Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire
29th October 2012
We think there’s no better creative writing programme in the country, and our recent graduates seem to agree: this year the Creative Writing BA at the University of Gloucestershire was one of few writing courses to achieve a 100% satisfaction rating in the National Student Survey. This has got us thinking about things we’re doing right. Here are ten suggestions for why the course achieved a perfect score in the NSS survey:
1. We have great students! The students on our Creative Writing course write great work and offer each other sophisticated critiques. In the last five years, six University of Gloucestershire graduates have gone on to publish books and many more students and graduates have published poetry and short stories in journals such as Envoi, Acumen, Agenda, Iota, Zouch, The London Magazine, and Magma. Over the last four years students and graduates have been shortlisted for the Arvon Poetry Prize, the Bridport Prize, The Guardian Short Story Prize, The Cinnamon Press Prize, and The Templar Poetry Pamphlet Prize, while Angela France, a graduate from the MA programme, won the Lightship International Poetry Prize. Our BA course has produced successful writers in every genre: recent BA graduates include K.J. Moore, whose novella, Monster Porn, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2011; and Lucy Tyler, whose plays have been produced in Europe and America, and who is now part of our teaching staff.
2. We’re an active community of writers. The students on our Creative Writing course aren’t producing their work in isolation; they’re also busy organising and attending events and socials. Students organise regular open mic nights at which they share their work in progress – 68 students and staff attended one recent event at the Frog and Fiddle pub. Meanwhile, the Creative Writing Society organises regular social events. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and of a writing community in which students support each other.
3. There are opportunities for publication and performance. At the time of writing, we’re just about to launch Smoke, the University’s latest anthology of student writing. This excellent collection of new writing showcases prose and poetry from 32 of our many talented students. We’re also in the process of setting up our inaugural novel writing competition, in which the winner will receive a cash prize and have his or her work critiqued by a London-based literary agent. Meanwhile, dramatic writers have had their work produced by students on the university’s radio production course, and five of last year’s third-year students showcased their work to a large audience at one of Cheltenham’s theatres, the Parabola Arts Centre. In summer 2013, a play co-written by the new third-year drama students will be performed by a professional theatre company at The Everyman Theatre.
4. We have a good balance of staff expertise. All our Lecturers are active writers established in their respective fields, and each brings something unique to the course. On the poetry side, the course benefits from the experience of Professor Nigel McLoughlin (The Waters’ Clearing, Songs For No Voices, Blood, Dissonances, and Chora), whose work has been published and anthologised in Ireland, Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, Nepal, and Malaysia; and has featured in The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, The London Magazine, Poetry Review, The Irish Times, and Sunday Tribune. Dr Martin Randall (9-11 and the Literature of Terror), primarily a prose writer, comes from an English Literature background and contributes a wealth of knowledge on literature, theory, film, and cultural criticism. Dramatic Writing is covered by Lucy Tyler (The Measurements of a Murderer, Claudia Schiffer’s Mind, Saviours, and The Operators), whose plays have been performed in Europe and America. On the prose side, Dr D.D. Johnston (Peace, Love, and Petrol Bombs) teaches the fundamentals of prose technique, while Tyler Keevil (Fireball), an award-winning novelist and prolific short story writer, specialises in short fiction, memoir, and the writing industry.
5. We are all committed to quality teaching. The lecturers at the University of Gloucestershire are passionate about their own writing, but they’re equally passionate about teaching – nobody here views teaching as a way to pay the bills while pursuing their own career. In addition to our 100% NSS satisfaction rating, our high teaching standards have also been recognised in awards to individual teachers: in 2011 the Higher Education Academy awarded Nigel McLoughlin a National Teaching Fellowship in recognition of his individual excellence as an educator, while in 2012 D.D. Johnston received the University of Gloucestershire Students’ Union award for the University’s ‘most outstanding lecturer’.
6. We have relatively small class sizes and students receive regular, in-depth feedback on their work. The high volume of feedback is facilitated by maintaining smaller than average class sizes, which allows us to focus on each student’s work. Our cohort is big enough that students encounter a wide range of personalities and writing styles, but it’s small enough for students to get to know each other and their lecturers. Many modules on our courses are taught using workshops, during which students receive weekly or fortnightly feedback from members of staff and their peers. Before their first official assessment, first-year prose writers also have the opportunity to receive graded feedback on a practise assessment and to discuss their work with the lecturer in a one-to-one tutorial.
7. We use a variety of teaching methods to impart key information while encouraging active learning and critical thinking. Unlike some creative writing courses, in addition to workshops and seminars, most of our modules involve weekly lectures. These allow the lecturers to convey core knowledge and present thorough analyses of contemporary literature. Creative Writing is part of the University of Gloucestershire’s strong tradition of English studies – in the 2012 Guardian league tables, English at the University of Gloucestershire was rated 19th in the whole of the UK. However, in addition to the lecture format, many classes are built around discussion and debate. We encourage students to think for themselves and we value experimentation and originality.
8. There are great opportunities for postgraduate study. Many of our BA graduates progress to study on the University’s strong Creative and Critical Writing MA programme, where in addition to creative and academic projects, students can get hands-on classroom teaching experience, while some serve relevant internships (e.g., on the editorial team of the poetry journal Iota). The Creative Writing department also benefits from the input and knowledge of postgraduate research students, who study PhDs in topics as diverse as nature poetry and ecology, free will and determinism in contemporary historical fiction, personal pronoun use in confessional poetry, transgressive writing, and fourth-wave feminist poetry.
9. Our programme has a history of innovation and we regularly update and refresh our courses. We are the first writing programme to include formal study of creativity and the creative process at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and our MA was one of the first to include a module devoted to teaching Creative Writing. This popular module focuses on the pedagogy of writing and provides students with practical training as Creative Writing teachers.
10. Finally, Cheltenham is a great place for aspiring writers. In 2006 it was named the best place to live in Britain, and the town’s motto – Salubritas et Eruditio – celebrates Cheltenham’s long-standing reputation for academic excellence. It hosts the world’s oldest literature festival – the internationally-famous Cheltenham Literature Festival – a thriving poetry festival, great second-hand bookstores, and three excellent theatres.