Students of Warwick University’s acclaimed writing programme launch anthology

FINAL - CHIMERA FRONT COVER JPG
Agents, publishers, and editors are invited to join Warwick’s Writing students for their
anthology launch at Piccadilly Waterstones on the evening of Wednesday, the 12th of June.

Following tradition at the University of Warwick, the students of the esteemed MA in
Writing Programme have been working hard for the past eight months to publish an eclectic anthology of their work.

The anthology, Chimera, features work from 41 writers and includes a foreword from
award-winning poet, translator, and critic Michael Hulse.

Chimera, titled after the monster in Greek mythology, encompasses different styles and perspectives from local and international voices travelling across genres in fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

The launch will feature readings from 13 of the students, whose work includes:

  • An extract from a fantasy novel, where a Warrior-Queen leads her army through the desert to meet a tribe.
  • The opening of a horror novel centring around the haunted past of a childhood
    home, previously owned by a mysterious figure, Howard Pertman.
  • An extract from a historical fiction duology telling the story of Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III.
  • A novel exploring a Palestinian Christian family’s experience living under
    Bethlehem’s occupation during the early 2000s, from the viewpoint of a child.
  • A poem that stands strong in the face of tragedy, telling of the poet’s experience
    losing a friend in the 2011 Norwegian massacre.
  • Short stories that range from a humorous tale, to a classical horror story, to an
    intricate tale of unfinished business at the end of a life.

Nothing in the Rulebook’s Professor Wu said:

“At a time when the major publishing behemoths risk creating a homogenised culture where only the same books are published by the same small clique of authors, it is vitally important to support collective creative endeavours like the Warwick Writing Programme Anthology, which has consistently brought unique voices to the ongoing literary conversation – and provides a rare opportunity to discover new stories, characters and worlds, as well as the writers behind them.”

A literary invitation

Literary agents, editors, and publishers interested in attending the launch are welcome to register in advance by emailing Frances at projectmanagement.anthology19@gmail.com, as spots are limited. Limited copies of the anthology will be available at the launch.

Alternatively, copies are available in both physical and e-book versions on request.

The launch of Chimera will be at 6 pm on Wednesday 12 June at Waterstones, Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD.

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Reading data: people from US states that voted for Trump less likely to read or be involved in the arts

 

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43.1% of US adults read literature, according to the NEA’s Annual Arts Basic Survey and the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Find the interactive map of the data here

In the fallout of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, a multitude of commentators – from mainstream media analysts through to social media users – have been keen to analyse, deciphering the results and reaching conclusions as to what the precise cause of Trump’s victory actually was.

The Guardian commentator George Monbiot, for instance, has attributed Trump’s victory to the neoliberal consensus that has gripped with globalised world since the late 1970s. The Spectator’s Theo Hobson, meanwhile, has tasked liberal democracy with being too “flawed” to function, and in its failure paving the way for Trump to ascend to prominence.

While we dissect the different voter demographics for clues and reason – is it simply the case that rich white people won Trump his election victory, as exit polling data indicates? Or perhaps it is simply the case that America has a problem with the idea of a female president, as Patton Oswalt neatly opined in a single tweet that read: “What I’ve learned so far tonight: America is WAAAAAAAY more sexist than it is racist. And it’s pretty f******g racist.”

With so many potential theses being thrown around the digital and traditional media spheres, we thought we’d throw our own into the mix. Given that we are a collective of creatives, bound by a single motto (“there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football”) and focused on supporting artists and artistic endeavours of all kinds, you may not be surprised to hear that we believe the election of Donald Trump was due, in part, to a lack of literature – to a lack of inspiration, imagination, and art in general.

We might also argue that there are too few giraffes playing football in this day and age; although unfortunately the datasets we have on even-toed ungulate mammals playing sports of any kind is, at best, inconclusive.

Fortunately, we aren’t just postulating when it comes to the correlation between reading and art (or lack thereof) and Donald Trump’s election victory.

While Trump himself has said he doesn’t read books, it may not be the greatest surprise that areas in the USA that provided him with the greatest levels of support are also those in which the lowest number of people read books (either regularly or at all) or are inclined to get involved with creative or artistic projects.

Indeed, data pulled from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) show that in places like Mississippi, where Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton by almost 220,000 votes (almost 60%), only 21.7% of people from the state read literature, and only 38.5% of people personally created or performed art.

By contrast, those states with the highest rates of reading and artistic engagement were also the ones that polled most strongly for Clinton. Colorado, New Mexico, New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and Maine all scored at least 48% or above for literature reading levels, with the majority of these scoring closer to 60%. Indeed, some of the only outliers to this trend at New Jersey (voted Clinton), which had a 40.7% rate for literature and 44% artwork participation, and Pennsylvania (voted Trump), which had a 47.7% literature reading score, and 48.3% rate of art participation. Interestingly, Pennsylvania was among the closest run races of the election night, with Trump winning by a marginal 48.76% to Clinton’s 47.68%.

Fans of the Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders – who ran Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination earlier in the year – will be pleased to know that Vermont (Sanders’s home state) had the highest rate of literature readers – at 62.8% – and an impressive 64% of Vermont residence said they regularly created or performed their own works of art.

Of course, correlation can never be seen as causation, yet we would still make the case that a greater inclination towards creativity and art – as well as a passion for reading – are more likely to move people to vote in favour of progressive change, and intellectualism, as opposed to supporting a demagogue who has faced constant charges of racism and misogyny, and who has boasted about his inclination towards sexually assaulting women.

This may well be because books so often contain within them the power to express important ideas in an engaging, thoughtful way – and can teach us truths about the world we may not otherwise see. Some scientific studies even indicate that reading literature is highly correlated with other kinds of behaviours, such as civic engagement and volunteering.

Indeed, as we’ve posted in previous articles, literature turns us into citizens of the world; makes us smarter; and encourages us to be kinder. And famous artists, scientists, politicians and astronauts have also told us of the importance of books, reading and literature. Neil Armstrong, for instance, said simply “the knowledge you gain from books is fundamental to all human achievement and progress.”

Likewise, a passion for art and creating new creative works speaks to an inclination towards the imagination: which, in order to flourish, grows from the idea that anything is possible – and that idealistic, wonderful things are within our grasp if only we choose to reach for them. Such an ethos seems to stand in stark contrast to the world of Donald Trump – a man who dismisses the science of climate change, who refutes the idea that it is better for human beings to co-operate with one another than oppose each other, and whose complete inability for nuanced thought means he thinks a potential solution to the trends of globalisation we have experienced in recent decades is to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.

Unfortunately, recent years have also seen an increase in the number of libraries closing across the USA – and with them a declining availability and accessibility of literature for many citizens. Simultaneously, cuts to public schooling and education – and increasing costs of higher education – mean that opportunities for young people to access art and literature are further diminished. Since our formative years are just that – formative – such disinvestment in education seriously threatens to undermine the power of literature and art to influence people, and encourage them to think in ways that create new possibilities.

Because, of course, Donald Trump – for all his talk of change – in many ways does not represent anything of the sort. He is not a man of new possibilities; but instead epitomises the private, corporate power that many of his supporters claim to have railed against, and which is in itself one of the core tenants of the neoliberal consensus that has been with us for so many years.

Literature and art, on the other hand, represent just this: the potential to create and imagine new worlds, new beginnings and possibilities; real change, in other words. To that end, the author Ursula K Le Guin has called on writers to imagine alternatives to the capitalist system.

Whether or not literature has the power to spark a revolution remains to be seen. What we do know is that human beings have within them the power to do incredible things – even those that were previously thought to be impossible. And we also know is that reading itself is associated with empathy and kindness and truth – not one of which Donald Trump stands for. This, if nothing else, should be cause to triumph the power of reading literature and creating works of art.

Encouraging people to consume more literature is therefore critical. As we try to digest and process Trump’s victory (you can listen to our conversation on this topic on the Extra Secret Podcast here), perhaps the first form of protest we can all participate in is one of the simplest: going to our local library, checking out a good book and then looking to get involved with a local or digital creative arts project.

If you’re stuck for ideas on which books to check out of your library, why not kick off with one or two of the titles on our list of essential reading for the Donald Trump Apocalypse? And if you’re looking to get involved with a creative art project, remember that we here at Nothing in the Rulebook would love to hear from you and feature your work – so do get in touch!

Until that end, comrades, do not despair; just keep reading, and keep your minds open to all the possibilities in the world.

 

What is the point of creative writing?

Creative writing

“Creative writing is not just concerned with competence in replicating a practice, its students are not just learning craft, but flexing their muscles as entrepreneurs within our cultural future […] We defer inventive thinking at our peril.” (Munden, 2013, p1).

 

Ever since the University of East Anglia established the first MA in creative writing in 1970, there has been extensive debate on whether creative writing should be taught as a distinct discipline within education. Many writers and teachers have voiced their opinions over the years; John Barth (1985, p3) argues that creative writing “can be learned, by the able; it can be studied, by everybody and his brother; it can even be taught, even in school,” while in contrast Kay Boyle (1975, p1) dramatically asserts that “all creative-writing courses should be abolished by law.” Hanif Kureishi (2014, p4) offers more balanced advice for contemporary students, stating that “aspiring writers who wish to be taught plot, structure and narrative are not mistaken, but following the rules produces only obedience and mediocrity.”

Despite this controversy, the number of universities that provide degrees in creative writing continues to grow, with over one hundred courses currently being offered in the UK alone. More students than ever are leaving secondary education to pursue a degree in this subject, which implies that there is something inherently essential about the place of creative writing within the curriculum of our schools as forerunners to these institutions.

However, in September 2015 the Department of Education (2015, p11) announced that they are axing the Creative Writing A-level – bringing the subject’s value into question. Having only been established in 2013, it is currently the only recognised qualification for creative writing in secondary education, and by discontinuing it, the DfE has effectively undermined its worth. The DfE explained that “it became clear that for AS and A-level in creative writing […], it has not been possible to draft subject content in accordance with the department’s guidance and Ofqual’s principles for reformed AS and A levels.”

Ofqual’s dilemma about subject content highlights a conflict within the subject; the assessment of something that is essentially a social practice and not merely a skill. As Anderson (2014, P97) states, “problems can arise when writing is approached as a discrete, individual skill to be learned in school, primarily in order that it might be tested. This is because writing is a socio-cultural practice, or set of practices. It involves people making meaning and getting things done within a cultural context…” By its nature, writing is universal, all-encompassing and intentionally broad in order to evoke higher order thinking.

The challenge of assessment also appears to have had a deeper impact in the development of the creativity within the whole curriculum according to Ferrari, Cachia & Punie (2009, p26). Assessment was reported as having a restricting impact on the educational process, endorsed by the work of Wyse and Jones (2003). They stated that “testing has narrowed school provision at the expense of creativity.” We are made to ask whether children should be encouraged to foster a curiosity that enables a freedom to be creative, rather than restricted by conformity that is so often created by the system of assessment?

But what exactly does it mean to be creative, particularly in regard to writing?

Goodwin (2004. p2) describes creativity in literacy as “the ‘effective surprise’ that occurs when the unpredictable connections of otherwise unrelated bits of knowledge or experience spark new insights and understanding.” By this definition, creativity is often impulsive and random, which implies that it is unfeasible to assess every learner in the same way. It is something often noted by teachers and students; assessing creative “worth” is subjective.

This, surely, is to be expected. Creative writing is about imagination, being original/innovative, breaking conventions, going beyond the obvious. Robinson (2013, p 5), the former national advisor on creative and cultural educations, argues that “creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin […] The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.”

Robinson’s definition seems appropriate for two reasons. Firstly, it accepts the notion that creativity is inherently inside all children; that it can be nurtured and encouraged, mastered and honed, but initially, the innovation must come from within. The second reason is because his definition keeps a love of learning and intellectual curiosity at the heart of what it means to be creative.

Corbett and Strong (2011, p2), argue that breadth of reading is crucial to the development of creative writing, which contradicts Ofqual’s current narrowing of the curriculum. They assert that “Unsurprisingly, the best writers in any class are always readers. Reading influences writing – indeed the richness, depth and breadth of reading determines the writer that we become.” It is important that we actively encourage pupils to read widely in order to support their creative development in writing and also across the curriculum. Blythe and Sweet (2008, p310) warn us about the dangers of a narrowly prescribed reading list stating that those “who assign the great works can perpetuate the cloning effect,” where the writing of all pupils in a class begins to conform and mimic the work of a studied author(s). They also question the legitimacy of the assigned literature, asking “Who, some ask, determines what makes a great work “great”?” By avoiding a prescribed reading list, the creative writing A-level enables pupils to discover ‘greatness’ for themselves based on their exposure to a plethora of different writers.

Furthermore, it is important to distinguish the synergy between the knowledge acquired through reading and pupil development of creativity through producing original writing. It is   the role of the teacher to enable an environment where students can effectively analyse other writers’ works and then apply their individual creative talent. As stated by the author and teacher Gibbons (2009, p10), “There has to be a balance between teaching features of writing and leaving a space within which the child can experiment, yes, play with language.” This balance between effective experimentation and teaching writerly techniques is essential for children to productively channel their creative playfulness and take ownership of their work.

What might an appropriate creative writing reading list look like? A short, reasonable list might include a variety of authors, poets and playwrights, in a plethora of different forms and genres – for instance, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Harrigan, Huxley, Orwell, Ford, Thomas, Salinger, Lee, Durrell, Bryson, Donne, Elliot, Fitzgerald, Moore, Bradbury, and Atkinson. For AS and A-Level students, such a list may be more extensive than they’d encounter even in English Literature, yet there is no limit to the number of writers students of writing should read. As Corbett and Strong assert: the “richness, depth and breadth of reading determines the writer that we become.” It also promotes a holistic approach to creative writing as this emersion technique encourages a limitless horizon for pupil learning. By setting challenging goals, we can create learning that stretches every pupil by offering a syllabus with an infinity rich list of literature to suit the strengths of each child.

Part of the risk of teaching creative writing in schools is that a medium that is supposed to free the student – the writer – from constraints can become restricting, when the only focus of the course is to pass exams and fulfil pre-set criteria. Yet the value of teaching creative writing does expand to other areas of a child’s – indeed a person’s – skill set and development. In particular, the innovative thinking and inventive assertiveness that children foster through creative writing seems to be fundamental across the curriculum. Poetry written in creative writing classes becomes the lyrics to songs used in Music lessons; while essay skills are improved in History or Business Studies; investigative, innovative thought applied to Science experiments; grammar and vocabulary skills improve in Foreign Languages. In short, teaching creative writing helps pupils become students not just of writing or of literature; but of the world.

Creative writing is rooted in having original ideas. Therefore, how can we expect pupils to flourish imaginatively and artistically by conforming to narrow assessment objectives? As Paul Munden, the director of National Association of Writers in Education, warns us, “We defer inventive thinking at our peril.” (Munden. 2013, p1).

It is only within a safe and supportive environment that pupils are able to cultivate their flair for expression in a manner of different mediums to produce overwhelmingly imaginative, thoughtful and evocative writing. What is the point of creative writing? Everything.

Bibliography

Anderson. G. (2014) ‘Writing’ in Davidson, J. and Daly, C4th edition,’ Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School, A companion to school experience.’ Suffolk: Routledge.

AQA Subject Content:

http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/english/as-and-a-level/creative-writing-2750/subject-content  [15/12/15]

Barth, J. 1985, ‘Writing; Can it be taught?’ The New York Times 16 June. Available from: < http://www.nytimes.com/>. [15/12/15]

Blythe, H & Sweet, C. (2008) ‘The Writing Community: A New Model for the Creative Writing Classroom’ from Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture Volume 8, Number 2.  Duke University Press

Boyle, K. 1975, ‘New printers, new writers and a new literature’ The New York Times 14 September. Available from: < http://www.nytimes.com/>. [15/12/15]

Corbett, P & Strong, J. (2011) ‘Talk For Writing Across The Curriculum: How to teach non-fiction writing.’ (London). Open University Press.

Craft, A. (2002), ‘Creativity and early years education’ (London) Continuum. Bloomsbury Academic.

DfE (2015). Additional reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459669/Additional-reformed-GCSE-and-A-level-subject-content-consultation.pdf  [15/12/15]

Ferrari, A. Cachia, R. & Punie, Y. “Innovation and Creativity in Education and Training in the EU Member States: Fostering Creative Learning and Supporting Innovative Teaching

Available from: < http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC52374_TN.pdf > [15/12/15]

Frater, G. (2004) ‘Improving Dean’s writing: what shall we tell the children.’ Literacy. 38, 78-82.

Gibbons, A. (2009) ‘Back to the Future – Or Putting the Creative Back in Writing.’ National Association for the Teaching of English. Classroom Issue No. 8.

