Paul Magrs was flabbergasted when an institution he hadn’t heard from in years asked if it could use his work to show impact. Here is his reply.
To the person at the University of East Anglia responsible for the Research Assessment Thingummy, or whatever it’s called nowadays:
Thank you very much for your email this afternoon, requesting information about sales of the book I co-edited in 2001 while I was a senior lecturer in the English department at the University of East Anglia teaching on, among other things, the “world famous” creative writing MA course.
I am delighted to hear that you “have finished writing this particular impact case study on behalf of my UEA creative writing colleagues”.
Very well done! I know these box-ticking exercises to do with “research outputs” (or “books” as some of us still like to call them) can be extremely tiring to write. Writing can be quite hard work, can’t it? And it needs lots of time and energy and quiet too, doesn’t it? I hope you’ve had plenty of that while working on your case study.
. . . .
I have to say, I am absolutely cock-a-hoop to hear that “We have listed your Creative Writing Coursebook as one of several distinguished and successful books about writing that have come out of UEA in the last two decades”.
I am so gratified to be on that list of “distinguished and successful” authors from UEA. How marvellous!
And to be seen as successful, too!
It’s funny because, really, I haven’t heard much from UEA since I left, nine years ago. Back then I was teaching and/or organising all the creative writing courses from undergraduate to PhD level. I also invented courses on writing creative essays, and on surrealism and fantasy, and the novel in the 1960s. I was publishing at least one novel of my own a year. I was working pretty hard, really. Very hard, in fact. I think it would be fair to say that by 2004, after seven years there, I was completely burned out.
. . . .
It was in the midst of all this activity that a colleague and I (who were already inventing extracurricular stuff for our students such as readings in pubs, day trips for writing practice and a campus-based publishing initiative) made extra time to outline, construct and pitch The Creative Writing Coursebook to several publishers. Macmillan decided it would love to publish it, and we commissioned 40 authors to write essays about their writing practice, and about their favourite writing exercises for drawing work out of their students or out of their own subconscious. It was a grand undertaking – working through the various stages of producing work in any genre – from first inklings to final drafts. Yes, it was rich and generous and detailed. And yes, people are still using it and buying it and talking about it now, 12 years on.
I have found that UEA hasn’t been terribly keen to remember that I ran those courses for all those years. Last year, when it (self-)published a book about creative writing on campus and its illustrious history, I was completely left out of its roll-call.
. . . .
Yes, yes. Momentarily there, I’d forgotten that, back in 1998. I was hankering after a bit of respectability, you see?
But I knew that respectability and distinguishedness and all that stuff would never come my way.
And that was because I always wrote exactly what I wanted to. In exactly the way I wanted to.
It’s the only way that this writing stuff can happen, you see?
It’s the only way that “outputs” can be “put out”.
And I’ve continued in that way. My own merry, sometimes maudlin, sometimes disastrous, sometimes mildly successful way, in all the years since.
Maybe UEA hasn’t been in touch much in recent years because I once said in an interview that there was a lot of pretension and privilege in the place.
This was shortly after I left, feeling wrung out and used. Feeling exhausted from being made to feel grateful just for having the post.