Can you really teach creative writing? Well, if I didn’t believe the answer was yes, I wouldn’t be doing it. But of course the real answer is more nuanced. You can’t wave a magic wand and give someone a flair for language, or a deep understanding of character and human motivation, or the sheer doggedness that writing a novel requires. But you can spot and nurture a writer’s strengths, help them hone their skills, and encourage them to take their work to the next level. And then – and here’s where it gets exciting for me – the next. And then the next again. Quite simply, creative writing courses, one-to-one mentoring schemes and how-to books can all save all writers a huge amount of time. Looking back on my own career, if I have one regret is that I didn’t know this thoroughly when I started. And it’s one of the reasons I am so evangelical about passing on what I know.
Ever since my first novel was published back in 1995, it has been my privilege to have helped develop the work of many talented emerging writers. Their stories, poems, novels and plays have enriched my own life and writing, and several former students have become personal friends as well as fellow-writers. There is a special joy in receiving a copy of a book that one has had a hand in shaping, editing, and cheering on.
The Arvon Foundation, where I tutor regularly, has had a special place in my heart ever since my own “light-bulb moment” there as a student in 1993. Since then I spent ten years as Writer In Residence at Kingston University, and have taught courses and workshops at literary festivals around the world, as well as for Curtis Brown Creative, A Chapter Away, and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.
My most recent and most exciting venture is as a mentor for Jill Dawson’s acclaimed Gold Dust scheme. Mentors and mentees can meet either face-to-face or via Skype or Facetime, and do so over a course of several meetings, normally lasting about a year. I am based in Copenhagen and am frequently in London, Oxford, and Cambridge, but many of my mentees live in other parts of the world so I give feedback, discuss and troubleshoot their work with them on Skype or Facetime. If you’re interested in having me or another a professional novelist guide you through the process of writing your novel, you can apply here: www.gold-dust.org.uk/