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Academy aims to attract those with the write stuff

The National Academy of Writing will be open to all wordsmiths. Martin Whittaker reports.

Hopeful young authors will be able to learn from some of the biggest names in British literature at a new academy which aims to offer a vocational route into creative writing.

The National Academy of Writing in Birmingham is expected to begin pilot courses next year for would-be authors, playwrights, screenwriters and journalists. It has around 130 patrons who have made a commitment to teach at the new centre, and the list is impressive.

They include novelists Nick Hornby, Philip Pullman, Hanif Kureishi, Thomas Keneally, and Doris Lessing, screen writers Lynda La Plante and Richard Curtis, and poets Andrew Motion and Roger McGough.

The academy will offer a one-year, full-time vocational course for up to 50 students, leading to a professional diploma validated by the University of Central England. It will also offer part-time specialised courses.

No formal academic qualifications will be required. Admission will be based on writing talent and students will be asked to submit a portfolio of their writing.

The idea came from the Society of Authors and has been developed on an initial pound;150,000 three-year budget. It is expected to be based in Birmingham's new Eastside city-centre development. A recent series of workshops on the writing trade by leading authors was the first stage in the national academy's recruitment drive.

"The gap we want to fill is the writer's equivalent of a drama school or an art college," said Martin Eggleston, the project's development manager.

"It's for young people who may or may not have A-levels or a first degree, or a new writer who might have spent 20 years looking after children, or doing a job that had nothing to do with writing." Birmingham-based Whitbread prize-winning author Jim Crace said the new academy will be a departure from existing courses. "Our most famous creative writing place at the moment is the creative writing programme at the University of East Anglia. But it's an MA. You have to have a BA in order to pursue it.

"If you look at the profile of very successful writers, very often they fit into the Oxford, Cambridge university educated, white middle class for whom the door is already swinging open. What the academy is doing is entirely different. It is requiring only talent for people to study creative writing."

Funding for the academy is still in question. The organisation has been in talks with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, but also with training bodies for the television and film industries.

It has already had sponsorship and donations from private sources including authors and publishing houses. Birmingham amp; Solihull Learning and Skills Council is one of the bodies backing the academy, and has sponsored its start-up with pound;50,000.

The LSC has set up an advisory group of schools and colleges to work with the new academy. David Cragg, the local LSC's executive director, said:

"Obviously there's a strong vocational angle here, creating a route into the writing professions.

"Having this kind of organisation locally can offer an enormous amount to young people or adults who are interested in writing. We want to get a dialogue going with the national academy to see how we can use this fantastic resource."

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