Fancy enhancing your literary skills, and opportunities? A Creative Writing MA is an option, says David Whelan, who’s quizzed academics and graduates alike...
Accelerate your development
“You don’t need to do an MA in Creative Writing in order to develop as a writer,” admits Andrew Cowan, Director of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia (UEA), “but it could help. What an MA offers – I think – is a means of accelerating your development.”
“I’m putting everything I learnt there into practice,” says Vickie Donoghue, Mudlarks playwright and graduate of the MA in Playwriting and Screenwriting at City University. “Before doing the MA I lacked the skills, knowledge and confidence to write a full-length script. It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done!”
Poet Jack Underwood, a graduate of Goldsmiths’ MA and now a lecturer there, has choice words for any budding poets. “I’d advise applicants ask themselves whether they are as interested in reading poems as they are writing them. MAs are a way of learning where your work fits in, and understanding what your work might add to the discipline, as much as they are a sounding board for your poetic strife.”
Workshops really work
Tom Morris gave up a career in publishing in Dublin to pursue the Creative Writing MA at UEA. “I just wanted a year to write, a year where it was insisted that I write,” he explains, “and I’d heard all about the workshops. They’re like a session of psychoanalysis – not in a therapeutic sense, though there’s plenty of that – but in the way that a particular issue with the writing is used as an entry point for an exploration of the work’s health. For example, someone might ask why the scenes in a story are so short, and this can lead to the author confronting a deeper insecurity in their writing, like fear of boring the reader, or a lack of confidence in the story itself.”
Widen your horizons
“I came over from California,” says Lauren Rose, another current UEA student, “because I wanted to write and learn in an international community. We have people from everywhere, and our professors are from India, England and Canada. It’s an amazing group and I love learning from a global perspective, something I would not have necessarily got if I stayed at home.”
“I fondly remember the pub in the afternoons,” recalls Jack, “the friends I made, and a fantastic character called ‘Amy Spanko’ from a classmate’s novel. Mostly, I remember how supportive, generous and tough-loving my tutors were.”
Andrew agrees: “I keep reminding our students that they’re each other's best asset. Due to the competitiveness for places, our students are always in the company of an exceptionally talented and committed peer group from all around the globe.”
Count the costs
Most MA courses require full-time commitment for a year (with some scholarships available) but Vickie says the opportunity to study part-time was crucial for her. “At City, we had lectures on Monday and Wednesday nights,” she explains, “which meant I could still do my full-time job then go to City after work. This was very important, as I had to fund the course myself.”
Jack took a different route. “I was prepared to wash dishes, walk poodles, whatever, to go, but I was lucky enough to be funded by the AHRB, now the AHRC (the Arts & Humanities Research Council), which was invaluable and made the MA less of leap of faith.”
Adds Andrew, “Christie Watson, who won the Costa First Novel Award last year, has returned to part-time nursing. She hardly needs to, but she misses the job she was doing before she became a successful novelist.”
‘The publishing industry – agents, publishers, producers – is very interested in the work that emerges from Creative Writing programmes,” Andrew says. “You’re far more likely to get the attention of an agent, for instance, if you can say you’ve completed an MA.”
“Our one-on-one meetings with the course leader thoroughly prepared me for meetings I’m now having as a professional playwright,” Vickie says of her tutorials. “She really pushed us and our scripts, questioning and questioning what we were doing and making us talk about our decisions and choices.”
“Each year we introduce our students to publishers, producers and agents,” continues Andrew. “We show them the realities and opportunities of the industry. We provide opportunities for publication. There’s a sense of being in a special place for a year.”
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Image by Jeffrey James Pacres, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence.