Don't ask me why, but I've never liked being called Dave. My given name is David and it seems to suit me. Dave? Not so much. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll probably agree, I'm much more of a David than a Dave. There's nothing particularly rational about my preference, just the way I am. So it's little vexing to be re-named Dave Bishop in an article published by The Times today. Still, worse things happen at sea.
The piece is about the new creative writing MA starting at Edinburgh Napier University next month. I've been working part-time at the university since January, helping to develop the programme and recruit our first cohort of students. We've got a full house for the two-year part-time route and are close to maximum density for full-timers. More significant is the fact we're turning away two applicants for every one we select.
Why's that important? Because we want students to have talent before they arrive. I believe the crafts of writing can be taught, the theoretics of writing can be explored in a classroom, and vocational skills can be honed. But innate, storytelling talent - I have my doubts that can be taught. You've got it, or you don't [in my humble opinion]. So we've been screening our applicants, searching for talents we can help.
That's not to say everyone we've rejected has no talent, Far from it. But our course is not a one-size-fits-all entity. We're focusing on popular genres and commercial media. That means those who'd rather explore literary fiction and poetry [for example] are better off going elsewhere. There's plenty of other creative writing MAs, workshops and courses that will better meet their needs.
Some people applied too soon. They show promise, but not enough to get through the screening process. First off there's an application form with a personal statement. That's the first indication of whether a would-be student can write, has passion and the drive necessary to prosper on the course. Get through that stage and we ask to read 3000 words of original prose. Here's where many people go awry.
[I was amazed to read a column by agent Julian Friedman about his experience of being an external industry expert for the validation of a particular scriptwriting course. Apparently the course did not require applicants to submit a writing sample as part of its selection procedure! Friedman did not give the course his unqualified blessing, and I can't say that I'm surprised.]
If their sample demonstrates talent [originality, wit, flow, flair, a grasp of grammar and spelling, various other qualities], applicants to our course get invited for an interview. Everybody gets asked the same questions, giving a chance to express their writing aspirations, inspirations and why our course is a good fit for them right now. Then it's decision time for us, and a nervous wait for them.
There's one thing that doesn't come up during the interviews, so I must remember to raise it when we have all our students in for the first day of induction and matriculation on Thursday, September 10th: whatever else you do, don't call me Dave.