Friday 5 July 2013

The Joys of Being a Creative Writing Academic

Simon Holloway, University of Bolton, gave a very good presentation about this at the final session of the 2013 Great Writing Conference, held at Imperial College, London.  I do hope he will publish this somewhere. His prose was elegant, and although he read what he had written, he engaged with the audience and he was absolutely spot on in what he said. This wasn’t really an academic paper but it deserves to be out there. Yes, he was right: we whinge, we find it hard to squeeze in our writing aka “research” and we’re very reasonably paid so we should be beholden to our employers.
One particular part resonated very much with me: even if we publish a book that threatens to do well we don’t have the time to get behind it to promote it. That very day Crooked Cat Publishing, who have published my young adult paranormal romance Spooking, were having a lightning sale. My duty was with the conference. I couldn’t get behind my book to promote it.
I disagreed slightly with some of the other delegates who saw little relationship between marking students’ work and their own writing. I actually see a very strong connection here. It makes me a more skilled editor of my own work. I almost approach my marking with glee, even though the pressure to turn it around in a relatively short time creates some tension. I learn as much from this about editing as I do about writing when I read.
Yes, of course, some of the admin can seem onerous. This week, for example, I have a meeting every day and that really fragments a chunk of time that would have been useful for research. But it is what we’re paid to do.
Yet we are so lucky to do this job. There are so many aspects of it that we’d probably do even if we didn’t get paid. Hand on heart I can say I never really stop working. Sleep and food hold body and soul together. As I swim I think about my characters and swimming is keeping my body healthy… so that I can write more and give the university more of what it pays me to provide. My activities with a local choir are good for my mental and physical health and help to make me a better writer and teacher.
What counts as work is extraordinary: visiting the Ministryof Stories, chasing a 1940s’ character to a local primary school and telling the students there that we need stories to fuel the time machine to take her back … , evaluating responses to Fibbin’Archie and conducting an Interim Examination of a Ph D    all in a day’s work.
Maybe watching the news counts as relaxation? Hardly: there’s always something there that could be made into a good story.                              

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