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The Road to Writing Renown



The Road to Writing Renown

If you needed an operation would you put yourself into the hands of a surgeon who didn’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and qualifications? It’s highly unlikely. Yet when we choose a novel to read we don’t question the level of education of the author.

How many people have written successful books without first achieving recognised literary qualifications?  The answer is too many to mention here and some of them are well known literary names.


Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015. British science fiction and fantasy novelist, famous for his Disc World series, he finished his formal education at high school. He is quoted as saying ‘I didn't go to university. Didn't even finish A levels. But I have sympathy for those who did.’

With sales of over 85 million books in 37 languages under his belt, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in 2009.  He has also won numerous other awards for his work. Surprisingly only a handful of his work has made it to the big screen.


George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950. An Irish–British playwright, critic and novelist, he attended four schools and hated them all.  He finished his education at high school level and from then on taught himself. He later wrote ‘Schools and schoolmasters are prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents. Unsuccessful as a novelist he turned playwright and wrote over 60 plays. Perhaps his most famous play was Pygmalion which was turned into a movie of the same name and also a famous musical entitled My Fair Lady.

Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Ernest Hemmingway 1899-1961 was an American novelist, short story writer and journalist. His best known works are, A Farewell to Arms,For Whom the Bells Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, the latter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He left high school and continued his education by reading anything he could lay his hands on, for hours at a time in his bed. Much of his work inspired films. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.


Jane Austen, English Novelist 1775 – 1817. She wrote Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and others. Her schooling ended when she was 10 years old because her family could no longer afford the boarding school fees. The remainder of her education came from reading.  Jane began writing very soon after finishing her schooling.

Her novels have rarely been out of print and all of them have been turned into films or adapted for television production.


Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012. American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet, he graduated from high school and ended his education at that point. He said: ‘Libraries raised me. I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library 3 days a week for 10 years.’

Ray Bradbury is famous for his novels Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.  Many of his novels have been made into movies and TV series’.

He was nominated for many awards for his works and won over 20 of them. In 1992 a newly discovered asteroid was named 9766 Bradbury in his honour.


Doris Lessing 1919 – 2013. British-Zimbabwean novelist, poet, playwright librettist, biographer and short story writer. She declared her intention to be a writer at the age of 11. At 14 she left school due to illness and never went back.  She said: "I didn't have any proper education or qualifications, so I had to be a writer. What else would I have done?"

Doris wrote over 25 novels of different genres covering social issues, psychosocial issues and some science fiction. Her novels include: The Grass is Singing, The Golden Notebook, Shikasta, Alfred and Emily and The Good Terrorist . Her work has inspired a number of films and she was awarded numerous honours. In 2007 she became the eleventh woman and the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2008 The Times ranked her fifth of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.


Charles John Huffam Dickens 1812-1870. Recognised as a literary genius, he was probably the greatest novelist of the Victorian era despite the fact that he never won any awards for his writing. His schooling ended when he was 15 due to the fact that his father was sent to debtor’s prison and he was forced to work to help his family.  The terrible working conditions he suffered influenced much of his work.

Charles Dickens published a number of major novels. The titles are so renowned that I really don’t need to mention them.  He also wrote novellas short stories, a handful of plays and several non-fiction books. His novel Oliver Twist was turned into a very successful musical, Oliver. Time Out magazine ranked it the 69th best British film ever.


It would seem that to be a successful writer, all you really need is a passion for the language you write in, determination, a vast amount of imagination, a thick skin and the ability to spin a darned good yarn.

Whether you swotted for a Creative Writing BA at university, or not, where will your writing road take you?


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