Jobwatch: can you lead by example?

March 12, 2004

Alan Thomson finds out why the search is on for lecturers with a creative edge - and a portfolio of work - and the urge to inspire students to follow suit by putting things in writing.

Creative writing is fast becoming the must-read subject of the noughties. Roehampton, Surrey University, is just one of a number of institutions now running creative writing degrees, having started its course last year. Eighty students signed up and there will be at least double that number next year.

To meet the demand, the institution is recruiting more lecturers, advertised in this week's Times Higher . This will take the number of lecturers to seven, with the likelihood of two more joining the team next year. Peter Jaeger, acting course convener, says: "Students have realised that communication skills, both aural and written, are very important, even if they do not go on to work as professional writers."

Jaeger admits that the current success of many British authors, perhaps notably J. K. Rowling, and younger writers such as Zadie Smith and Monica Ali, has helped fuel an interest in the subject.

Flexibility is the key to Roehampton's degree, allowing students to specialise in fiction, children's fiction, journalism, screenwriting and poetry.

Jaeger says: "In the third-year dissertation, for example, students have the option to work with one of the instructors, all of whom are publishing writers, to create their own project."

This week's advertisement reflects the course breadth: Roehampton is seeking lecturers with interests ranging from children's fiction to screenwriting, who will also be given the time to continue their own writing.

Like many a good book, creative writing has the capacity to ruffle feathers, not unlike media studies - the trendy subject of the 1990s.

Journalists, many of whom were privately scathing about the worth of media studies, are likely to have the wind put up them by the apparent contradiction inherent in a creative writing course that strays into the fact-driven and frequently formulaic world of journalism.

Jaeger says the course is about exploring new ways of relating information, just as the New Journalism movement of the late 1960s and 1970s put the first-person voice and colour into news stories. He adds: "It's not about making up stories but about using literary structures to tell the story, not just using chronology, for instance."

Another aspect of creative writing likely to tax the minds of the chattering classes is whether it is possible to teach creativity in writing. But, in much the same way that art schools do not promise a Turner Prize winner in every graduation class, Jaeger says it is about making sure students understand how to use the literary tools of the trade.

He says: "For example, if we have an exercise on metaphor... the point for us to evaluate is whether the students understand how to use them."

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