Two letters in today's Guardian defending 'creative writing' courses in response to the article by Ian Jack which I discussed below.
In fact, in doing so, they both strongly endorse Jack's case that the possibility of writing books for a living is becoming ever more a pipe dream. The first is from Neil Nixon, Pathway leader at NW Kent College who, he says, started the UK's first full-time HE course in professional writing in 1999. He asserts that his course 'require[s] students to back up career decisions with substantial research of the hard realities of the market' and that other degree courses are 'moving many undergraduates to understanding changing markets, concentrating less on declining areas of writing and more on the realities of turning ideas into money' [my italics]. He ends by sounding a death knell: 'This, put crudely, is where the future lies for those who, in Jack's day, saw themselves as writers.'
The second letter, from John Petherbridge, seems to me to offer a better defence: that creative writing is a discipline to be learnt for its own sake: 'Those same critics think there is nothing odd about the fact that most students, who study history, for example, don't become historians.' This has certainly been the principle behind those Creative Writing BA modules on which I have taught, and I'd add further that practice can be a useful element of a proper study of English Literature. But that first argument is weaker in a climate where universities are moving towards vocationalism (and the departments of 'pure' disciplines are being closed down or starved of money). And I have to say that of all the many people I know who have done Novel-Writing MAs I don't think there are any who didn't do it without hoping to become professional writers as a result (let me know, any of you, if I'm wrong!) and whenever I've talked to MA groups - or for that matter, any workshop groups - the thing they're always most keen to know is how to get published.
And the thought of paying those fees just to have the 'hard-headed agents and publishers' shipped in to the City Lit by John Petherbridge to be 'frank about the problems of getting work published'...