Sat 19 April 2014

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Current Issue

I thought long and hard about putting a Jane Austen figurine on the cover of this edition, despite its direct connection to Rebecca Smith’s article based on her presentation at our recent York conference. Wasn’t it a little bit twee, smacking of literature of the past rather than writing of the present? But then I saw the shadowy names behind her – WG Sebald (the subject of another conference presentation), Frank Cottrell Boyce – and those Penguin logos, bringing to mind Terry Waite’s inspirational conference speech.

As I wrote in a contribution to Creative Writing and Education (to be published by Multilingual Matters later this year), we sometimes slip into false distinctions between literature and writing, product and process. Each is understood most fully through a knowledge of the other, as research for Beyond the Benchmark emphatically confirmed. As Rebecca Smith describes, Jane Austen is still an inspiring model. Robyn Bolam’s article, again a transcription from a conference session, makes similar use of the past, presenting women’s poetry from earlier eras as a starting point for new work.

These conference transcriptions are invaluable and differ somewhat from the more traditional practice of accepting conference papers for publication. The NAWE Conference is practice-based: in the workshop sessions at least, the writer’s ideas (for writing and/or teaching writing) are enacted with fellow writers, teachers and students, and the opportunity to publish an account of the process adds yet another, reflective dimension.

Published versions of conference proceedings also allow many more of us to gain from what originally took place for the benefit of a privileged few. There is some feeling that more sessions should be shared with more delegates. I’m sympathetic to this view, though it’s difficult to reconcile with our desire to include the greatest possible variety of voices and approaches within our programme. As an experiment, we are this year encouraging contributors to work more collaboratively. We do already feature panels, and we’re not abandoning the individual workshop, but we should like to invite members to consider running shorter, paired sessions, enabling the audience for each to be increased. If this works, we may be able to run a slightly more compact programme, with a bigger conversation taking place on each front. In the end, of course, our programme simply reflects what members want to do.

Other conference-related contributions to this edition come from Barbara Henderson, making clear the connections between creative writing and journalism, and from Julie MacLusky and Josie Barnard, each addressing employability for writing students, in different ways. We also feature two articles with multiple perspectives, intriguingly drawing a gender divide: Martin Goodman, with three male PhD students from Hull, writes about doctoral research, while four female Open University PhD students discuss their development of fictional voice.

In addition to conference proceedings, we are pleased to be publishing a range of other work, from Seth Clabourg in the US, Maria McCarthy emerging as a writer through her chronic illness, Vicky Morris on writing and dyslexia, Louise Tondeur surveying the perception and delivery of writing programmes, and Michael Le-Baigue, a PGCE student who worked with our NAWE Chair, Liz Cashdan, to produce a short story – of which an extract is included.

The central section, which we use to highlight “something different”, is given this time to the very first description of running the Creative Writing A Level in the classroom, complete with some early creative work produced. We look forward to seeing more – and to publishing such work on the NAWE website where any school or college involved may have a dedicated page.

My final mention goes to Lucy McCarraher’s article, for a  particular and very timely reason. Within this magazine there has at times seemed to be a gulf opening up between ‘academic’ and ‘how to’ articles, a gulf that is even more evident in the range of creative writing books that we review. As reported here on pages 3 and 9, we are introducing of a peer-reviewed, academic journal to complement this NAWE magazine. If that seems to suggest that we endorse the gulf, and that particular voices belong in one camp or the other, I feel very strongly that it is not the case, and Lucy’s article shows why, sharing as she does the valuable detail of her journeying between realms. Likewise, we welcome the PhD ‘stories’ from the NAWE conference, as mentioned above, even though the same voices may well also have other things to say within the pages of the new journal.

Paul Munden



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