Course Requirements

Paper Objectives

The paper aims to:

  • Introduce the theoretical basis of life writing
  • Improve the student’s understanding of how personal and non-fictional narratives contribute to New Zealand’s cultural history
  • Develop the student’s skills for reviewing and recording oral history
  • Develop the student’s skills and techniques for writing biography and autobiography
  • Develop the student’s creative writing skills

What am I expected to do each week?

You will attend one hour-long lecture and one two-hour workshop every week.

To prepare for the lecture, you should read the texts from the Course Anthology that are prescribed for that particular session (for further details, see the Course Timetable).

For the second part, the workshop sessions, you will be asked to bring along your writing ‘homework’ and be prepared to discuss it with other students. Their responses to your writing, as well as comments on features such as structure, word choice, condensation, and imagery will help you to revise and edit your work and to decide on the direction of your major project.

Attendance at both lectures and workshops is compulsory. A roll will be taken at each workshop and a clipboard will be handed around at lectures. Make sure that you sign this, as it is the only record of your attendance. More than four unexplained absences may be taken as grounds for failure in the course.

Who will be teaching on the course?

The Course Convenor is Dr. Mary Paul. Mary will be taking the workshops, and sharing the lectures with Dr. Jack Ross. Other experts in the field will also contribute lectures. A panel of researchers from different disciplines will take part in a panel discussion on the ethical ramifications of Life Writing, during which they will outline particular examples from their own experience. Your work will be marked by your workshop tutor.

How will your work be assessed?

You will be graded not on the quality of the experience or feelings you describe in your writing (whether poetry or prose), but on:
  • how well it meets the assignment requirements
  • how effective it is as a piece of writing
  • the clarity with which you communicate the ideas lying behind your work

Presentation and grammar are also very important. Hastily thrown-together, sloppily formatted work is unlikely to achieve a good grade.

Grading of creative work can be particularly sensitive. If you disagree with a mark, we suggest that you wait for a few days before talking to us about it. Give yourself that much time to reread and reflect on the grade and the comments. If you still have a query or complaint after that, you should consult your tutor first of all. If you are still dissatisfied, you can get in contact with the course controller.

What is good lecture etiquette?

  • All lectures and workshops begin at on the hour and continue till ten to the hour.
  • Please be punctual. If you arrive late, try to take a seat as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
  • If you know you will have to leave early (for whatever reason), try to inform your lecturer of this in advance. Avoid disruption to other students by sitting at the end of a row. Try to close the door quietly as you go out.
  • If you are expecting an urgent phonecall and need to keep your cellphone on, you must clear this with your lecturer in advance. Otherwise, all cellphones should be turned off at all times. If you forget, and it rings by mistake, don't answer it.
  • Don't talk unless there's a class discussion underway. Make sure your remarks are addressed to the group as a whole, not your immediate neighbour.

What are the protocols (or Kawa) of a workshop?

Liz Allen in The Creative Writing Handbook (1996) suggests “six ground rules”:

  1. Observe silence when writing in a workshop – creative thought is impaired by superficial conversation.
  2. Always try to write as much as possible in then given time – the movement of the pen on the page sometimes produces material you had no idea was there. You are not just working with the conscious mind.
  3. Don’t be too self-conscious about the work produced – it’s raw, waiting to be worked, you’re not trying to prove anything.
  4. Be supportive of each other, be constructively critical, not negative.
  5. Do not use the workshop as an opportunity to show off technical virtuosity – it intimidates other people.
  6. Do not refuse to read your work out week after week or it will become an increasingly frightening prospect.

To these I would add one other: make no introductions to or apologies for the piece of work you are reading out. Let it speak for itself.

Late Assignments

All work is due in workshops on the dates given in the Course Timetable.

Late work, without an extension, will incur a penalty of one mark per day.

If it is more than one week late, your tutor may refuse to accept or grade it.


If you want an extension, you must ask for one from your tutor. They will be given sparingly, in cases of bereavement, illness or “family crisis.” You will be asked to provide medical certificates for illness.

You must ask for the extension before the assignment is due.

E-mail Communication

Under no circumstances will e-mailed electronic texts of assignments or exercises be printed out for you by your tutor or lecturer, or by the school secretaries.

Under no circumstances are you entitled to ask for address details for other students, either individually or on a group-list.

E-mail should be used only:

  • to request an extension on an assignment.
    NB: This may or may not be granted. You are not guaranteed a favourable response.

  • to explain an absence from class.
    NB:You must provide a medical certificate if it is health-related. If you fail to provide a satisfactory excuse, it will continue to be counted against you as an unexplained absence.

  • to establish the date of completion of an assignment.
    NB: A hardcopy must always be handed in to the Department as well.


We take plagiarism extremely seriously. If you take all or part of someone else’s work without acknowledgement and present it as your own, you can expect to receive – at the very least – a zero grade for that assignment.

Depending on the seriousness of the offence, you may also face failure in the course as a whole.

If in doubt, ask. Not only your words, but also the plots and ideas you employ must be your own unaided work.

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