Saturday, 17 July 2010

Confused of Bath

I am bursting with pride because my baby boy has been awarded a First from King's, London. It is terrific news and I'm thrilled to bits. He's especially pleased because his dissertation got 83% - a First is above 70% - so it's a tremendous achievement.

So why the confusion? Well....I read his dissertation, gave it a quick copy-edit too, and I wouldn't have given it that high a mark. It was good, but - in my opinion - not that good. Okay, so I don't know anything about the Malayan Crisis, but I know (or think I know) good writing. I got my moderator's feedback from Oxford a few weeks ago and they thought I was a tough marker too, although they qualified the comment by adding they didn't know much about current publishing standards. (!!! - don't get me started.)

I've written before about marking and grades and want to stick to my standard: 70% means it's publishable. It would be short listed in a short story comp, or picked up off the slush pile. A dispassionate reader (ie not your mum, partner, best friend) would enjoy reading it and want to read more. All my opinion, of course, but there it is. That's where I set the bar.

And that seems to me to be useful information for a writer who wants to get published. I suppose I've never been one to compare grades. It's like cars - so long as they get you from A to B I'm really not that interested in the make or the spec. So what if some teacher gives you 54 or 64 - is this work publishable? It's the big question every student wants to know. Yes, it's tough to get say 54, but wouldn't that be better than getting 68 simply because of grade inflation and thinking you were nearly there? Especially if you went out into the real world and then were depressed because nobody wanted your writing.

So, there's my dilemma. Should I moderate my marking so everyone wins a prize and loves me? Or should I stick to what feels like a lonely outpost and persist in pointing out that the real world is out there and doesn't give a stuff about grades, only good writing? I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

Except, deep down I do. I have to be honest, with myself, with my own writing, with others' writing. Without honesty there is no point at all.

(PS - I have since been informed by the dissertation author that the high mark was due to the originality of the content and not the writing style. Which I'm sure is correct, but I still think grade inflation is out there, and I don't think it's helpful for writers who are hoping to be published. Just saying.)

At last! I've got my finger out and have committed to running some day courses:
Writing a Novel - 31st July in Bath and 18th September in Truro
Getting a Novel Published - 1st August in Bath and 19th September in Truro
Contact me on for more info...


Debs said...

Many congratulations to your son for getting a first.

I think people would rather someone mark them as they honestly believe they should. At least if you give a good mark the students know you mean it, and it must mean so much more to them to get a better grade from you.

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks Debs! I do hope that that's how it works for the students - I see lots of work that's terrific, which really deserve the highest marks.