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Books by creative writing course graduates & tutors

Books by creative writing course graduates & tutors

Word of mouth on marvellous creative writing courses from CWP and New Writing South!

Has the time come to make your writing dreams come true? Do you want to improve and take steps towards getting published? After hearing so many good things about these courses, it was time to investigate. Course tutor and prize-winning author Umi Sinha together with students Annie Prime and Dick Kempson talk to Angela J. Phillip about their experiences.

Umi Sinha, prize-winning author & course tutor

Umi Sinha, prize-winning author & course tutor

Which courses will run in Hastings from October this year?

Umi: This year 2019, from October, we are offering:

  • The Autobiography and Life Writing Programme
  • The Advanced Writing Workshops
  • The Second Year of the Creative Writing Programme (1st yr will run again in 2020)

The Autobiography and Life Writing Programme is very similar to the Creative Writing Programme (discussed below) and teaches many of the techniques of creative fiction. It draws its inspiration from personal or researched experience and covers a broad sweep of genres from fictionalised history, through memoir to travel writing. 

The Advanced Writing Workshops are designed for writers who are seriously committed to getting work published. They offer a monthly class where work is shared and discussed and where writers can receive support, encouragement and feedback along with guidance and advice from the course tutor. They tend to be a mix of writers who have taken the two-year Creative Writing Programme or the Autobiography and Life Writing Programme, graduates of university courses as well as published writers. 

We are also offering the Second Year of the Creative Writing Programme (the first year will be offered again in 2020). If anybody has previous experience of writing groups and would like to join the second year of the Creative Writing Programme please contact the programme director, Dr Mark Slater

Sussex Coast College

Sussex Coast College

When and where do the courses run?

Umi: The courses are taught at Sussex Coast College, next to Hastings Station. From October 2019, the Autobiography and Life Writing Programme will run on Wednesday mornings and the Second year of the Creative Writing Programme on Tuesday mornings. The Advanced Writing Workshops are held monthly on Saturday mornings. 

Can you tell me more about the Two-Year Creative Writing Programme that I keep hearing about?
Umi: The course aim is to give writers the skills, techniques and tools they will need to write a novel or collection of short stories. 

And do most students usually achieve a novel or a collection of short stories?
Umi: How far they get depends on how much writing they’ve done before, how much time they have, and whether they have already started working on a project before they come on the programme. Or, they may have already written a first draft and want to improve it. If starting from scratch, it would be unusual to have finished the novel by the time the programme ends, though a few people do. But they should have made a good start and got enough feedback on, and understanding of, both the writing and the overall premise and structure to be able to continue when the course finishes.

Annie: I got an idea for a collection of short stories while on this course and am currently working on the first story. I am not attempting to finish a whole anthology within the two years, but certainly this story at least. The structure of the course is supportive and conducive to getting your ideas out. I am not sure what I expected, but I am certainly impressed with the overall quality of teaching and the range of detailed topics covered.

Who can join?

Who can join?

Who can join this course?
Umi: The course is open to writers of all levels, and backgrounds vary enormously. Most people have written before, some in a business context, some for pleasure. A few have always wanted to but have never got around to it.

Annie: There seem to be no criteria whatsoever, but anyone choosing to pay a significant amount of money for a structured two-year writing course is very likely to either have a background in writing, academia or the creative arts or at least be an avid reader, which lends itself to accomplished writing. We are a very mixed group, and I think it is to all of our benefit.

Umi: I have always taught mixed ability groups and have never found it to be a problem. Everyone has something to teach and learn. Writing is not only about technique but about the way you see the world and your individual voice. Technique can be taught, but each person’s approach is unique. So even beginners can bring something to the group that they can build on and everyone can learn from – a sharp eye, humour, a love of nature, a gift for sensory detail or an understanding of what makes people tick. And they can learn about technique from the more experienced writers. Everyone learns and benefits from each other’s feedback.

How long is it?
Umi: The Creative Writing Programme is a two-year part-time course. We advise writers to set aside at least 12 hours a week for reading preparatory materials, writing and attended taught sessions. All courses are supported by course learning pages accessed through our website. This allows students to stay in touch with each other through a Writers’ Forum and if they miss a taught session, to be able to catch up with the work that has been covered that week.

Annie: We meet every Tuesday morning. This works very well for me as I work freelance and can fit it easily into my schedule. But of course, an evening course would be more accessible to people with more traditional working hours. The homework and coursework are not overwhelming but certainly does require time being put aside. At least three hours a week, I would say. It can feel rather a lot some times, but it is helpful keeping up momentum and the habit of writing.

Where do I begin?

Where do I begin?

How flexible is it?
Annie: The weekly homework tasks are all set in such a way that we can use them to explore our ongoing project, or as stand-alone writing practices. It’s very flexible. At least one student in our class is very clear about the novel she wants to write and is working on it continuously. At least one student in our class has no idea what he wants to do in the long run and is playing around with different ideas every week. Both approaches work well, I think.



What about feedback?
Umi: Feedback is given by other students, after a careful reading, either in a summarised form or by annotating the text submitted, or both, and the text is then returned to the writer. Tutor feedback usually incorporates both methods and can be quite detailed. We have generally found that students are conscientious and attentive to each other’s work, and it is important that they are. Improvement is rapid and visible so, yes, in my experience it is very effective.

