Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing

Key facts

Level: Undergraduate

Mode: Part-time

Duration: 2 years

Final Application deadline: Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing

The Diploma in Creative Writing offers significant opportunities to explore and develop your skills across four major categories of literary activity: prose, poetry, drama and analytical reading. There will also be opportunities to specialise in an area of writing of your own choosing. 

Providing two years of intensive part-time study and more than 200 contact hours, the Diploma will immerse you in a diverse range of literary projects. Seminars, group discussions, one-to-one tutorials and small class sizes (about twenty students per year) provide a rich foundation from which you will discover your particular strengths as a writer.

The Diploma, which began in 1998, is Oxford University’s only undergraduate course in creative writing. 

Open evening Thursday 23 February 2017

There will be an Open Evening on Thursday 23 February 2017 at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Squae, Oxford, OX1 2JA from 6:30pm-8:30pm. You are invited to visit the department , meet the Course Director and tutors, and discuss the course. If you would like to attend, please email ppaward@conted.ox.ac.uk.

What the course offers 

The course teaches the importance of individual voice and vision, and is deliberately geared to push you toward breadth and experimentation, rather than narrow specialisation. 

Group activity is seen as a catalyst for the creative imagination; discussion of each others' work, the work of published authors and theories of writing will take place with fellow students, course tutors, day and summer school tutors, speakers, and visiting readers. 

Skill in reading – and the ability to consider and understand the mechanics of writing – is core to the skill of writing. Students practise these skills in a supportive but rigorous, tutor-led environment.

By the end of the two years, students will have developed their creative writing skills to an appreciable degree, and gained a clearer understanding of their writerly strengths. Students who gain the Diploma will also be better equipped to make useful judgements about the work of other writers, and how it relates to their own.

Past students have had work accepted for publication, both during and after their time on the course. Many students who gain the Diploma have gone on to pursue MAs in creative writing at universities such as East Anglia, Warwick, Middlesex and Bath Spa. Exceptional students have been accepted onto Oxford University’s Master of Studies in Creative Writing.  

Who should apply

Formal qualifications are not essential. Students come from many backgrounds and range in age from their twenties to their seventies. Some have previous experience of literary study; all show evidence of prior activity (though not necessarily of publication) as a creative writer.

We look for evidence of a high level of commitment; an awareness of literary ideas and a degree of articulacy in discussing them; and a capacity for intellectual and imaginative development.

If you apply you will be asked to submit a small portfolio of your own work. Admission is selective, and would be based on your portfolio and an interview.

Course structure

The course offers a rich combination of teaching elements:

  • Workshop seminars, to be held on Monday evenings, from 7.15 - 9.45pm.
  • Day schools (held on a Sunday, one each term) 
  • A six-day Summer School (residence possible) at the end of the first year of study, in June
  • Individual tutorials (twice termly, each lasting for 45 minutes)


Year 1

The first term provides an introduction to the three main genres: prose, poetry and drama. From the outset there are opportunities to engage in practical activity and wide-ranging group discussions of techniques.

The second term makes a start on refining and developing analytical skills. There will be three weeks of 'reading for writers', followed by seven weeks of prose fiction, paying close attention to different structures and approaches to the form.

The third term concentrates on the challenges of writing poetry and stage drama.  

Year 2

The aim of the second year is to consolidate and broaden skills, confidence and analytical abilities accrued in Year 1. Term 4 provides in-depth concentration on short and long fiction; term 5 focuses on advanced 'reading for writers' (three weeks) and further high-level consideration of poetry. Term 6 gives students experience in writing broadcast drama.

Day schools

The day school in the first term focuses on how the activity of reading may be channelled to the practising writer’s creative advantage. This prepares the way for Reading for Writers seminars in Term 2. The four day schools in terms 2 to 5 make use of visiting readers, speakers, and external tutors to counterpoint and amplify concepts taught by the Diploma’s core teaching team. There are readings by, and discussions with, well-known writers from all genres, as well as related workshop sessions. The day school in the final term gives in-depth consideration to how the publishing world works, and how you as a writer can best operate within it.

Summer school

The summer school provides an unparalleled opportunity to concentrate as fully as possible on living and working your craft, and is a vibrant culmination to your first year of study. 

Sessions for the whole group are balanced by individual sessions which allow you to focus on areas of your own choice. There is time set aside for uninterrupted writing, and guidance given on how best to focus your efforts during the summer vacation to get the most out of your second year.