Goodwin, P. 2004 ‘Lieracy through Creativity.’ (Oxford) David Fulton Publishers.

Kureishi, H. 2014, ‘What they don’t teach you at creative writing school,’ The Telegraph 25 January. Available from: < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10594606/Hanif-Kureishi-What-they-dont-teach-you-at-creative-writing-school.html>. [15/12/15]

Kroll, J & Harper, G. 2008. ‘Creative Writing Guidebook.’ London: Continuum.

Minot, S. 2003. ‘Three Genres: Writing Fiction/Literary Nonfiction, Poetry, and Drama’ 7th ed. (London) Longman.

Munden. P. 2013. ‘The Rise of Creative Writing’. SecEd Magazine 2/05/13.

Available from: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/the-rise-of-creative-writing [15/12/15]

Ofqual. ‘Further Decisions for Completing GCSE, AS and A Level.’ 2015. Available from:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/479635/2015-05-14-reform-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2017-may-2015.pdf  [17/02/16]

Robinson, K. (2013) ‘To encourage creativity, Mr Gove, you must first understand what it is.’ Guardian. 17 May 2013.

Available from: < http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/17/to-encourage-creativity-mr-gove-understand > [15/12/15]

Wyse, D & Jones R. 2003 ‘Creativity in the Primary Curriculum’ (London): David Fulton Publishers.

 

About the author of this post

11920594_10153537595492145_200658208_nGeorge Vernon is a writer and English teacher based in the UK. He graduated from Warwick University with a first class (hons) degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2012, and completed his MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Chichester University in 2013. He has been shortlisted for the Almond Press Dystopian Short Story competition and won the Kate Betts award for most promising piece of fiction. When not teaching, George can be found writing; learning; living; loving. He tweets as @MrGeorgeVernon

Bath Spa University receives funding to develop creative writing in local schools

cursive handwriting

Arts Council England is set to award Bath Spa University with £600,000 in funding to develop creative writing education in schools across the South West of England.

The grant is from the Creative Writing in Schools fund, and will support a three-year project called The Creative Writing Education Hub.

This project will be led by the university in partnership with Bath Festivals and the National Association of Writers in Education. The project aims to link nationally recognised writers with hundreds of schools in the region.

Bath Spa University

Bath Spa University

As part of the project, children aged eight to 14 will be given workshops by professional writers, thereby helping them to write and expand their imagination.

Alongside the programme, a series of workshops for teachers and writers will run concurrently to the schools programme, thereby helping to try and develop new approaches to teaching creative writing.

Participating schools will receive support to achieve an ‘Artsmark Award’, and pupils will receive help to achieve an ‘Arts Award’.

Phil Gibby, South West area director for Arts Council England, said: “We believe that every child and young person should have the opportunity to experience the richness of arts and culture and this funding will give more young people the chance to engage in and enjoy producing and showcasing their own creative writing.

“The consortium boasts some of the South West’s expert educators, researchers and writers whose joint leadership will make for a strong and unique programme of work.”

Bambo Soyinka, creative director of the project, said: “Creative writing should be part of every child’s education as it develops imaginative thought, language and literary skills.

“The Creative Writing Education Hub will introduce school pupils from varied social and cultural backgrounds to the joys of creative writing and will enable young people to learn alongside professional writers.

“Over the next three years we will be researching and testing best practice models for creative writing education.

“We will share our findings through innovative events, workshops and digital platforms, to guide and inspire teachers, pupils and creative writing tutors.”

Bath Spa University is one of two lead applicants awarded a grant from the Creative Writing in Schools fund.

The other successful applicant, First Story, will use a grant of £600,000 to bring professional writers into secondary schools serving low income communities.

This fund targets the North and the South West because these are areas outside London where creative writing opportunities for children and young people could be improved.

Analysis

Professor Wu says: “Projects like this are absolutely crucial in a society increasingly devoid of imagination – and a stunted ability to think outside the box. Evidence suggests that creative writing – and, indeed, creativity and art in all its myriad forms – can improve a child’s enjoyment and attainment in English language and literature.”

“What is more, by encouraging children to think creatively, we encourage them to look at the world in new and interesting ways, which is critical for human society as a whole. Just think of those wise words of Albert Einstein: Logic will take you from A to B, but imagination will take you anywhere.”