I attended a riveting event at City Library Manchester last night which was part book launch and part debate about the value of creative writing MAs. The room was packed, not sure who by, but I guess lots of people either already on, or who may be had considered and rejected going on, a Creative Writing course.
First-time novelist Rachel Genn, a recent participant on the Novel Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University was launching her novel The Cure. Also launching her most recent novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb, was her former tutor at Sheffield Hallam, Jane Rogers.
Both writers read from their books. The Cure is set on and around building sites in Shoreditch but is really about loss, isolation and displacement.
...Jessie Lamb is set just in the future- 6 months on from where any reader starts- and is told through the voice of a 16 year old girl. Is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead? This was the issue Jane most wanted to address in this book.
After the readings, chair Sherry Ashworth, herself a writer and creative writing teacher at MMU, led the duo through a series of probing questions, asking them to address the value of Creative Writing courses and the perennial issue of whether or not a writer can be "created" through teaching.
The exchange was fascinating to me, as someone who feels instinctively that writers are born. Jane seemed to back my instinct by saying that writers can be helped and improved, for example with how to build characters or how to structure a plot, but need to arrive with an innate feeling for language and a vision for what they want to communicate. Rachel agreed that she was someone who definitely needed support with how to control and shape her words, but the strong drive to write was what drew her to a course
Questions from the audience quickly drew out some strong feelings, particularly around the question of whether it is now almost essential for a new writer to attend a creative writing course, if they want to be "discovered" by an agent. Jane tried to allay fears on that score but I'm not sure everyone was convinced. Agents do, it seems, visit Creative Writing schools to make new contacts with aspiring writers.
The overall impression from the evening was that writing is b.....y hard work! Students on creative writing courses need to work hard, take criticism and persevere. Tutors must work hard at being even-handed and supportive, while giving criticism where its needed. We readers are indeed the lucky ones, enjoying the fruits of all that effort.