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Great Writing 2012

June 18, 2012

Great Writing, an international creative writing conference, has been going for fifteen years. This year it was held at Imperial College London, June 16 – 17.

I had never been to a creative writing conference before, so had no idea what to expect when I decided to go the whole hog and put in an abstact. Doing a doctorate and a BA at the same time is manic, but very worthwhile because, despite the immense work load, they both have a way of nourishing each other and I wanted to explore this. Considering I am an undergraduate and therefore only starting out as a writer, I was very surprised to find the paper was accepted. However, with students presenting alongside very experienced writers and professors of creative writing, everyone is an equal at this event.

The timetable was full. Too full to take in all the papers; but the great thing about this type of event is the opportunities for discussion between papers at coffee and lunch breaks. I found everyone very pleasant and generous with their time and advice, no matter what their position in the creative writing hierarchy.

Useful meetings often occur at these events. Finding another delegate, Lisa Matthews, trying to work out where to go outside South Kensington tube station on Saturday morning, lead to an interesting discussion of the poetry workshops she runs; as we wove our way round the maze that is Imperial College.

It was an exciting event in terms of meeting students just about to graduate, who had also published or were about to publish. Sally O’Reilly from Brunel University gave an interesting account on the challenge of re-inventing iconic historical characters. Having encountered a similar situation in the historical adventure novel I am writing, where real characters occur in the plot, Sally’s predicament resonated with me. Liam Murray Bell, from the University of Surrey, proved it is possible to undertake credible research, and produce a highly readable literary novel with ‘So It Is’.

It was also inspirational listening to academic papers on T S Elliot by two students from Korea; papers a student fluent in English would find difficult to write. Another student, also from Ewha Womans University, Seoul, presented a beautifully crafted account of one of her local tourist attractions. Their enthusiasm was infectious and gave me an extra shot of energy to get over my current bout of ‘assignment exhaustion’.

A panel incorporating young adult writers raised a lively debate about what young people may or may not be able to take on board regarding the concepts of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’. Ethical and moral considerations were also high on the agenda with a fascinating presentation of the problems of writing a novel about British Mormons. This situation demonstrated the need for fiction writers to sometimes apply the same highly critical and reflective approach as someone engaging in empirical research.

The key note lecture brought together three professors of creative writing from the USA, UK and Australia. This was of particular interest to me because my thesis will be exploring the experience of students undertaking a professional doctorate in Education at my own university. Different approaches to doctoral courses were discussed. The UK and Australia do not usually have taught modules, whereas the USA has favoured taught modules for some time.

My own doctorate is taught for two years. Although I have moaned continually about the volume of work (four assignments of 6000 words each and numerous bridging tasks), I now realise how much I have learned through having to read, write and redraft. Also because we are taught in cohorts, we have all got to know each other very well and as a result have formed various peer support groups. The PhD students I have encountered do not seem enjoy this level of camaraderie. When asked to indicate who would prefer to have a taught course with modules and who would not. There appeared to be a majority in favour of taught courses. Certainly a high proportion of professional doctorates in this country are taught and there are rumblings of doctorates becoming modular, like their American counterparts.

My final assessment of the weekend is that the range of topics was huge and the hours and number of panels on the conference reflect this. The conference was a marathon, but one well worth undertaking. Certainly when I left, the first thing I did when I got on the train was open up my laptop and start typing.

Oh and I really must get some business cards printed.

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