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Are creative writing courses worth the money?

Cwtch Corner: where authors from Wales get to talk about their work, what inspires their writing and their favourite authors and books.

Cwtch-Corner

Cwtch Corner was in Cardiff last month at the launch of Kate North’s collection of short stories Punch. Kate is a lecturer in creative writing and programme director for the MA in English Literature and Creative Writing pathways at Cardiff Metropolitan University. So naturally we talked about the value of creative writing courses. But first we chatted about her new book and the popularity of short stories. 

 Q. How would you describe Punch in just one sentence? 
A collection of strange and unsettling stories exploring the unexpected in the everyday.”

Q. Short stories are hugely popular with readers – why do you think that’s the case? 
“I think their size means that readers can get through a story in one sitting and feel like they’ve got something out of it in a short space of time. The ideal short story leaves the reader with something to think about or to continue in their own mind after reading.  I think that’s also part of the appeal.

Q.Which writer of short stories has influenced you the most? 
“That’s a hard question! There are so many good short story writers.  But, if pushed to name one, I would pick Anna Kavan.  I think she has been overlooked in past years but people are starting to notice how important she actually was in the mid 20th century.  She wrote some very beautiful and uncanny things.  The collection I would recommend isJulia and the Bazooka and Other Stories.

Q. Do you have a particular routine you like to follow when you are writing?
“There are consistent things I do when I write.  Like I try to start as early as possible in the day.  I am not so good at writing later in the day. I need to be in a quiet room on my own, I’m no good at writing in cafes or with music on like some people can do.  And I tend to write in solid blasts for a period of days and weeks, then I take a bit of time to do something else before returning to things. But, that said, it does depend if I am writing to externally imposed deadline (like a commission) or not.

Kate North reads from her short story collection Punch

 Q Your home is on fire… Which book from your overflowing shelves will you choose to save?
“To be honest, I would probably save my laptop before anything (other than my partner and kids of course).  But, not to be a spoil sport, I’ll go with Six O’Clock Saints by Joan Windham.  It’s a book written in the 1940s that I used to read around my grandparents’ house when I was little.  It’s not very well written but I have an emotional attachment to it.”

Q. In a recent BBC Radio interview, Will Self made some highly critical comments about the value of creative writing courses.  Do you think he has a valid point? Are creative writing courses worth doing?
>I think he makes a fair point and I don’t believe he suggests that creative writing (CW) courses aren’t worth doing.  I would be suspicious of any course promoted as being able to help graduates ‘make a living from literary fiction’.  I don’t think that is something anyone can guarantee.  And as Self points out, CW courses offer the opportunity for students to develop themselves as writers.  The possibilities that come from developing writing skills are hugely varied.  I know of graduates from cw programmes who have gone into all sorts of jobs that need them to use their writing skills, such as computer game design, marketing, PR, editing, copywriting and teaching.  So, yes, I would say that if you want to develop your writing skills, then courses are worth doing.  You may find a career in literary fiction on the back of a course or you may not.

This perennial discussion always puzzles me.  It doesn’t happen in other areas.  For example, will a BA or MA in Music  guarantee you will become a concert pianist?  No, but if you would like to become a concert pianist it may be helpful to study on such a course.  Will taking a sports science degree guarantee you will win the London marathon?  No, but it may be helpful for you to study on such a programme if you are interested in winning marathons.

Q. As programme director for an MA creative writing programme you must meet scores of aspiring authors. What’s the number one piece of advice you give them?
Read, reflect, write and repeat.  Good writers are good readers, read widely and critically.  Also, find out how and what you need to write for yourself.  To achieve this refer to the earlier instruction; read, reflect, write and repeat.

 


Kate North is a poet and short story writer. Her latest short story collection Punch was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2019. She also has a poetry collection The Way Out, published by Parthian in 2018.

If you’d like to learn more about Kate or discover how to buy her books, take a look at her website  

She’s also on Twitter: @katetnorth 

 

 

 

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