Freesteel Blog » Writers writing sucked again into the Wikipedia hole

Writers writing sucked again into the Wikipedia hole

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007 at 3:24 pm Written by:

I must have been wondering about how we conspire to get ourselves ripped off, and began thinking about this new Creative Writing course at Manchester University, where the majority of the money is most likely to have gone into hiring the name of Martin Amis. As a result, I wasted most of the morning documenting the fact that he is a raving Neocon who condemns all of Islam of being suicide bombers, based on the his interpretation of the facial expression of the gatekeeper at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem after he was calendrically rude to him.

I am interested in the subject because I was at a long-established SF writing course in Michigan in the summer of 2002 at the time I was sold out by my previous employer. And so began my adventures.

The course I went to was enormous fun. It is in no way associated to the corrupting influence of the mainstream fiction industry with its elite in-crowd and the use of name associations to open doors to the mainstream publishing world, where the game is to get powerful people who make corporate decisions that pay-to-play to put feeble books on the front table in Dillons, where it consequently determines what sells and who gets to make a career out of it. All human weaknesses are for sale.

While at my course in 2002, I wrote an interesting short story called Mine the Primes, which to me justified the full expense.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the rot in the fiction industry occurs at every single level, from the grooming of new young authors, to the resulting mass-produced mentally impoverished over-blown literature that most people read. Never ever trust a book review by one contemporary writer of another contemporary writer; they are colleagues; they are all in the business together, unless there’s a falling out of one of them, usually as a result of accidentally telling the truth about another of their number. The dire quality of the fiction which the public reads stupifies us and makes us vulnerable government propaganda which, in my view, is in a class of its own within the genre of Science Fiction. Ballistic Missile Shield, my arse!

So, what’s the problem with a writing course over in Manchester hiring a leading author like Martin Amis to teach their students, then?

The problem is he ain’t there to teach the students. He’s expected to be on a virtual permanent sabbatical, trading on the job title as “Professor”, while they trade on his name at the head of their department to sign up students at exorbitant fees. You go to University only once, so you can only get ripped off once, after which you learn that before you handed over your money you should have asked the question:

You know that famous author that’s attracted me here to this esteemed course? How many days will he actually be teaching me this year?

If the answer is just two weeks between all the students, since all the work and marking is due to be handled by the remaining overworked and underpaid staff, then it doesn’t look good. All staff should do the equal amount of work, with no Prima Donnas, otherwise it’s just not going to be happy. Don’t go there.

I checked my opinion with someone who used to work in UEA, where there is the rival creative writing course that this new business is modeled on, and was told that I just didn’t understand how the world works. It’s quite reasonable for students to be attracted by the name at the head of the department, because they would get something out of it, even if they never actually got taught by the guy. Once they have graduated, they can use their association with his name to open doors in the publishing world. In fact, he is likely to give that essential help to them in the form of the opportunity to have their work brought to the attention of agents and editors by him; editors and agents too lazy to look for talent outside the immediate sphere of paying customers of the most overpaid and militaristic religio-racist writer in the country, and so excluding people who have enough common sense to spot a rotten waste of an educational opportunity, or can’t face buying into the culture.

I’m just too idealistic, which is why I don’t get anywhere, I’m told. No one who gets through this writing course is going to say anything bad about it, or reveal how little actual contact they had with Martin Amis during it, because they will want to trade on the reputation. They will not want to debase their investment.


Prospective students don’t have the experience which would make them wise enough to see through the marketing from the University before they buy the course. Once they have bought the course and put it on their CV, they gain a conflict of interest that has the effect of preventing them from passing on their wisdom to the next generation of prospective students.

And so it goes on, like so many businesses that continue to persist in spite of contributing nothing to public good.

Of course, this whole cycle would collapse in an instant if the students in a particular year kicked up a fuss at the time. What could they achieve?

First of all, they must make direct personal contact with students who had been through the course the year before and share information and horror stories. Not all of these graduates would have made it yet, and their experience would be fresh. While being utterly powerless, their contribution would be essential to give a degree of certainty to what this business is all about. You can never be sure you are going to be ripped off until it is too late.

And secondly, they have to unite and organize around their demands. Here’s what they could demand: Martin Amis in Manchester teaching and marking their fiction five days a week for two terms. Hours worked should be proportional to pay for all staff. They should demand that the full accounts, contracts, timetable, and pay scale of the course supervisors be published on the Centre for New Writing webpage. People have a right to be told what they are buying, and if the powers that be think it should be confidential, then what they are really telling you is they’re ashamed of it. Complain effectively and you can get a good deal.

What power do the students have? If they united and managed themselves well enough, using their supposed skills of writing and imagination, they can wield some seriously bad publicity. The whole edifice exists on reputation, with very little substance underneath. They can, if they choose, make the whole business an unmitigated disaster. They could permanently tarnish the name of “Britain’s greatest living author”, and send a message of humiliation into the closed world of British literary establishment.

In the process, they would wreck any chance of a career along the current conventional safe ineffective boring route into the dead literary establishment, but they would gain notoriety and breath life into things. What better way to make an impact and make your name? These courses ought to be a hotbed of literary trouble-making for their own ends.

Never mind. It’s not going to happen. Our generation has been so ill served by the state of fiction today because of the way it provides a benchmark to the imagination. It has stupefies us in our jobs, running a futile rat race under corporate rules in the protection of a military complex that just keeps on killing.

We can’t imagine that the world could ever be a better place, so we don’t notice that it is being actively kept this way by the privileged in any profession.

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