I’ve been in Sheffield Hallam today, as external examiner for their MA course in Scriptwriting. I get to read the scripts of the students, and the comments from the two markers. Each student also writes a précis of how they’ve improved this draft over the previous one and what work they think it still needs. I’m impressed with the level of teaching here. Even though the scripts still have a long way to go, the students clearly know what the craft requires, but are also encouraged to be as original as possible while still being aware of the context in which they’re working – where the industry is. More importantly, the feedback they get from the faculty is very professional and accurate. It’s great that the university maintains a close dialogue with publishing and producing – at the moment in the form of us two agents but previously with publishers and producers. Some other universities I’ve had contact with have been out of touch, and it shows: they’ve been behind with their information, too angled towards the academic, sometimes just wrong in what they’re saying to students. To be fair, universities have to ride two horses: some graduates intend to go on to academic jobs, so feel the academic approach is closer to their needs. Some will expect to become professional writers, so the marks they get aren’t as relevant as the experience and information they acquire. In the explosion of creative writing courses here in the last ten years or so, too often it’s been seen as easy money: easy to get students who don’t worry whether the tutor has any relevant qualifications or real expertise, whether the course will actually teach them what they need to know. Perhaps these faculties believe that creative writing can’t be taught, but if there’s a new fashion for a certain subject they might as well take the course fees. Craft can be taught but originality can’t –but it can be nurtured. But you wouldn’t pay to have your baby delivered by someone who only thinks they know what they’re doing. This connection with creative writing courses is good for the industry as well as the writers. We couldn’t cope with an influx of writers who have been taught wrong, and don’t understand where they’re heading. Students would be wasting their money, wasting our time, and word would get round that it’s not worth taking these courses. The industry would bear the brunt of spending time we haven’t got training raw talent; we benefit greatly from the exciting new writers emerging as fledglings rather than bald, hungry chicks.