Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Class of '97

It was about this time a decade ago that I had an interview for the MA in creative writing at UEA. It was an interesting thing. I'd applied the previous year but, obviously too late, got a gnomic response which said, but "try again next year". I didn't even have to send something new in. Anyway I went for the interview - the first time, though it seems hard to believe in retrospect, that I'd ever even met some other writers - and Andrew Motion, who was interviewing gave us all an overview of the course. I was the only male among the 5 being interviewed, and at the time Motion was on heavy painkillers for a back problem, which meant by the time I went in, last, they were clearly wearing off. We had a nice chat for 20 minutes, mostly about poetry, (I'd applied to do fiction!) and that was it. I didn't get on. Not that I was too surprised, since 2 of the other 4 being interviewed were already published novelists (both did get on!) and the others were a nice elderly woman who'd been published by the London Magazine, and one of those "Isn't my lecturer?" wonderful English 1st students from Oxford. Anyway, it did make me think - yeah, I'd like to do this, really. I went to the campus bookshop after the interview and picked up "The Game" by Frances Liardet (she was one of the 2 published novelists being interviewed!) an impressive debut novel that she appears never to have followed up. A few weeks later I was interviewed at Manchester, by a relaxed and convivial Richard Francis (where we mostly talked about fiction!) who said, at the end, "don't worry, you're on the course." I've never regretted that choice. What was a shame was that by the Christmas, Michael Schmidt had virtually pulled out of the course for much of the 2nd semester, and, by the time my novel was ready to be submitted, Richard had also left. It was marked by one of their successor's Suzannah Dunn, a nice woman I met a couple of times, but whom I never had a single conversation with about my actual novel. Richard, at Bath Spa, and Michael at MMU, went on to departments that took it all far more seriously than Manchester. The week that I moved between London and Manchester was the week Princess Diana died, so I had a weird few days in a half empty flat watching endless cavalcades of people on a pilgrimage to Hyde Park to put down flowers. I was reminded by this by the success of "The Queen." Its worth remembering that the death of Diana, and the Queen's original perceived indifference to it, almost looked like bringing the monarchy down at the time! Diana's brother's speech at her funeral became a set text in English classes in schools - and "Candle in the Wind" rewritten by Elton John became the bestselling single of all time. My own novel, that I wrote on the MA, began on election night 1997, but ended the weekend before her death. My Class of '97 I still feel very fondly about. It was a very civilised group - none of the factions that other years have seen develop, from what I hear. Mark Powell got a 2 book deal with Victor Gollancz a few months after completing his course, and had 2 good London-based thrillers, "Snap" and "Box", which got a bit lost in publishing politics (in quick succession he lost his imprint and his editor.) He now lives in the US. Heather Beck, already an academic, quickly went with Michael to the creative writing course at the MMU, where she finally published her course novel "Home is Where" with Comma Press. Always a fastidious writer, she doesn't appear to have followed it up. Lee Rourke, resurfaced a few years later in Brighton and London, with his Scarecrow web-zine, and now, a decade on, a forthcoming book, "Everyday." Others from the course: Stephanie and Greg have continued their previous work, teaching English and photography respectively, though Greg has continued writing, and had a successful exhibition collaborating with the photographer Dinu Li a few years ago; Seb emigrated to Australia; Samantha is back working in radio for Radio Shropshire; and Alan is now a journalist back home in Northern Ireland. I've not really heard anything from Lisa, Sarah and Doug for years; and Peter, a German writer, who left the course half way through, though I'd heard had gone back to Germany. As for me, I'm sat here, writing a blog, about the Class of '97, ten years on, still creative, but in another career cul-de-sac, not that dissimilar than the one I found myself in a decade ago, wondering...what next?

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