By Jamie Stewart
The inaugural National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, funded by the Arts Council, took place at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) last week. The event, organised by Comma Press and hosted by the Manchester Writing School, allowed Creative Writing students and graduates to make invaluable connections with the literary and publishing world.
The Fair began with a speech from novelist and poet Adam Foulds. Adam was introduced by Manager of the Manchester Writing School, James Draper, and Engagement Officer at Comma Press Sarah Hunt, who summed up the intent behind the day: “The publishing world can feel London-based, very far away – we’re pleased to bring it to Manchester today.”
Adam emphasised how literature is often a collaborative process and highlighted the importance of Creative Writing courses in this respect: “As a writer, you desire an editorial reading of your work. Creative writing courses and workshops allow you to transition into that. Literature is essentially a collaborative production between writer and reader.”
He drew on his own experience of a Creative Writing MA, suggesting that courses of this kind are increasingly important: “Artists need patrons, but patronage has changed, and universities have now taken on this role.” And further, on his experience as a teacher of Creative Writing: “Teaching writing, becoming someone who can manage the psychological turbulence of students writing, someone who can help them, is satisfying.”
Foulds also commented on the perception of Creative Writing courses: “Creative Writing is often attacked in ways other disciplines aren’t, but I think society is waking up to the fact that it’s valuable and teaches real skills.”
Following Adam’s speech, various panels took place simultaneously, with something for everyone to attend. For example, the ‘Working With Agents’ panel consisted of Digital Editor at Comma Press and founder of self-publishing platform MacGuffin, Jim Hinks novelist and Manchester Writing School graduate Sarah Jasmon, and Literary Agent at Andrew Nurnberg and Associates Charlotte Seymour.
Charlotte also highlighted the theme of literature as a collaborative production, saying: “An agent will work for months, even years, to make something as polished as it can be to send it to editors.”
The next panel session focused on Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction. This panel consisted of Senior Editor for Non-fiction at Hutchinson (Penguin Random House) Richard T Kelly, Poetry Editor at New Welsh Review Amy McCauley, and, chairing, Founding Editor of Comma Press Ra Page.
The final panel was chaired by Nathan Connolly from DeadInk Books, who joined Editor-at-Large at Unbound Rachael Kerr, and Jim Hinks. This panel focused on so-called ‘Disruptive Publishing’, a movement that goes against the grain of the conglomerate publishing industry and which focusses on producing work with high literary merit. When asked about the essence and unique identity of Unbound, Kerr stated, “It’s a 19th Century model, updated for the 21st Century. It’s about engagement between writer and reader. We’re putting readers and writers closer together through crowd-funding.” She added, “At Unbound, we are essentially gatekeepers. We are developing to a stage where we can take on new and emerging names who write great literature.” Between the pitching sessions, both former and current students of the Manchester Writing School spoke to Humanity Hallows about the event. One student Sharon Jarvis, in her first year of the Writing School’s MA in Creative Writing said: “I’ve learned a lot in one day. It’s given me the inspiration to get out there and do my own research. I want to understand the industry a bit more. Today has been invaluable.” Andrew Hinkinson a graduate of the MA, said: “It was great to revisit MMU. I graduated in 2007 and the opportunity to meet literary agents from various publishing houses here, where it all began for me, has been enormously helpful.”
Sarah Hunt also said of the day, “It has gone so smoothly, the delegates have been so enthusiastic and the agents have too, that’s been the icing on the cake for me.”
She added, “Comma Press want to run the event next year but on a bigger scale. Today has been about supporting graduates and post-graduate students but perhaps, next time, we will open it up to undergraduates.”
James Draper added, “What’s been particularly rewarding to see today has been the impact this event, particularly the pitching sessions, has had on the confidence of our students. Many have told me they went into their first pitch feeling really nervous, but they came away full of enthusiasm and raring to go into the next one. They want to do it again! It’s given them hands-on experience of what it’s like to present their writing to an agent or publisher, and have a conversation about their book with an industry professional.”
I’m having such a ball at the #NCWGradFair – meeting & listening to so many inspiring & passionate writers – there’s nowhere I’d rather be!
— Amy McCauley (@amymccauley21) November 6, 2015
One such professional at the pitching sessions was Emily Yau a BA English graduate and MMU alumni, who is now Fiction Editor at Ebury Press. Yau said, “It’s really exciting to be here today and listen to everyone’s ideas.”
Along with the opportunity to pitch their writing, delegates were also offered advice from professionals within the industry. Adam Foulds said, “You have to be shameless, you need to expose yourself and your work as much as you can to the reader and their painful corrections.”
Sarah Jasmon offered similar advice. “You have to get out there, make the most of your opportunities and contacts. It can be destroying at times but just keep going.”
In all, MMU’s first National Creative Writing Graduate Fair appeared to be a great success, with many attendees leaving the event feeling encouraged and supported.
For more information about the MMU MA in Creative Writing, see the Manchester Writing School website.