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The Editor's View May 07


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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You could end up in his book... a degree in fiction or no degree?  Passing interview copy

WATCH OUT! There’s a novelist about. Well, there certainly will be at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, probably several, and that’s not a surprise. However, apart from the scrutiny of CCTV cameras in our streets, car parks and stores, have you also remembered that novelists and would-be novelists are checking you? And you should be checking them.

Crime author Graham Hurley, who is again appearing at the conference, has featured Conference Director Barbara Large in his new whodunit One Under.

In chapter 13 Detective Inspector Faraday arrives at the home of Barbara Large in Shawford to drink tea and inquire about a suspect who attended the writers’ conference.

"That’s a first for me," said Barbara, intrigued and surprised.

You have been warned. How about putting him in your next book?

DEREK PALMER from Pulborough in Sussex, writes a nice letter to take issue with me on refusing to allow celebs to vet copy written about them.

He points out that writing profiles for minor celebrities for a local newspaper and allowing the subjects to check them never caused him any anguish and saved him from the occasional mistake. He writes:

"Everyone, whoever they are, is entitled to more than a little dignity and respect."

No reasonable person can disagree with that, but people usually get the Press treatment they deserve.

WHY is it that so many authors hold degree courses in creative writing in low esteem? It’s something of a British tradition. Many authors are reticent about their lack of scholastic achievements but for huge numbers it has not proved a handicap. I am not just talking about Dickens and authors of his day but up to date successes.

So when people ask me - should I - or should my son, daughter, nephew, grandchild - take a degree in creative writing, I really do not know the answer.

For some the answer can be yes and for another it would be a wasted opportunity. There are so many routes to success as a writer.

I was fortunate to sit in at an accreditation meeting for a new university course on creative writing. I was the lay member.

The course was impressive. And the 18 or so people around the table who had prepared it had done a brilliant job. I was delighted and impressed. Here was syllabus with guts and anybody who applied themselves to the task for three years would benefit.

I had gone with misgivings but departed with confidence. Save for two things.

The reading list worried me and I was pleased that they added Aristotle’s Poetics. But the phrase which worried me most was that the object of the course was not publication.

My thoughts went to the late, great Bill Shankly on a discussion on football’s offside law and how to interpret whether a player was "interfering with the play."

"If he’s not interfering with the play what’s he doing on the pitch," asked Shankly with brutal honesty.

If Miss Student is not studying to get published what’s she doing there for 90 weeks spread over three years?

For the first time in the afternoon there was a distinct patronising feel. "Publication?"

My Dear Chap...

The Dear Chap warmed to the task. There’s nothing on writing a synopsis, or marketing or getting an agent or studying intellectual property rights.

But I am not prejudiced (not much). When David Bryant wrote about the excellent course at Bath Spa he said that publication was not de rigeur. Fine.

I suppose Dickens could have done with a year or three at college on magic realism etc.

For a moment I remembered a Royal Armoured Corps Open Day when I nearly passed the port the wrong way around the table.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


Read the article about setting up WritersServices which was originally published in Writers' Forum magazine.

© Writers International Ltd 2007. Reproduced from Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.