The summer school is an integral part of the course and included in the course fee. From Sunday, each morning begins at 9.30am and continues to 7pm, with breaks for tea/coffee and lunch. All students are expected to attend the summer school dinner. Although it is largely non-residential, you may book accommodation for an additional fee, subject to availability.


One-on-one tutorials are focused, developmental discussions of work in process, and concentrate on the strengths of each student’s work as well as on areas which may need improvement.

Tutorials centre on work produced in relation to the genres studied during that term. This means that as early as Term 1 students have considerable freedom of choice to write on prose, poetry or drama (though you should expect to write on more than one category in that term).

Space for specialisation

At the end of both years you will be given the opportunity to concentrate more extensively on your own preferred area of interest, through the production of a portfolio of around 4,000 words in the case of prose and drama, or around 200 lines of poetry.

Your second-year portfolio is allocated four term weeks for concentrated attention, It is guided by a preliminary tutorial discussion of the content you are proposing, and a review tutorial on completion of the project.

Calendar for year 1

The Monday evening seminars will be held from 7.15pm to 9.45pm at Ewert House, Ewert Place, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7DD.

The first class meeting, day schools and the summer school sessions will be held at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA.

Michaelmas Term 2017

First class session (at Rewley House) on Monday 25 September 2017.

Term dates to be determined shortly.

Hilary Term 2018

Term dates to be determined shortly.

Trinity Term 2018

Term dates to be determined shortly.

Day schools

Dates to be determined shortly.

Summer school

Dates to be determiend shortly.

The academic qualification

Students who successfully complete this two-year course will be awarded the Oxford University Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing.

The course carries 120 CATS points at second-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 5) in the Department’s Qualifications and Credit Framework. These credit points are widely recognised as credit for transfer to other Higher Education institutions, including the Open University. Opportunities vary for the transfer of credit, so students who are considering taking this course for this reason are advised to discuss the possibilities with the Department’s Registry on 01865 280355.


Assessment will be based on:

  • Two pieces of writing submitted each term. These are tied to that term’s seminar activities, and are each expected to be about 2,000 words in prose, or about 100 lines in the case of poetry. 
  • An extended portfolio of work submitted at the end of each year. These will reflect your particular interests, and each are expected to be around 4,000 words.
  • At least 75% of the total number of seminar hours. Attendance is expected at all six day schools and at the summer school.

As a general guide, you should be prepared to devote at least twelve hours a week to your writing outside the framework of the timetabled sessions.

If you have not recently been involved in assessment of this kind, do not regard it as a barrier. Tutors and other specialist staff will be happy to offer advice and guidance at any time during the course.

Course assignments are submitted online, and although the online submission system is straightforward and has step by step instructions, it does assume students have access to a pc and a sufficient level of computing experience and skill to upload their assignments.

Applicants should be familiar with the use of computers for purposes such as word-processing, using e-mail and searching the Internet.

IT requirements

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. In order to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet. Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.


Course director

John Ballam, PhD
John Ballam is the author of two collections of poems, six stage plays, a novel and numerous reviews, articles and academic works. His best-known title is his memoir The Road to Harmony (1999; newest edn. 2013). He has been a contributing author to a series of business biographies for the prestigious Italian consortium Fondazione Istud. He is also an Associate Manager of AEI Entertainment (Hollywood) and a script consultant/screenwriter for several major film producers in Hollywood, London and Mumbai.

Course tutors include

Matthew Barton, BEd: Poetry
Matthew Barton has published two collections of poetry, Learning to Row (Peterloo Poets 1999) and Vessel (Brodie Poets 2009), as well as editing and compiling an anthology for parents and children, The Winding Road (Hawthorn Press 2005). His next collection, to be published by Shoestring Press, is currently in preparation. Previously a tutor for many years on Bristol University’s Diploma in Creative Writing, he has also worked extensively as a teacher of creative writing in prisons, schools and other settings. Awards for his work include an Art’s Council Writer’s Award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He was twice winner of the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year award, won second prize in the National Poetry Competition, and most recently won joint second prize in the Hippocrates Award for poetry and medicine.

Patrick Collins: Drama (Stage)
Patrick Collins is an award-winning writer of some twenty-five works for the stage, ranging from commissioned large-scale community plays to, predominantly, those created for presentation in venues other than designated theatres.  Among his teaching involvements, he ran Creative Writing sessions for a four-year period at Aylesbury’s Queens Park Arts Centre, deputised as Buckinghamshire’s County Writer-in-Residence in 1995, mentored, through Southern Arts, two Milton Keynes based authors working on theatrical texts, and he was writing tutor for Ithica’s Inter-Generational project in Windsor in 2000.  He has founded and directed four stage companies, the current one of which - Broken Lace - exists to workshop texts-in-progress by new, exploratory, dramatists.

