Workshop offers insight into research process

Published 08 April 2009

writing_workshopsAbout 70 people gained valuable insights into the research process that precedes a writing project  when they participated in a “Writing and Research Workshop” at the University of New England last week.

They heard first-hand accounts of that process from a number of well-known writers, including Professor Jane Goodall from the University of Western Sydney, author of the novels The Walker (2004), The Visitor (2005) and The Calling (2007), and the scholarly study Stage Presence: The Actor as Mesmerist (2008), and Professor Jenny Hocking from Monash University, the author of biographies of Lionel Murphy (1997,2000), Frank Hardy (2005) and Gough Whitlam (2008).

In discussing the writing of her biography of Gough Whitlam, Professor Hocking spoke about some of the issues that can arise when the subject is a living person – including the unearthing of family details unknown to the subject. For example, she said, Gough Whitlam had been unaware that his grandfather had spent four-and-a-half years in Melbourne’s Pentridge Gaol for forgery.

Professor Hocking conveyed a sense of what she called “the great creative pleasure that comes from writing biography”.

UNE’s Dr Anne Pender, a co-facilitator – together with Dr Fiona Utley – of  the one-day workshop, said that Professor Hocking and the other presenters had succeeded in passing on much practical advice, from their own experience, about planning and conducting research. In describing the research process that preceded the writing of her Stage Presence, for example, Professor Goodall had taken the participants with her on a journey through many manifestations of “presence”.

“Lorina Barker, an Associate Lecturer in UNE’s School of Humanities, gave a really inspiring presentation about how she had learnt to make a documentary film as part of her PhD research into her family’s involvement in the shearing industry,” Dr Pender said. “She was able to discuss the special problems – including ethical problems – that arise when working with members of one’s own family.”

The workshop participants included UNE staff members and postgraduate students, as well as many members of the wider community. Several postgraduate students from the University of Canberra travelled to Armidale for the occasion. “There’s a great thirst for this kind of hands-on workshop,” Dr Pender said. “We all need help in extending our skills.”

There was also a publishing workshop with Dr Leigh Dale, the editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies, during which Dr Dale gave advice to writers on how to edit their own work and how to pitch it to a publisher. “That kind of insider information is invaluable for anyone involved in – or contemplating – a writing project,” Dr Pender said.

The workshop, sponsored by UNE’s School of Arts and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, was an initiative resulting from activity under the former Federal Government’s Research Quality Framework.

The image displayed here expands to show Prof Jenny Hocking with her recently published biography of Gough Whitlam.