Julia Green, who is in charge of Bath Spa’s MA in Writing for Young People, was one of the names being whispered in the halls of this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, because three of the most sought-after titles were written by a trio of her 2018 graduates.
Hana Tooke struck a "significant" six-figure deal with Penguin Random House Children’s for her Middle Grade novel The Unadoptables; Lucy Cuthew’s YA verse novel, Blood Moon, was pre-empted by Walker; and Wibke Brueggemann’s YA novel Hormonal Horror was signed by Macmillan Children’s Books after a five-publisher auction.
Green, who set up the MA in 2004, said the course is successful because the lecturers are all writers themselves (C J Skuse and Joanna Nadin are among the current teaching line-up, while David Almond is a professor), and because the students participate in "rigorous" workshops, where their fellow students and tutors analyse their work. "The core of the course is the writing workshops, where students are put into groups of around eight to discuss their work," Green told The Bookseller. "It’s very supportive and they learn as much about giving feedback as listening to it."
Students are taught how to edit at sentence level, as well as look at wider "issues of craft", she said, and complete two modules about books and publishing. The first is entitled Forms, Ages and Stage, and involves reading and discussing different types of children’s titles, from picture books to YA. The other is about how publishing works as an industry. In the third and final term, students focus completely on polishing their own manuscript during one-to-one sessions with a tutor, and must complete a 40,000 words dissertation to graduate from the course.
When asked what people need to learn most when they start the MA, Green said: "Complete dedication and commitment to writing, and [an awareness of] how much re-writing writing is. When I say someone needs to re-draft, I don’t mean just tinker about with the words, sometimes a complete re-imagining is needed." Others need to learn how to read children’s and YA texts extensively, continuously and with a critical eye, Green added.
Green also urges pupils to write for today’s young people, rather than thinking about their own childhoods. It’s a fine balance, she said, because aspiring writers must connect with their inner child, but writing in a "nostalgic, looking-back sort of way doesn’t work... There needs to be a key shift in viewpoint".
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The one-year course costs £7,600, and this year it has 36 students. Since its launch in 2004, 55 graduates have struck book deals, which Green described as a "good success rate". Some get deals straight away but for others it’s a slower process, she said, and others decide to go into teaching, libraries or publishing.
Green knows that many writers become successful novelists without taking a writing course, but she said the Bath Spa MA "fast-tracks" people because the "experience is so intense". But whatever they write, Green encourages her students to be realistic. "We want them to know about how difficult it is to get a publishing deal. We want them to be flexible and we want them to know that not everyone is getting big-money deals." All who attend do, however, get better as writers, she said, meaning the MA is good value for money for all.