Ever since I enrolled in the first MLitt in Creative Writing offered by the University of Stirling, I’ve read with interest the various opinions of the value or otherwise of creative writing programmes. I’d already written two novels before I started the course and many might argue that I didn’t need to pay thousands of pounds to become a writer. Surely all you need is a pen and paper? There’s constant criticism that you can’t teach people to write, but you can learn the craft of writing and this was what I needed to help me write to the best of my ability.
In last week’s Arts Supplement in the Glasgow Herald, Rosemary Goring, openly sceptical about creative writing classes, interviewed Kathleen Jamie, a renowned poet and the Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Stirling. When asked if creative writing classes are a waste of time and money, Professor Jamie’s reply to Goring was to calm down and that students were “not designing missile systems”. She’s absolutely right, but words can be powerful and dangerous too and I’d like to think the course has taught us at least that much.
But rather than read about my experience again, I thought it would be a welcome change to find out what the course meant to one of my fellow students, the lovely Angela Hughes, who made us smile week in week out with her quirky and quaint take on the world. Here’s Angela’s account of the course ‘Mastering Creative Writing.’
It’s Wednesday, it’s 4pm – and no it isn’t Crackerjack; and yes I am that old – it’s time to join my fellow MLitt Creative Writing victims, oops, I mean students, in our weekly Writers’ Workshop. Five students breathe easily, two look nervous – I’m one of the two whose turn it is to have their work critiqued by our tutor, Paula Morris, and the rest of the group.
Someone coughs, another giggles, and I sit quietly, avoiding eye contact and hoping that the Valium will kick in soon. Tension builds, papers rustle; my work is summarised by another student, and we’re off.For half an hour I say nothing – well not out loud though there may be some below-the-breath muttering, and the group looks at things such as character, plot, dialogue and point-of-view. If you think that to remain silent while my work is discussed is daunting, you’d be right. It’s not easy to have your writing come under such close scrutiny, especially when you’re in the room, and especially when you’re banned from shouting out ‘that’s not what I meant, surely you can see that … come on!’ But the feedback is balanced and constructive and has definitely helped me develop as a writer.
At Stirling the Creative Writing options included The Art of Fiction, a walk-through of the technical aspects of the craft, and a Short Story module to provide an interesting background to the writing tradition. In addition, we read voraciously and considered writers from Jorge Luis Borges to William Trevor, Alice Munro and James Salter; no I hadn’t heard of some of them either but trust me they’re worth a look, particularly William Trevor who I now have a literary crush on but hey, that’s a whole other story!
Throw in an inspiring master class with Booker Prize Winner DBC Pierre; visits from the Royal Literary Fellows and a literary agent; and talks by Andrew O’Hagan and New Zealand poet Bill Manhire, and you can see why I enjoyed it so much. It’s hard work but it’s been a privilege to share my writing journey with others – the community spirit has, and continues to be, incredible, Paula is supportive and encouraging, and nestled amongst the nervous chortling there have been lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Try a creative writing class, enjoy it, have some fun – go on, you know you want to!