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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

CREATIVE WRITING AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES - A BASIC CHECKLIST FOR PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS

WAITING FOR THEIR CW TUTOR DR TODDO TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE

Like many courses and degrees offered by one of the 115 or so British universities, Creative Writing comes in many shapes and sizes. Prospective students are often faced with bewildering choices, if even between local or regional options. This is a brief guide to the perplexed - a simple checklist. Here's how it works - for every yes score 10 points.  This will give you a score of between 0 and 100.  Clearly, you will want to attend a university that scores above 50%.

1. UNIVERSITY RANKINGS.
There are several ranking systems you can locate easily online with Google, updated every year. The question here is, is the university you are considering ranked in the Top 50? If it isn't, the likelihood is, for all its potential benefits, it won't be able to offer many of the advantages of a more prestigious, better-funded campus, that can attract (often) brighter students.

2. DOES IT HAVE CW ACROSS BA, MA AND PHD?
Many students who wish to study for a BA in Creative Writing (or a joint honours course) tend to ignore the depth of the creative writing subject area and the provision at their prospective universities. Without an MA or MFA or PHD option for students, it is relatively clear that the university commitment to CW is rather skin deep - and you won't get the benefits of a fully-enriched study environment, with student writers at all levels of experience.

3. DOES IT HAVE A READING SERIES?
Student writers need to be exposed to published, talented writers across every year of their study, and the best way to arrange this is to have a guest reading series that brings in poets, novelists, and life writers to read for the CW students and to offer advice.

4. DOES IT HAVE A WELL-PRODUCED PHYSICAL STUDENT WRITING MAGAZINE OR ANNUAL BOOK?
Universities may want to save money by trying to put a student magazine solely online (and the digital aspect is crucial of course) but the better UK universities tend to also publish physical student-edited literary magazines, that feature student work alongside well-known authors. This becomes a useful calling card, for agents and readers, and a lovely thing for your friends and family.

5. DOES IT HAVE AN EXCELLENT LIBRARY?
Writers need to have lots of books to read close to hand. An excellent library is essential.

6. DO THE CREATIVE WRITING TUTORS/LECTURERS HAVE MANY PUBLICATIONS?
It is all very well to profess writing, on a theoretical basis, but your teachers at university level should be world-class writers and poets, or at the very least, have publications from recognisable presses. Forget prizes - these are often acquired via cronyism. And many brilliant avant-garde writers avoid prizes and go with smaller presses. However, when you Google your teachers, go to Amazon and other book retailers online.  They should have published one or more books within the last 3 years. Ideally you should then order the books and read to decide if you like their poetics, or style, or themes. Study with writers you admire.

7. IS THE UNIVERSITY NEAR MAJOR CULTURAL OPPORTUNITIES?
Most universities in the UK are situated near at least a small local city or town, and most are therefore near some form of cultural opportunity (cinemas, art galleries, museums) but here we mean can you really say the university is near, say, a major city, or major cultural attraction, or area of outstanding natural beauty - or is it in some form of backwater? A rule of thumb - it should never be more than 90 minutes by train or bus from a city of over 250,000 people.

8. DOES IT HAVE A TRADITION OF CREATIVE WRITING?
Some UK universities have been offering creative writing for decades; other for mere months. With judicious online research, you can quickly discover which universities are leaders in the field, in terms of time and care taken developing a serious CW pedagogy. UEA, for instance, was the first in the UK to offer CW courses at MA level.

9. STAFF TO STUDENT RATIO
You will want to make sure there are enough CW teachers and tutors to go around. If you have a BA cohort of 50 or 100 students, and only one or two teachers, this ratio is likely to be rather poor. Does your prospective university offer a good ratio?

10. IMAGINATIVE AND INNOVATIVE VISION
All universities are going to claim they are innovative, and imaginative, but when you read about the different courses on offer, carefully consider what genres are taught - and if the subjects are siloed or de-siloed. Clearly, if you are an undergrad CW student, you will want to take courses in various writing genres, and forms, like screenwriting, short stories, life writing, digital writing, poetry, etc. You may also want to write erotic or fan fiction, or perhaps thrillers, or fantasy novels. Does your university seem welcoming to practical issues relating to advice about future publication, also?

It isn't just about taking a place near a uni near to your parents, or far from them. It isn't about being close to London (maybe). But it has to be about going to the university that offers the best possible teaching experience, and for creative writing nothing beats well-funded, serious universities that respect their students and staff, and want to develop an ambitious environment. The table here can help.

I offer below a rough list of 20 of the better-known and recognised British creative writing unis (in alphabetical order) - but apply the above measuring-stick for yourself.




1.      BATH SPA

2.      BIRMINGHAM

3.      CARDIFF

4.      DURHAM

5.      EDGEHILL

6.      GLASGOW

7.      GOLDSMITHS

8.      KINGSTON

9.      LIVERPOOL

10.  MANCHESTER

11.  NEWCASTLE

12.  OXFORD BROOKES

13.  PLYMOUTH

14.  ROEHAMPTON

15.  ROYAL HOLLOWAY

16.  ST ANDREWS

17.  SURREY

18.  SUSSEX

19.  UEA

20.  WARWICK



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