A Work of Fiction - a memoir: A creative case study of metalepsis in auto/biographical writing

Author: Phillip Kavanagh

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 10 Jun 2026.

Kavanagh, Phillip, 2021 A Work of Fiction - a memoir: A creative case study of metalepsis in auto/biographical writing, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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In 1988, the year Phillip Kavanagh (the author of this thesis) was born, a novel was published that seemed to predict his life. 'Blue Heaven' by Joe Keenan is a fun, farcical romp narrated by a twenty-something gay comedy playwright, named Philip Cavanaugh. A gay comedy playwright himself, Phillip Kavanagh discovered this book in his twenties, and all three books in the trilogy so closely mirror his sense of self that it was as if he’d fallen into a metafictional novel. In the third book of the series, Philip Cavanaugh is twenty-nine and travels to Los Angeles to pursue an exciting work opportunity, where he ends up ghostwriting someone else’s memoir while adapting a novel into a script.

In 2018, having just turned thirty, Phillip Kavanagh travelled to Los Angeles to meet Joe Keenan, his author. The memoir that he wrote about this trip, 'A Work of Fiction', picks up the thread of Joe’s novels—Phillip essentially ghostwriting the memoirs of Philip, while trying to finish off an adaptation of a novel to a script for a theatre company in Australia.

Both 'A Work of Fiction' and the exegesis explore the thin line between fiction and reality, and how the narratological figure of metalepsis can be used as a tool for examining what happens when life writing practitioners come right up to that line—and even cross it.

Building on from Smith and Watson’s recent work on metalepsis in auto/biographical writing, the exegesis uses 'A Work of Fiction' as a case study for how metalepsis troubles the notion of the ‘real’ world that life writers, by generic default, are in dialogue with. It explores how acts of intertextuality also trouble this notion, and how both metalepsis and intertextuality call into question the idea of an independent, cohesive self. It examines the way self-reflexivity can be used to shine a light on the authorial process, deepening the reader’s understanding of the ethical choices that are made in the construction of auto/biographical texts. It also explores the particularities of undertaking creative life writing research within the institution of the university, and how this shapes the creative product.

Keywords: metafiction, metalepsis, memoir, life writing, life narrative, intertextuality, ethics

Subject: Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Kate Douglas