There are many appropriate words that could be used to describe the late Sir Malcolm Bradbury: writer and critic, teacher and mentor, novelist and scriptwriter, traveller and ambassador. What ties these many roles together is a passionate love of writing of all kinds – a love that permeated every layer of his life. His mind was never closed to ideas, or to stories. One of the many sadnesses that surrounded his death in the autumn of 2000 was that he left us with so many stories left unfinished and untold, teasing us with scraps of what might have been.
Yet, as a writer and workaholic he still managed to leave a vast and eclectic body of work behind for us to enjoy – novels, film and television scripts, essays and lectures, poems and pieces of journalism. He loved everything about the process and practice of writing. To walk up the driveway of his Norwich home was to find him at his study window, head bent over his keyboard, fingers playing fast upon them. This writing forms a lasting connection with him, a relationship between writer and reader which crosses many borders – including the greatest border of all – and which in itself forms one of many themes explored in To The Hermitage, his last and, for some, his finest novel.
But Malcolm was far from being a selfish auteur. As many will know and gladly testify, he gave freely and generously of his time, offering advice and support to countless other writers and would-be writers. He believed in nurturing and encouraging talent and imagination wherever he found it, promoting a new generation of writers who shared a common love of stories and storytelling. The most famous and lasting expression of this part of Malcolm’s life was the creation of the internationally respected postgraduate Creative Writing programme at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in his adopted home town of Norwich, Norfolk.
Founded in 1970, by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson, the course had only one student that first year. But that student happened to be Ian McEwan. In the years that followed the course famously flowered, offering students a place to develop their work in a friendly and dedicated environment. This was not a place for learning by the book, but a place for breaking the rules to further the cause of the written work. Malcolm encouraged his students to bring out the best of themselves and their work rather than imposing his own agenda. This was an essential part of the immense success of the UEA creative writing course.
Over the years many well known writers have passed through the MA in Creative Writing course, including McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Andrew Miller, Andrew Cowan, Anne Enright, Louise Doughty, Trac y Chevalier, Adam Foulds, Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw and Diana Evans. The course became a model for the development of other creative writing programmes across the country as it also expanded to include screen writing, poetry and biographical writing and filtered down to undergraduate level. When Malcolm stepped down in 1995, it was Andrew Motion – the Poet Laureate – who stepped in to lead the course forward, with Malcolm’s blessing and enduring support. In more recent years Giles Foden and Andrew Cowan have confidently steered the programme into a new era.
Right up to his death, Malcolm Bradbury continued to assist and encourage writers in countless ways, just as he had always done. When he was knighted in 2000 it was ‘for services to literature’. The Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Trust has been founded, with the support of the UEA and his family and friends, both to commemorate Malcolm Bradbury’s unique role as a literary father figure and, in some ways, to try and follow his example. The Trust’s role is to offer a number of scholarships to students attending the UEA creative writing course and in doing so it seeks your own vital support.