Friday, 4 June 2010

How I Got Into Teaching Creative Writing

Jessica asked me this and I thought - whee! there's something I haven't blogged about before, which is brilliant when you're a daily blogger and always terrified the ideas are going to dry up.

I had written six books about careers in the media aimed at school leavers before deciding what I really wanted was to write fiction. So I started with short stories and applied for an MA in Creative Writing. I didn't have a job to go to after the MA and I was broke, all my hopes were pinned on getting a fabulous publishing deal but even I realised that that might not happen. Teaching creative writing had a lot of appeal but I thought no one would ever want me. Then I discovered that a woman in my MA workshop group who I thought was a) the worst writer and b) an even worse critiquer was teaching creative writing.

That gave me confidence: however dreadful I might be at teaching, I had to be better than her. But I didn't do anything about it until I went to a talk on getting published. The speaker arrived late and, while she was sorting herself out, instructed the audience to talk to the person next to them to start networking. So I asked the bloke on my right what he did, and he said - and I am not making this up - "I teach creative writing in Devizes but I want to give my class up when I find someone to take it over." "Me!" I squeaked. "Me!" He gave me the contact details of who ran the courses and said he'd recommend me.

So I applied, and was offered the class, and jumped through the admin hoops, got CRB checked, went on a special day about disability access, and another about health and safety, and then not enough people enrolled so the class never happened. But I'd been fired up enough to write to six other colleges and universities within a hour's drive of me, saying I was looking for work as a creative writing tutor. It was February, a good time to write as that's when the schedules for the coming year are planned. Three never replied but three did....

I was offered an evening class at Norton Radstock college for that autumn. I got my publishing deal the same week as I taught my first class which gave me a bit more confidence, but I was still terrified. Because of their system they couldn't repeat a class so I did Beginners in the autumn and Advanced in Spring and that was it for Norton Radstock.

Bath University offered me a day course and after that went well, I began teaching a novel writing course. I did that for about two years, and might be teaching it today except I got fed up with the administration and walked out, the only time I've ever done that. (Note to self: Do not start ranting. Stop it now.)

Bristol University ran two creative writing classes in Bath, one that I'd been on before the MA and another which was always on the verge of failing. About six months after my initial letter they got in touch and said they'd take the chance on offering me the class for a term to see if I could turn it around. And eight years on I'm still there, Friday mornings with a duplicate class in the afternoons and there's still a waiting list.

I went on to teach on the BA Creative Studies at Bath Spa, the Creative Writing Diplomas at Bristol and Oxford Universities, and various undergraduate BA modules at ASE, which is a branch campus of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, USA. At one point I was teaching sixteen hours a week, which was too much and my writing suffered, so it's now a maximum of six.

Starting in October I'm the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol and I'm not sure how that's going to work out with the writing time. I've decided not to teach at Oxford next year, although I loved the students, and I'm doing just one course for ASE. But the Friday class will carry on until I run out of ideas or students. And at an Oxford tutorial on Tuesday a student asked why a successful novelist like me taught, so I might do that tomorrow.

Next event - CHESTERFIELD! 10th June, at the library at 7.30 as part of the Derbyshire Lit Fest. (Details on p 49 of the brochure). And then it's Birmingham on the 23rd.


Jessica said...

Thanks for the great post - I need to pull my finger out at some point and write to the local adult education centres!

Sarah Duncan said...

Good luck, and don't be disappointed if they don't all bite - there are lots of cut backs at the moment so a refusal/silence won't be personal.