Rankings = money = the value of education?

At The University of Nottingham we are committed to providing a truly international education, inspiring our students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. Our purpose is to improve life for individuals and societies worldwide. By bold innovation and excellence in all that we do, we make both knowledge and discoveries matter.

p.4 Strategic Plan 2010-15, University of Nottingham

Of course, and hooray, and it does! There is so much to commend the University of Nottingham, and I’d happily advise anyone to consider studying there. I feel sure they would, in the main, have a brilliant time and a rich experience. It is a particularly good university for folks like me with disabilities of any kind. But…

The students and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course continue to try and establish the reason or reasons for its closure in 2017. Perhaps current students will receive clearer information at a meeting next Friday.

The University’s statement about the closure says:

“With shifting patterns of recruitment and recent changes in staffing, it was an appropriate time to reconsider the strategic fit of the course with the School of Education’s longer term plans. Following a thorough business review, the School leadership decided the programme should close; the final graduates will complete in 2017.”

The first sentence was addressed by Thursday’s post. What of the second (apart from the inaccuracy: for graduates read undergraduates)? Any institution needs funding, no quibbles there. The course was not making a loss, but perhaps that was not enough. One source of income for a university is research. In product and financial terms it forms part of the life and business of a university. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) ranking of a university matters both because it demands excellence in research, which has to be beneficial to the teaching of students as well as the big, wide world, and because it influences funding, income and earnings. Such is the belt-tightening age we live in that monetary value matters increasingly, though hopefully in partnership with educational, personal and societal value. Is a lack of research the cause of the closure? Well, it might be but perhaps need not have been.

I am told that research happens in faculties at Nottingham. The course’s misplacement in the Faculty of Social Sciences, which requires all research to have a social science focus, made it impossible for the course leader to generate research that was valid for creative and professional writing AND a fit for Social Sciences. If, however, the course were moved to the School of English, or its research location made more flexible, a different picture would emerge. Look at the English staff research lists and you’ll find listed the writing of poetry collections, a radio drama and plays. To the best of my knowledge, the CPW course leader wrote and had published two novels during her employment in Nottingham. But, unlike in the School of English, where staff can provide teaching cover for sabbaticals etc, she was the only permanent member of CPW staff, her colleagues being employed sessionally.

So the question remains: Why will the course be closed rather than moved? I emailed the very pleasant Sir David Greenaway, Vice Chancellor, to ask him simply that. He replied quickly and kindly but did not answer the question.

If we receive an answer that explains the closure, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, thank you for reading and for your response. A bit, though nicely, overwhelmed by it up here in my study to be honest. But I have writing to do to send to my crit group and a new publication to celebrate.

(In case you were wondering, look also at de Montfort Leicester or the University of East Anglia to see that is is eminently possible to undertake varied and valuable research in the field of creative writing beyond the production of new writing, but it takes time, and staff, and yes, money.)




The Facts of Life

When does a drama become a lecture?

I imagine it’s when facts overwhelm the story of the characters, and characters give informative speeches rather than engaging in natural conversation. Natural conversation can, of course, convey facts in technical language if appropriate and true to the character’s role in the drama, and readily comprehendible by the audience .

How much slipping-in-information-by-subtle-means can a drama hold?

Subtle is probably the clue, subtle and natural rather than making it obvious through a clumsy device. Subtle enough to neither break the tension (unless that’s needed), nor disrupt the flow of the drama snd the arc of the story.



Todays task: PRUNING

  • list the facts that are important to me – research to ensure accuracy, and reference for essay
  • prune from that list the facts the story and the listeners do not need

The other thing about facts…


Jeremy Howe, Head of Radio 4 Drama Commissioning at the BBC, said in his talk that he judges the quality of a drama writer by the size of the mailbag he receives after the broadcast. Not letters/emails of praise, but hose from the knowledgeable audience correcting the writer’s factual inaccuracy.

The second task: RESEARCH

  • ensure accuracy
  • reference for the essay

Creative Brews

The coffee is filtered, the dark ginger cake is being cut, we’re ready to write.

The truth is more that we write a bit, chat a bit and discuss projects or aspects of writing. Such are Thursday 11am-2pm Creative Brews’ sessions at Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

This week we talked about the challenges of finding THE perfect name for a character. Does the character suggest a name? Does a name modify the writer’s perception of a character? What is conveyed when the form of address is not an actual name?

The radio drama I’m writing needs to identify a person by how the protagonist perceives her and not by her name or relationship. So ‘Mother’, ‘Mum’ ‘Sylvia’ just won’t do. I asked the group to say the images that came to mind for a female character called ‘The Magpie’ by one of her daughters but not by the other.

