James Phelan

James Phelan, a former PhD student at Swinburne.
James Phelan, former PhD student at Swinburne.

Why did you choose to do a research degree?

I undertook a PhD after completing my Master of Arts (Writing) through Swinburne. Undertaking a PhD while I was starting out as a full-time novelist gave me some headspace from my working life, while allowing me to focus on an area of research - Young Adult Fiction - that I knew I would one day enter into.

What was your research topic?

Chasers is a Young Adult novel written in the first person from the point of view of a sixteen year-old character trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic setting. I used auto-ethnography and Practice Led Research (PLR) to record and reflect on the writerly journey, from idea to publication and beyond. My journey through the methodology of auto-ethnography centred on the novelist as creator, the artefact through PLR, the aesthetic of young adult fiction, how creativity meets commerce, and what only the novel can say via explorations of style, allegory, and symbolism.

"I looked forward to all the meetings with my supervisors, discussing my work and getting critical and constructive feedback from people I trusted and respected."

James Phelan

Former PhD student

What were the best aspects of your PhD candidature?

I loved the broad nature of the project - and I detested it too; it was an interesting journey! My topic changed about half way through, as I (and my supervisors) kept coming to the fact that it was too big to achieve within a PhD candidature. Once I’d made the commitment to focus on one specific area of my original concept, it was much easier to achieve the outcome.

Some other fond memories are all the meetings with my supervisors, discussing my work and getting critical and constructive feedback from people I trusted and respected. It made my regular meetings something to look forward to.

What do you hope to achieve after completing your PhD?

For me it was about the journey, not the outcome. I achieved what turned out to be  bigger than I imagined from the out-set. Bigger in terms of the volume of work that never made the final cut; probably 80% of my work sits like the unseen portion of an iceberg supporting what you see above the water.

I’ve been a full-time author since 2006 and see myself continuing that for the foreseeable future.