I studied creative writing at Kingston University, and although I was not a student of Hanif Kureishi, I feel that I am entitled to be slightly baffled by his comments about creative writing courses. I earned my place on a BA in Creative Writing at Kingston University by achieving certain grades in my A-Levels and if I recall correctly, it wasn’t essential at the time that one of my A-Levels was in English. I did not achieve my place based on an assessment of my written work.
Therein lies one of the problems with creative writing courses – admission is not assessed on creativity and talent but rather academic prowess.
What I did find interesting throughout my time at university is that many of the mature students on the course were leaps and bounds ahead of those fresh out of sixth-form because in the right people, and it seems so obvious to say, life breeds imagination and experience. I believe that this alone is a valid reason to make the courses creatively assessed and while it may stop some people taking a course straight out of sixth-form, it will increase the quality of the students and make it more valuable for all involved.
The quality of my teaching at Kingston University was perfectly fine, but it was the quality of those around me who really gave me a boost. As all the commentators on this issue have pointed out, not all courses are the same and we all know someone who has succeeded – the success story I can share is BAFTA award winning writer Sarah Woolner.
Sarah was always a cut above, she was admired, revered and was influential in encouraging others to keep at it when they started to falter. Her success is deserved because she has put in years of hard work into it. I had tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched the video clip of her collecting her award because not only was I incredibly proud to know her, I witnessed Sarah kicking the benchmark for achievement into the stratosphere. She is a true story teller because she matches her mind with her application.
I agree with Mr Kureishi that too many students of writing are not good story tellers and they lack imagination, but we must examine what creative writing courses are for.
When we signed up, did we all believe that we were destined for careers as a writer, or did we have ambitions for a career where we practically apply writing evocatively and passionately to make change?
To condemn a student body for not being good story tellers is to imply that they all wanted to be good traditional story tellers, and dismisses those who want to craft words for other purposes.
I don’t believe that it’s a bad thing for people to feel that they can use their creative writing skills to do something other than be a writer in the traditional sense. The world is full of professions where people who excel at a craft, such as metalwork, aren’t artists and we should embrace that, but we don’t seem to be able to do it with writing.
I work in PR for a children’s charity, I write every single day and I am regularly published in national newspapers, and I believe that my course in creative writing taught me the skills of understanding how evocative language can be and how best to use it for different audiences.
A creative writing course gives you the building blocks to develop your writing and produce a poem/play/story/script and so on, but what is does not, and cannot do, is teach you how to close your eyes and find the darkest and brightest bits of yourself and bring them to life on the page.
If Mr Kureish went into teaching creative writing because he thought he’d spend his life surrounded by Sarah Woolner’s, then undoubtedly he is a very disappointed man.
If he went into it willing to be satisfied by teaching and developing people like myself and those I spent three happy years studying alongside, who love words and their use even if their career trajectory doesn’t take them down the publishing path, then he’ll find many smiling faces in lecturer halls up and down the country ready to welcome him.