Monthly Archives: April 2016

The business of universities: a work of fiction

What is a university today?

This –

hallowed halls

or this –


Hallowed halls or a corporation? Ivory towers or big business?

Yes, these days a university is both and I was part of that transformation of higher education from the 1980’s to 2007 and as a consultant in Asia and Europe until 2013.

Since I left full time university life, starting out as a lowly fixed term lecturer, later as a professor, Faculty Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Director of various public and private companies linked with universities, I have wanted to write a novel about the massive challenges taking place in universities in the Anglo world and increasingly in Europe and Asia with the decline of government funding, the growth of ‘user pays’ and the treatment of education as a private rather than public good within a broader neo-liberal philosophy where the market rules.

Until now I remained too close to the subject to be able to write a fictional account of the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian universities in particular as governments reduced funding and universities were forced to become entrepreneurial, business oriented and market driven. I rode that wave for 20 years and think I left just in time with a sliver of my soul intact.

My story? A prestigious Australian university has failed to adapt and faces funding shortfalls and the loss of key academic staff and research areas unless it can access external funding fast and lots of it. A Chinese businessman needs to move assets overseas, fast and lots of it. A match made in heaven or is life never this simple?

5,000 words written and loving it – oh and if you’re reading this, you may be in it …

Writing from trauma

I am taking a break from my novel set on the Camino. The ms was never intended to be autobiographical though it drew on my experiences and encounters walking across France on the Via Podiensis and across Spain on the Camino and drew on a personal interest in dying with dignity and assisted suicide. Not to mention experiences of madness and death and all the other stuff of everyday life.

It was not until I received editorial feedback praising some parts of the ms and criticising others, that I realised how intensely personal and introspective the novel had become. It seems astonishing now that I never realised how entrapped I was in old wounds/traumas and their working out in fiction.

So I am putting the ms aside for a year to gain distance and perspective, maybe to undertake workshops on writing about the past. The novel, I repeat, is not ‘my story’ per se and is not a memoir except in a psychological and existential way I was too blind to see until I was poked in the eye from editors. While I let it lie for a year, I am contemplating attending ‘memoir writing’ workshops to learn skills of perspective and especially of extracting the universal from the personal.

In case you think you’re now safe from my scribbling, not at all.

I have begun writing a novel about universities and commercialisation, a topic dear to my heart for 10 years. See my next blog post for further information.

Decisions …

I described in my previous post the response of an editor to my novel ms set on the Camino. That person believes it can work well as a travel narrative and currently does not work as fiction, essentially being too introspective, intense and ‘Gothic’. I accept much of her criticism, albeit surprised she detested sections of my novel which published authors [not editors or agents] have praised in writing workshops. Fair enough, opinions differ and this editor is a professional whose assessment I should take seriously before deciding on my next step. After all, this is my first attempt at writing fiction.


At a book launch last week, an acquaintance [a highly successful fiction writer] asked after my Camino ms, I summarised the opinion and after prodding, revealed the identity of the person. Her response – ‘Oh, everyone knows x never likes that stuff! X always goes for -‘. Followed by first rate gossip and a faint glow of affirmation on my part.

Alright, nothing new, nothing to be seen here, move along please. Publishers have preferences and profiles, make decisions good and bad and their worst mistakes become the stuff of folklore and we wannabe writers have a good laugh. I am not kidding myself, I know my ms needs more work. The frustration is receiving such contradictory feedback.

What next?

Revise my novel ms? No, I need to leave it for minimum six months to gain some distance from it.

Write a Camino travel book? Nope, the world has enough.

Start a new blog devoted to the people – fascinating, mad, appealing, romantic, annoying – whom I have encountered on various pilgrimage paths? Yes. Watch this space.

Write a university novel? I have had a story in mind for some years and maybe now I have the perspective to write it after four years out of the game. Again, watch this space.