Frank Egerton, BA: Fiction
Frank Egerton studied English at Keble College, Oxford, and from 1995 to 2008 reviewed fiction for publications that included The Times, TLS and Financial Times. He is interested in both the close examination of fiction and how recent technologies such as ebooks and print-on-demand are changing the publishing industry and offering fresh opportunities to writers. He is a member of the Society of Authors and AWP, and is a former editor of the Oxford Writer. He was chair of Writers in Oxford from 2008 to 2010. His first novel The Lock was published in paperback in 2003, the ebook version having been an Independent e-Book Awards finalist in Santa Barbara in 2002. His second novel Invisible was published in 2010. He recently founded the micro-publishing imprint StreetBooks, and in 2013 published A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping. He is working on his third novel, entitled Multitrack. Website: www.frankegerton.com;
blog: www.justthoughtsnstuff.com.

Beatrice Hitchman, BA, MA, MA: Short fiction
Beatrice Hitchman read English and French at Edinburgh University and then completed an MA in Comparative Literature. After a stint in France, she returned to the UK to work as a film editor, also writing and directing short films which have been screened at festivals worldwide. In 2009 she graduated from the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing, winning the Greene & Heaton Prize for Best Novel. Her debut novel, Petite Mort, was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2013. It has been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club First Novel Prize, and adapted on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour as a ten-part serial starring Honor Blackman. She has a special interest in the short form and its development in the current era of publishing: her short fiction has appeared in journals and magazines including Stylist and Chroma Literary Journal.

Jeremy Hughes, BA, MSt (Oxon): Long Fiction
Jeremy Hughes has published two novels, Dovetail (2011) and Wingspan (2013). He was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition and his poetry was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He has published two pamphlets - breathing for all my birds (2000) and The Woman Opposite (2004) - and has published poetry, short fiction, memoir and reviews widely in British and American magazines. He is a graduate of the Master’s in Creative Writing at Oxford.

Jenny Lewis, MA, MPhil: Poetry
Jenny Lewis’s published works include When I Became an Amazon (Iron Press 1996/ Bilingua, Russia 2002) and Fathom (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet 2007). Her plays for young people include Fat Pig – the Musical at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, Me and My Dinosaur, at the Polka Theatre, London, Map of Stars, a poetry and rock musical for the Oxford Youth Theatre and a verse drama After Gilgamesh, for Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, published by Mulfran Press in 2011. Mulfran Press also published her pamphlet of poems in English and Arabic, with the Iraqi poet, Adnan al Sayegh, Now as Then, in April 2013. Her next collection, Taking Mesopotamia, is forthcoming from Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, in March 2014. She teaches poetry and verse drama at Oxford University and is a Writing Tutor at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford where she is currently working as dramaturg on the April 2014 production Stories for Survival: a Re-telling of the Arabian Nights.

Shaun McCarthy, BA, MA, PGCE
Shaun McCarthy is a playwright, mainly for for stage and radio though he has a feature film script optioned. His thirteen professionally produced stage plays have been performed by numerous theatres and touring companies in the UK. He currently runs his own production company, Hooligan Theatre Productions. Recent stage productions include ‘The Hooligan Nights’ (Redgrave Theatre Bristol 2014), ‘Collider’ (Old Fire Station Oxford 2015) and ‘Scrumpy and Western, a musical’ (co-written, produced by Hooligan Theatre Productions 2015). He has taught many short and part-time courses in writing for performance and Oxford and Bristol universities and is a is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

Robert Ritter, BA, DPhil: Reading for Writers
Robert Ritter is the author of several editorial reference works, including the Oxford Style Manual; he has been a contributor to many books on printing and publishing. His scholarly interest lies in the mediation and dissemination of literature, and its effects on the creative process. He teaches topics in English language and literature at Oxford; previously he spent twenty years as an editor in New York and Oxford. Robert has an honours degree in English and Creative Writing, and a DPhil in English Language and Literature. He is also a communications consultant and director of Oxford Style Ltd.   

Student support and study skills

The course team will provide both academic and pastoral support to students on the course, including guidance on the development of effective study skills for students returning to study after a break. Additional support is available at a Departmental level by the Widening Access Assistant, who can be contacted on +44(0)1865 280355 or via email at student.support@conted.ox.ac.uk.

