Wednesday, September 01, 2004

All words and no action

Hee hee hee hee hee! Oh dear, excuse me laughing at someone else’s discomfiture, but you just can’t help it sometimes, can you?

A while back, there were grand plans announced for a National Academy of Writing, right here in the good old UK, funnily enough. It was a grandiose scheme, ‘a dedicated writing school set up by internationally renowned writers’, no less. And guess who was in charge? Yup, you got it. Melvin himself. Lord Melvin Bragg, to you, the great panjandrum of cultural TV and a novelist to boot (though I must confess I’ve never read any of them).

The announcement of this enterprise came two years ago, well before the establishment of this blog. The NAW was supposed to be going to run ‘postgraduate courses, glittering literary events and regular writers’ workshops’. (What about workshops for writers who are constipated, I ask myself, but never mind.)

At the time I greeted all this with a sort of ‘Oh yeah? Believe it when I see it’ sort of reaction. And it wasn’t an idea which I supported or in any way thought would succeed.

And now? We have confirmation of what I half suspected would happen – the whole thing seems to have ground to a halt. The Literary Saloon kindly drew my attention to an article in the Birmingham Post which tells us that the great Academy is floundering for lack of funding. There ain’t much happening at all.

Well, the Literary Saloon doesn’t shed any tears over this, and neither do I. Yes, it is possible to teach people some of the basics about writing, and there are books which can be extremely helpful. And an experienced writer or editor can certainly sit down with a writer, on a one-to-one basis, and teach that writer how to improve his work. But the whole business of postgraduate courses and degrees in creative writing is, frankly, ridiculous. And I say that as someone who spent nearly thirty years in higher education, in one capacity or another.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the people who organise and teach these things had their feet on the ground, but they haven’t. They live in some airy-fairy arty-farty parallel universe in which the world is seen as owing writers a living – and a very handsome living at that – so long as they ‘express themselves’.

If you are thinking of spending a year and a substantial amount of money on a creative-writing course, my advice is: Don’t.

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