It is important to be constructive as well as honest when giving feedback, but you also need to be resilient when receiving it. I have sometimes said to students that I am more committed to their writing than their feelings, but I do try to be as tactful as I can. Sometimes people are disappointed by their feedback but, as with anything in life, we learn by trial and error.

Annie: There is continual feedback from other students which is often too kind, in my opinion, but always helpful nonetheless. Tutors give written and oral feedback at several points throughout the year.

Have there been any difficulties?
Umi: I have been teaching the Creative Writing Programme in Hastings for two years now, and so far it has been an absolute joy. I have been really impressed with the calibre of students – their ability and also their commitment. I have enjoyed every moment of it and I hope they have too.

Annie: No. The only potential issue is that the main school is based in Brighton, meaning the extra events and workshop days are all in Brighton, and Hastings students might be somewhat overlooked, but I hope that will change as they gather more local students.

Best thing about the course?
Umi: Reading all those stories! What could be a better job? Also, seeing the way in which people really grow to trust and support each other and really care about each other’s writing. By the end of the course, all of us are totally invested in each other’s success. It’s unusual in what is usually a competitive world and it is heartwarming to experience.

Annie Prime, translator

Annie Prime, translator

Annie: The best three things for me have been: 

1) getting into the habit of writing and demystifying the writing process in general; 

2) studying the nitty gritty of very practical writing theory and technique; 

3) enjoying lively conversation with a delightful group of classmates and, dare I say it, friends.

Dick Kempson, retired teacher

Dick Kempson, retired teacher

Dick, what has been your experience on this course?
For someone like me, like many of us, constantly distracted by the fleshpots of Hastings, and really just about anything at all, writing a novel is a pipe dream – you want it but it ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve done writing courses before but they have superficial impact. You learn possibly key concepts but they are never bedded in. On this course, you really learn stuff because you stay with it over two years but you are also gifted the discipline to achieve.

I was thrilled in the first year when I found myself writing essentially a short story every week, prompted by a new concept or exploration. I have never had that creativity, let alone productivity, in my life before. I had a sudden body of work.

In addition, I know I will have (the first draft of) a novel, completed by the end of the second year, the whole thing, all of it, done. And that’s because it’s now or never. The focus and the support are in place and the stakes are such that I know I have to get there.

That’s the bifocal nature of the course. Learn, experiment, then focus and complete. Personally, I was happy to experiment in the first year; I wrote in countless genres, voices and tones. Many of us choose that option. Some people, however, take different episodes from their eventual novel and so are experimenting with ways of writing it from the outset. As I write the opening of my novel, I find two things: it is radically different from my ‘experiments’, yet key decisions are informed by the issues explored in the first year.

The tutors are quality professionals, skilled in allowing each of us to make our journey but clear in the direction we should be headed in. Their feedback is extensive and professional. Termly, in addition to group discussion, three pieces have a written response; there’s a more formal written response to a termly submission and a one to one session to boot.

Then, the group itself grows in importance over time. As we get closer, we also get more experienced. I learn so much from how the others write and increasingly from their critiques of my own work. It might be depressing to think they’re all as good or better than me but it isn’t – it’s to be enjoyed.

As for me, the goal is to complete the novel, no small challenge in itself – if you’ve not done it, you just don’t know! I know I’ll get support along the way to keep getting it better but actually, the goal is to complete. Whether it’s any good or not, well, that’s another matter; that’s something that will just take of itself all in good time.

And how much does it cost?
Annie: It’s £995 per year for two years. There is an instalment scheme which unfortunately has an extra £75 fee for setting up the direct debit. I cannot fathom why.

Umi: The annual fee for the programme is £995. This can be paid at the beginning of each year, quarterly or on a monthly basis. There are a limited number of bursaries available. The deadline for bursary applications is 22nd July.

Thank you, Dick and Annie. The course must be powerful indeed to inspire and establish writing practices that create the stories and novels you describe. I shall look forward to seeing your books on my shelves very soon. And thank you, Umi. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Publishing Day
Umi: At the end of the course we have a Publishing Day where we invite a group of publishing professionals – agents and publishers – down to meet the students. After a brief panel discussion where publishers and agents talk about their roles in the publishing business and students can ask questions, we offer workshops on how to submit work to agents/publishers, how to write synopses and covering letters and how the publishing industry works for different genres and forms of writing.

Later in the day, students have a chance to meet agents and publishers for a one-to-one chat where they can pitch their story idea or ask for further advice on getting their work published. Publishing Day is designed to equip writers with the professional skills and knowledge they will need after they have finished the programme and are ready to move towards publication. Students seem to really appreciate and learn a lot from the day and many go on to become published writers.

With great thanks to Umi Sinha (author and tutor), Annie Prime (translator/ student) and Dick Kempson (retired teacher/ student). 

For more information on the courses and the people in this article:
For more about the writing courses in Hastings, please contact the programme director, Dr Mark Slater or see The Creative Writing Programme/courses
Umi Sinha, author
Interview with Annie Prime, Translator

For news and events, please see Bookchat – 10 books for summer reading (and events July 2 onwards).

Thanks for reading.

Angela J. Phillip




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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jul 2, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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