Creative writing courses have sprung up all over the place over the last 20 years. I still can’t quite believe this but apparently there are a mind-boggling 10,000 short creative writing courses and classes currently on offer in the UK.
Lots of people sneer at the notion that creative writing can be taught but I totally disagree. I was one of the first batch of students to do Manchester University’s MA in novel writing 18 years ago and it inspired me from start to finish. Launched by novelist and academic Richard Francis and Michael Schmidt, the founder and editorial director of Carcanet Press, it gave me the time, space and confidence to write Hard Copy, my first novel. It also encouraged me to study writers I would never have read in a million years otherwise - Ismail Kadare and José Saramago for starters.
Richard, who's had ten novels published, has always been a firm advocate of creative writing courses and was professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University till 2009. “You may not be able to teach people to write,” he once said, “but you can take people who are capable of writing and provide them with the space and structure within which they have to write.”
It was certainly true of my intake. We were a very eclectic lot, some producing literary fiction, a couple dreaming up hard-bitten thrillers, one working on a comic novel about a game-show hostess and one (me!) writing about a Fleet Street hack whose career was on the slide. Each week we read and commented on each other’s work, making suggestions and encouraging our fellow writers along the way.
The upshot was that out of the 12-strong group, at least five became published writers. The most successful is the highly acclaimed Sophie Hannah, who’s not only a brilliant poet but has also written a string of bestselling psychological thrillers. Meanwhile TV scriptwriter Sam Bain has a list of credits as long as his arm (including Channel 4’s Peep Show) and Anna Davis, the author of five novels, is now director and tutor of Curtis Brown Creative, the first literary agency to run its own creative writing courses.
So if you’re an aspiring author who’s thinking of doing a creative writing course my advice is: ignore the cynics and get that application form off in double-quick time.
PS: I've decided that the washing line at the House With No Name (above) is the most scenic in the world. Hanging washing out is the dreariest chore but over the last two weeks I've done it with a spring in my step. As I pegged basket-loads of laundry on the line I stood in the sun and gazed across at this amazing view. Blissful.