dr Laura Jean McKay.

Think talking animals, and trees with a narrative.

Both published creative writers themselves, they describe the course they’ve designed and will teach collaboratively as; “a study of the relationships between creative writing and ecological concerns, covering a range of contemporary forms from eco-fictions, non-fictions, or poetry, to nature writing, to animal stories. 

“The course considers questions of craft and genre, as well as the political, cultural and ethical stakes of the ways in which narratives are constructed. It engages students in the workshopped production of original creative work.”

Literature has traditionally tapped into the human experience as the standard, says Dr McKay, whose novel, The Animals in the That Country (Scribe 2020), won Australia’s richest literary award earlier this year. “This course starts from a place that’s saying ‘the world has changed and is changing dramatically. Let’s write from there’,” she says. 

Dr Horrocks, whose just-published memoir, Where We Swim (Victoria University Press, 2021) has been highly praised, says the course offers a fresh approach by being “environmentally-centric rather than human-centric. There’s a shift in perception in the way we inhabit the world.”

And the ‘eco’ – for ‘ecology’ – in the undergraduate course suggests a broader scope than just the natural environment, she adds. “It allows you to think about city environments and city ecologies. One of the key things is not ‘nature as separate’ but ‘nature as everything’.”

The course aims to prompt writers to consider; “what it means to write about this time – not necessarily directly about climate change, but what does it mean to be human now?” says Dr McKay, who wrote a speculative novel about a pandemic in Australia that was published just before the real pandemic hit. 

Dr Horrocks and Dr McKay say the course could appeal to writers from a range of backgrounds, including scientists, policy makers and environmental activists.

And they hope it will be of value to younger writers who may feel overwhelmed by doom-filled scenarios on climate change impacts and predictions.

“We want to try to help people clarify and put complex ideas into words. To step away from confusion by asking ‘what do trees mean to me’? Or animals? Things we could be turning to in order to find solace,” says Dr Horrocks.

The course will structured around specific themes (tree, water, land). “We want to go directly to things that matter,” she says.

In her recent Spinoff commentary piece titled ‘The climate crisis is seeping into books and making them really, really weird’, Dr Horrocks wrote; “There has to be more to reading and writing about the climate crisis than constant, to-the-moment, present-tense accounts of ice melts and species loss, fires and floods. At my most hopeful, I think that if we are to play the long game, it will help if we can pause and try to imagine this world we share anew. It feels as though we may be beginning to enter that place with Covid, too. Perhaps it is no longer that everything has to be directly about Covid, but that the Covid world is now part of everything we do.”

Eco-fictions and Non-fictions is open for enrolments now and is available from Semester 2, 2021, internally on Massey University’s Wellington and Manawatū campuses, as well as by distance. 

For more information, click here.

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