Before the start of the Michaelmas (autumn) term, we offer an ‘Award-Bearing Course Preparation Study Day’ focusing on Academic Reading and Writing, which is free for students enrolled on our Award-Bearing courses. Students gain the confidence to read and follow academic assignment instructions and to respond to essay questions; and it discusses how to manage your time effectively, and how to locate and cite sources.

The Department also runs a programme of Study Skills workshops and weekly classes (available at a reduced rate to current students), which are designed to enable you to develop and improve the skills needed for effective study. If you have any questions about ‘Award-Bearing Course Preparation Study Day’ or any Study Skills course, please email ppweekly@conted.ox.ac.uk or telephone +44(0)1865 280892.

Contact information

Course Director, Dr John Ballam 01865 280898 john.ballam@conted.ox.ac.uk
If you need specific advice on your suitability for the course before making your application.

Award Programme Office 01865 280154 / 270369
For queries on applications and admissions ppaward@conted.ox.ac.uk

Student Advice 01865 280355
For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision, residential category and sources of funding: registry@conted.ox.ac.uk

Study Skills 01865 280892
For information about Study Skills courses: studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk

Day & Weekend School Office 01865 270368 / 270380
For information on day schools and weekend courses: dayweek@conted.ox.ac.uk

OUDCE Reception 01865 270360
For general enquiries about OUDCE or to leave messages if other staff are not available.

Libraries and computing facilities

Registered students receive an Oxford University card, valid for one year at a time, which acts as a library card for the Departmental Library at Rewley House and provides access to the unrivalled facilities of the Bodleian Libraries. These include the central Bodleian, major research libraries such as the Sackler Library, Taylorian Institution Library, Bodleian Social Science Library, and faculty libraries such as English and History.

Students also have access to a wide range of electronic resources including electronic journals, many of which can be accessed from home.

Students on the course are entitled to use the Library at Rewley House for reference and private study and to borrow books. The loan period is normally two weeks and up to eight books may be borrowed. Students will also be encouraged to use their nearest University library. More information about the Continuing Education Library can be found at www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/library where there is also a link to the Bodleian Libraries.

The University card also provides access to facilities at Oxford University Computing Service (OUCS), 13 Banbury Road, Oxford. Computing facilities are available to students in the Students’ Computing Facility in Rewley House and at Ewert House, both of which operate extended hours and a booking system.

How to apply

You will need to submit:

  •  the application form
  • a reference 
  • a sample of your work: approximately 2000 words of prose fiction or dramatic dialogue; or about half a dozen poems
  • a statement of between 300 and 400 words explaining why you wish to enrol on the course.

Your referee should ideally be a person who can comment on your suitability for the course, and on any academic or writerly achievements. Where this is not appropriate, you should name a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment to writing, and potential for development. A reference from a family member is not acceptable. Please read carefully the instructions on the reference form.

When you have received your reference, return it in the sealed envelope along with your application form and your sample of work by the first application date of 9 March 2017, by the second application date of 11 May 2017.  It's best to submit your application as soon as possible. Late applications may be considered if there are still places available. 

Applications should be sent to:

The Award Programme Administrator
OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JA 

Please remember that this is an intensive and challenging course, and you will need to offer a high level of commitment. You should be prepared to devote at least twelve hours a week to your writing, outside of the timetabled sessions.

For general enquiries, please contact Kristine MacMichael, the Award Programme Administrator, on 01865 280154, email kristine.macmichael@conted.ox.ac.uk.

Specific questions relating to your suitability for the course should be emailed to the Course Director, John Ballam, on john.ballam@conted.ox.ac.uk


The fee for 2017-2018 is

  • £2,500 (EU students) or
  • £4,335 (non-EU students),

You may pay by installment. There is a non-refundable deposit of £200 required on acceptance of a place.

Your course fee includes all tuition, participation in the six day schools (including lunch) and, on a non-residential basis, the summer school. Lunches and the final dinner during the summer school are also included in the fee.

Accommodation, should you require it for the summer school, is not included in your tuition fee. It may be possible, space permitting, to book accommodation for that period at the going rate.

There may be a small fee increase for the second year of this course, 2018-2019.

Non-EU students

This course is not suitable for non-EU students who do not already live in the UK before the course begins. For information, refer to https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-border-agency.


Funding and financial assistance


MSt in Creative Writing

A two-year, part-time master's offering a unique combination of high contact hours, genre specialization, and critical and creative breadth.

Terms and conditions

Terms and conditions for applicants and students on this course

Sources of funding

Information on financial support