Academy 'will stop writers feeling lost'

December 4, 1998

Novelists Celia Brayfield and Carmen Callil have gone public this week with their proposal to set up Britain's first National Academy of Writing with lottery backing.

The academy will mirror the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, according to Ms Brayfield, will satisfy an urgent need for recognised vocational training aimed at talented writers.

"The educational opportunities open to writers are proliferating but it is very difficult to know how good they are," she said.

"There is particular concern about the enormous growth in numbers of writing schools that are advertised in national newspapers but which are unregulated and often amateurish."

Ms Brayfield said the academy would offer a one-year foundation course to the very best students, which was likely to complement existing structures in higher education. A curriculum would be devised with an existing education provider. "We are still exploring the options but we will not be offering a three-year BA or an MA," she said.

Ms Brayfield added that the demise of much industry-led training for writers, particularly in television, meant many writers were left without a learning environment. "Writers today can feel quite lost," she said.

The course would not fall into the trap of assuming that all writers were working on a novel.

"We will be multi-disciplinary," said Ms Brayfield, who did not envisage a distance-learning approach for students. "What we want is practising writers doing the teaching, handing over the baton as it were. Bringing writers together can be very powerful and they need to be able to look each other in the eye."

Ms Brayfield dismisses as redundant the idea that writers are born and not made. "Every medium has its techniques and it is not necessary for the next generation of writers to learn, as we did, the hard way, by trial and error. We can be more positive than that now." Cordelia Byran, director of Anglia Polytechnic University's Speak-Write project, agreed: "We have been arguing that writing can be taught as a craft and a national academy as a shining example ought to flourish," she said.

A bid has gone in to the new National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts for lottery funding and Ms Brayfield said other bodies would be approached, particularly "end users" such as publishers, television, cinema and newspapers. "Student bursaries are more of a priority for us than glamorous buildings," she said.

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