‘Well the bird. And that character with long hair on the telly.’
‘The TV programme.’

magpi_tcm9-327596(image from RSPB)

 ‘The rhyme – one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl etc.’
‘Yes, it’s the one for sorrow, three for a girl and seven for a secret never to be told that underlies my choice of The Magpie, or just Magpie.’
‘Thieving magpie, magpies liking shiny things to build nests.’
‘Is it the male or the female that builds the nest?’
‘There’s something purely instinctive though in them doing that, it’s not a moral stance. Isn’t it about courtship?’
‘That lack of morality fits the character well. As a conscienceless psychopath she’d probably want to make out that she couldn’t help it, that what she did was some mysterious force’s responsibility, or indicated something wrong with her brain that negated her ability to take responsibility and left her blameless (in her eyes).’
‘They steal eggs, all kinds of things.’
‘They’re a bit sinister, not as much as crows or ravens.’
‘Those birds are rather clichéd, more of the horror genre or witches and wizard tales.’
‘They pick at wounds on animals, they’ll even prey on small creature, baby rabbits, they eat dead flesh.’
‘They’re not popular birds, we don’t get sentimental about them.’
‘As a name for someone, it doesn’t suggest the daughter is wanting to be vindictive, there are many alternatives that would give the daughter a viciousness.’
‘Yes. That’s what I want to avoid, the daughter is not going to stoop to the level of the mother who refers to her elder daughter as the Devil’s Whore and other similarly vile epithets.’
‘It conjures a visual image, which has to be good for radio.’

“Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe.

You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.”  Dave Barry

We considered planning and time management in yesterday’s project preparation session.

How long does it take to:

  • write a project proposal
  • draw up a reading list of enough, but not too many, books on the right topics
  • research and write a radio drama
  • talk to people who’ve been there and done that
  • get a few actors together in a recording studio to record the play
  • track down production companies or BBC producers
  • pitch to them
  • give two presentations (November and March) about the project
  • undertake research to write a 7000 word reflective and academic essay that contains
    – reflection on the process of writing the drama
    – the experience, success or failure of pitching it to producers
    – discussion of ‘Why radio?’ and the challenge of the medium
    – consideration of writing experience into art
    – the wisdom gained from meeting other writers of radio drama, and writers who make art from personal stories
    – reflection on my development, artistically and personally throughout the course, with consideration of writing as self therapy
    – plans for the next five year of my writing life
  • compile a reference list (start early, very early)
  • add appendices of accounts of activities undertaken that led to  some of the points discussed in the essay, e.g. A Writing for Radio day with Michael Eaton at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. An evening with Jeremy Howe (Commissioning editor, Drama, Radio 4) at Derby Theatre. A trip to the BBC to sit in on the recording of Trevor Preston’s play Second Body (broadcast 9 Jan 2013), the conversation I had with him and the production team. And other things as yet unknown?

How much can, should and shouldn’t I do each week?
How will I keep life balanced, and what other writing or writing related activities shall I undertake alongside the project?
How much cake/chocolate/wine will be consumed?
How much weight will be gained?


How shall I order it all?

How many books make a final year project?

One student nightmare is that of compiling a list of references in the right format and at the right time. All our assignments have to be submitted by 23.55pm on a set date. So there are those 23.30pm scrambles through the library catalogue, amazon, anywhere for the correct details and the actual (or possibly made up – not by me, of course…) page number. Do tutors ever check page numbers?

And there’s the stress of how webpage link references should be formatted. Ditto online eBooks versus ePub or MOBI eBooks with their inconsistent approach to page numbering and all that font size and style, and reading device choices do to them. Not to forget journal articles, videos, audio, photographs etc. Until now, we have been given reading lists, which are a guide to the material to be considered and the number of books needed to do that. For the project, we’re on our own.

How many books? On what subjects? Current or older?

pile-of-booksHow many books about writing for radio are useful? What about wider reading?  Where’s the tipping point into ‘too many books spoil the radio drama’? And does ‘current’ matter? Might an older book might yield comparative information about changes in tastes and trends?

Does the library have the books? Does the RNIB have them as audiobooks? How much to spend on books neither stock? In my case that means eBooks or the paper copy that is then scanned and reformatted by the university’s Alternative Formats Service. Average reformatting cost: £500, but not, thankfully, paid by me. It’s reduced significantly by the helpful publishers who provide the department with an electronic copy if one exists. Some publishers are reluctant and struggle to understand that under the equality of access laws, the Service is at liberty to scan and print books for me (I’m partially sighted, as you probably guessed).

Let the list and reference compilation begin.