The Independent Bath Literature Festival: Creative writing courses are a waste of time, says Hanif Kureishi (who teaches one)

It’s a real nightmare trying  to make  a living  as a  writer

The author Hanif Kureishi has rubbished creative writing courses as a “waste of time”, saying that the vast majority of students taking them – including many of his own pupils – are “talentless”.

Kureishi teaches how to write novels, screenplays and plays at London’s Kingston University, which awarded him a professorship in October and made him guest of honour when its writing school launched in 2011.

Yet speaking on Sunday night, the author of The Buddha of Suburbia said of his students: “It’s probably 99.9 per cent who are not talented and the little bit that is left is talent.”

He added: “A lot of my students just can’t tell a story. They can write sentences but they don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.”

Kureishi was appearing at the Independent Bath Literature Festival, at an event supported by the creative writing department of Bath Spa University. “A lot of them [students] don’t really understand,” he said. “It’s the story that really helps you. They worry about the writing and the prose and you think: ‘Fuck the prose, no one’s going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.’”

Last night a spokesperson for Kingston said Kureishi was teaching an “extremely demanding and valuable course”, adding: “Professor Hanif Kureishi is employed for his thought-provoking, inspirational contribution which he provides through supportive masterclasses, tutorials and PhD supervisions. Students consistently praise him and benefit from his advice.”

Kureishi, 59, who began his career writing pornography before joining the Royal Court Theatre, said that if he were starting out now, he would not pay thousands of pounds to enrol on an MA in creative writing. “No. I wouldn’t do it like that. That would be madness. I would find one teacher who I thought would be really good for me,” he said.

“It’s not about the course. The whole thing with courses is that there are too many teachers on them, and most are going to teach you stuff that is a waste of time for you. And a lot of students work with each other in ways that are not very helpful or creative. You’ve got to try and find one teacher who can really help you.”

Kureishi’s latest novel, The Last Word, is about the relationship between a young biographer and a cantankerous old Indian author, widely held to be based on VS Naipaul.

He said that he saw his relationship with his students as part-mentor, part-therapist, and that it was not his role to produce future best-selling novelists.  “I can’t give them talent but I can say to them: ‘Look, if you do that, you’re going to waste a lot of time,’” he said.

“What’s more important with teaching creative writing is that everybody gets to speak. It might not have much literary value but it might help them say something about themselves. So you’re helping them, as it were, to therapise themselves. The idea that you’re in a school for producing great writers is not the point.”

He added: “I work with my students for a long time. They really start to perk up after about three years. And after about five years they really realise something about writing. It’s a very slow thing.  People go on writing courses for a weekend and you think, ‘A weekend?’”

Kureishi said that having three sons meant that he has had to earn money from writing in any way he can.

“You start off wanting to be an artist, and once you’ve got children, you’ve got to work in the market. You look at them and think: ‘I’ve got to support you through writing.’ It’s a real nightmare trying to make a living as a writer for a long time... It’s been touch and go.”

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick