Sunday 1 November, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Student Union
‘Everyone has one novel in them’ so the saying goes. Only today the saying seems to have become a reality. Creative writing has taken off with a boom. The first creative writing course arrived in the UK in 1970 at the UEA, becoming a legendary breeding ground for novelists such as Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro under the tutelage of Malcolm Bradbury. Today there are over 200 postgraduate creative writing courses in the UK. But the creative writing explosion is not confined to the ivory towers of academia. From prisons to shopping malls, creative writing projects are anywhere and everywhere: from the Library of Unwritten Books, which encourages people ‘to spontaneously record their unrealised ideas, fictional tales, and personal histories’, to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that challenges wannabee writers to knock out a 175 pages in a month, declaring that ‘the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly’. The message seems to be just pick up a pen and express yourself. Anyone can and should write creatively.
But should everybody try and write? Do more people writing mean more people are engaged with literature? Or are we diluting and dumbing-down the value of great literature by pretending that anyone can be an author? Novelist Jenny Diski had her foreword to an anthology of student writing rejected this year because rather than simply praising the work, she advised young authors to work harder at editing and redrafting. Is it better to take the NaNoWriMo approach and stop being so precious about the great art of writing, taking more risks and allowing more people to write by banishing the ghost of Dostoevsky? What can creative writing courses teach us about the art of writing? Isn’t literary genius something which is innate and can’t be taught? Who decides what great literature is and who can and can’t write anyway?
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
novelist, Apology for the Woman Writing; essayist; memoirist; author, The Sixties
novelist, The Quickening Maze; poet, The Broken Word
director, Salt Publishing; poet, Radio Nostalgia; author, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell
Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake
There was a unique blip in the 1980s and 90s when even writers who weren't producing blockbusters for 'the market' could make a living.Today, most publishers and conglomerate booksellers are run by accountants, and writers are only as good as the profit they deliver.Jenny Diski, Guardian Books blog, 20 June 2009
Success has come early to the intense poet-novelist Adam Foulds, thanks in part to a ferocious work ethic. He tells Olivia Laing what drives himOlivia Laing, Observer, 10 May 2009
What we need to ask is not can it be taught, but how it can be taught, and can it be taught better? In other words, the questions we should be constantly asking, about the teaching of literature, or medicine, or law, or anything.Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Irish Times, 18 April 2009
'One of the things you notice is that when you switch on the television and a student has gone mad with a machine gun on a campus in America, it's always a writing student.'Charlotte Higgins, Guardian, 27 May 2008
A cry of “how sickening” must be going up in garrets. Infuriatingly for the old buffer huffers, it makes it difficult to harrumph about the good-for-nothing ladette culture in which young women are only good for snorting lines, not writing them.Jasper Gerrard, The Sunday Times, 9 January 2005
Will to Wonka, English is thriving but it isn't all rosyClaire Sanders, Times Higher Education, 12 March 2004