Shortcut to the Sublime – Writing About and Like Music in the Short Story

Date: 10am – 3pm, Saturday 20 June & 10am – 3pm Saturday 27 June, 2020
Location: Founders Lounge, El Rancho, 58 Weggery Drive, Waikanae
Faculty: Pip Adam
Cost: $172.50 for the two-days including lunch
To register contact:

When asked why novelists come to land on music as the location of so much mystery, novelist Richard Powers said:

‘I think we’re jealous. There’s a way in which the appeal of music, in sidestepping everything semantic and reaching into your rib-cage and massaging your heart, is just such a matter of envy to novelists who have to mediate everything with words that mean things and the specificity of which, and the real-world reference of which, can often get in the way of the sublime and that sense of communicating directly to the body.’

Powers suggests that music has a ‘shortcut to the sublime’ which is perhaps at odds with the nature of fiction. I don’t think Powers is arguing that fiction is the lesser art form. Instead, I think he’s pointing out the fundamental differences innate in music and fiction.

So how do we write music into the short story? When writing about music how do we render it? Are there ways we can write like music – can we borrow from musical form to write musical prose? What is the relationship between writing about music and writing like it? To what degree is it possible to separate form and content when writing music into the short story – can we write about music without writing like it? Can we write musically without including references to music itself?

In this two-day workshop we’ll explore ways of writing fiction about and like music.

We’ll meet on Saturday 20 June and discuss some examples of ways of writing music into fiction. Many fiction writers have written music into their work in different ways: Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Teju Cole, Zadie Smith, Andrea Lowler, Kirsty Gunn, Nick Hornby and Jennifer Egan. Using some of their work we’ll talk about our experience as readers and writers and see if we can come up with some approaches. We’ll also complete some writing exercises. Between the two workshop days we’ll write short stories, perhaps developed from the exercises, which we’ll share on Saturday 27 June.

Limited to 12 participants. To reserve your space contact Kirsten Le Harivel at

Pip Adam is a prose writer who started out writing poetry but got seduced by narrative – she loves a good story. She’s published a collection of short stories, Everything We Hoped For (VUP, 2010) and two novels, I’m Working on a Building (VUP, 2013) and The New Animals (VUP, 2017). She has a new novel coming out in 2020 called Nothing to See (VUP). The New Animals won New Zealand’s top fiction prize in 2018, the Acorn Foundation Prize for Fiction. She facilitates writing workshops in all sorts of places and makes the Better off Read podcast where she talks with authors about writing and reading.

Photo: Ebony Lamb