Friday, 4 December 2009

The rise and rise of creative writing courses

The excellent Tindal Street Press from Birmingham is a well known publisher of fiction from Birmingham, whose modest output has a singularly strong record in being shortlisted or winning various literary prizes. They have just published Roads Ahead, short stories by 22 newish voices, some from the West Midlands, some from further afield. The book is edited by Catherine O’Flynn, one of their earlier big success stories. As the title suggests, the book is a marker for the future with most of the contributors being at a fairly early stage in their writing career.

Of the 22 writers, five mention that they have completed or are attending creative writing courses at university level. I know two of the others, both of whom used to live in the East Midlands and both of whom completed creative writing courses but did not mention doing so in their authors’ notes. It may be that some of the others have also completed such courses, but at least seven have certainly done so. Of the others, four currently teach creative writing at university level.. Thus at least half of the line up is involved in that world.

It takes a few seconds on google to find that there are many creative writing courses. Locally you can find them at Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University, Derby University, University of Lincoln, De Montfort University, Loughborough University. Apologies if I have missed any. The number may well have increased since starting this article.
Creative writing courses may well have replaced the old style writing groups. They have, however, been subject to some criticism. Nottingham writer Jon McGregor, for example, as part of a most interesting article on making a living as a writer, comments “Some will find patronage within the great pyramid schemes of creative-writing courses…” as an alternative to his dressing up as a bear, handing out leaflets outside the pound shop in Barnsley, as a way of getting by as a struggling writer. (You can find the full article in Pen Pusher 12, orderable via

I don’t think Jon was suggesting his ursine habit was a better option. Nor here am I criticising M.A.s in Creative Writing. Some of my best friends etc. And some of the authors I have published or have signed up have done such courses and some teach them.

But I don’t think it would be a good idea if the road ahead for any publisher has the equivalent of a bus lane for people on creative writing courses.

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