Saturday, November 01, 2008

The cost of tuition

Its eleven years since I started on my MA in novel writing at University of Manchester. I can't remember what it cost - between £2-3000 I guess. There's been a proliferation of courses since, long and short, BA and MA, even the odd PhD. Theres alot of writers I know who teach as well as write, so what goes around comes around. And if you do a week's Arvon course or something similar like Faber's recent writers weekend that Elizabeth Baines recounts, having attended it in Paris (Paris!), or even a weekend course with the Poetry School, or others, it costs less but is over in a blink of an eye. As someone who organises events I know how difficult it is to ever reclaim the "real costs" - yet writers are rarely wealthy, and an "investment", whether for a weekend or a year, is probably much, much more than the ££££s themselves. I gave up a £25k a year job (in 97!) to do the course, so it probably cost me much, much more in some ways than the headline cost (and the biggest cost was that when I came back into work house prices had gone through the roof and I've been paying that price ever since.) But this is just stupid - accountancy masquerading as opportunity. Someone once said to me that they saw running their poetry magazine at a cost of a few hundred pounds a year, nothing more or less than their equivalent to "the golf club membership."

I've always said, when people have asked about going on a course, what they want to get out of it. In 1997 I didn't know any writers, had no time to write, and was unhappy in my job and living in Croydon. Moving back to Manchester for my masters was the best thing I ever did. I was buying time, a peer group, friendship... and if I'd hoped to get a few contacts that would help me get published as well, that was perhaps my naivety. I bumped into Elizabeth Baines last night in Didsbury and was fascinated by the Paris trip - a long way to go I thought for a couple of days tutoring, I wondered when she got time to write, never mind blog... She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, "late into the night", she said.

So here's a thought...I gained a lot from my masters, but even more from having the time to create, the time to think - and the time to read. If it could cost you up to a £1000 for a week away somewhere on a "working holiday" or thousands of pounds to do a masters, what about for £25... the best tutors I've found are other writers - not the ones you might on a course, but the ones you actually like. F. Scott Fitzgerald's letters, Henry James Selected Essays, The Paris Review Interviews, Jeanette Winterson's "Art Objects", Kafka's diary... these are half of the tuition I needed - the other half, that should be obvious: the books themselves, "Franny and Zooey", "Men Without Women", "Women in Love", "Middlemarch" - make your own list

2 comments:

Elizabeth Baines said...

Although the Paris weekend was indeed a tutored one, many people there were experienced writers, and I think a main aim for most of us was to hob-nob and network. And it was a very nice place for a bit of a holiday and to kick-start those creative juices.

Bournemouth Runner said...

Very like when I was in Norwich for New Writing Worlds then... I hadn't a moment to be creative in my usual way, but had such a sugar rush of experiences, nice place, nice people, nice food, nice wine. I think my Norwich story will probably pop out in an unlikely way and place many months from now. Bonjour.