I note with interest the arrival of two new MAs in town. The first of these is Cambridge University’s first Master of Studies in Creative Writing, led by the biographer Dr. Sarah Burton. This part time programme began in October of last year and encompasses the teaching of a surprisingly wide range of genres, including political speech writing, radio essays, stand-up comedy, scripting for stage, screen and radio, the art of the short story, flash fiction, writing for children, poetry, literary non-fiction, criticism, reviews, and travel writing. With such wide-ranging fare, however, I can’t help wondering whether the table might be spread a little too thinly.
A two year degree, all creative output in the first year is non-assessed. The rationale behind this, according to Dr. Sarah Burton, is that “we are removing the pressures of formal marking, freeing students to allow themselves to develop and extend their skills by having permission to experiment, rather than fall back on what they already do well. This encourages ambitious and original, rather than conservative and ‘safe’, writing.” This approach, I feel, makes eminent sense and should perhaps be considered by designers of CW programmes in institutions elsewhere.
Far less sensible is the price tag attached to the course. It will cost the aspiring writer £10,000, twice that for an overseas student. This excludes college fees and accommodation, the latter of which is required for the residential aspect of the course. This is slightly less than Oxford’s equivalent, which comes in at almost £12,000, or roughly £18,000 for a non-EU student.
Whilst the ingress of CW into these hallowed cloisters is surely good news, one can’t help but suspect that Oxbridge is cashing in on its prestige: more established programmes charge significantly less. Nor should we celebrate the arrival of Creative Writing into the academic mainstream: Oxbridge offers the subject in their departments of continuing education, which operate somewhat at the fringes of the intellectual nerve centre.
More baffling is the introduction of an MA in self-publishing at the University of Central Lancashire. The course is being sold as a “one stop-shop providing a real toolkit for students wishing to learn all the skills they need to succeed as a self-published author”. This will include marketing, sales, finance, self-editing, layout and production, etc. According to the course leader Debbie Williams, “Things have definitely changed. In the last two years, self-publishing has stopped being a dirty word, and is a legitimate option for authors. Even the biggest authors are looking at it now.”
Williams is keen to stress that this is not a creative writing degree but rather an extensive tool kit for getting your own project off the ground: “Our new MA will help guide these individuals through the process to help them realise the dream of seeing their book in print.”
While I appreciate the value of the course for those who seek to self-publish, I question whether a course that focuses so heavily on the practicalities of self-promotion is appropriately placed within an academic setting.
Applications for the MA in self-publishing are being accepted for a September start.