Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing

Course details

With expert tuition and small class sizes, this course gives keen writers the opportunity to explore and develop their craft.

Our two-year, part-time Diploma allows you to strengthen your ability in four major areas of literary activity — prose, poetry, drama and analytical reading — as well as the chance to specialise in the medium of your choice.

Study options: 

The face-to-face study option of the course offers a rich combination of seminars, one-to-one tutorials and group discussions, while the online option replicates this structure exactly, using a variety of media to offer a stimulating and challenging learning environment. On both study options, the chance to have your work read and analysed by a supportive, suitably skilled peer group is one of the great benefits of the course, offering fresh perspectives and insights on your writing. At the same time, we emphasise the importance of individual voice and vision, and there will be ample time for one-to-one, in-depth discussion of your work.

Many of our former students have had work accepted for publication during or after their time with us. A significant number have progressed to Creative Writing MAs at a range of universities, including Oxford University’s MSt in Creative Writing.

Open evening: Wednesday 2 December 2020

Join us on Wednesday 2 December 2020 from 7-9pm for a virtual open evening. This will give you the chance to meet the Course Director, Dr John Ballam, and discuss the course.

Please email undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk if you wish to attend.

Who is this course for?

We are looking for enthusiastic writers with a strong commitment to improving their craft, an awareness of literary areas and a degree of articulacy in discussing them, and the capacity for intellectual and imaginative development. Do be aware that this is an intensive and challenging course, and you will need to consider carefully whether you can offer the high level of commitment required. You should be prepared to devote at least 12 hours a week to your writing outside of timetabled classes.

You don’t need formal qualifications. You must already be active as a writer, but it is not essential to have been published. Our students come from many backgrounds, and typically range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Some have previous experience of literary study, but again, this is not essential.

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

How you will study

There are two study options for the Diploma in Creative Writing.

Option 1: 

Most terms you will attend four Saturday day schools, four per term in terms 1-5, two in term 6, which usually run from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm at Ewert House in Summertown, Oxford.

In the day schools you will take part in:

  • seminars, involving practical writing activities and lively group discussions;
  • group discussions of each other’s work. This is because the value of group activity as a catalyst for the creative imagination is a central tenet of the course.

You will also attend one Sunday day school each term, which is paired with one of the Saturday schools. At the Sunday sessions, visiting writers, speakers and tutors provide a wide range of voices to counterpoint and amplify the insights and opinions of the Diploma’s regular teaching team. You can hear readings by well-known writers from all genres, and engage in discussions with them, as well as enjoying related workshop sessions.

There is a six-day summer school (residence possible) at the end of the first year of study, in June, which provides an unparalleled opportunity to concentrate on living and working your craft. The summer school is a vibrant culmination to your first year, allowing dedicated time and space for your writing. Sessions for the whole group are balanced by individual sessions which allow you to focus on areas of your choice. There is time set aside for uninterrupted writing, and guidance will be given, as a group and individually, about how best to focus your efforts during the summer vacation so that you can get the most out of your second year.

The summer school is an integral part of the course and included in the course fee. It usually starts at lunchtime on a Saturday in June and finishes at lunchtime on the Friday. From Sunday, each day begins at 9.30 am and continues to 7.00 pm, with breaks for tea/coffee and lunch.

Accommodation, should you require it for the summer school, is not included in your tuition fee but it may be possible to book accommodation for that period subject to availability.

Option 2: 

The online study option for the course repeats the course structure exactly as outlined above, but instead of face-to-face day schools in Oxford, nearly all of the work you do will be through online media and resources. Each of the first five terms is comprised of ten weekly units focusing on individual aspects of the writer’s craft. Term 6 has five units instead of ten, mirroring the face-to-face option above. Each weekly unit has:

  • experiments and exercises in reading, critiquing and practical writing activities as well as  lively group discussions in focussed study forums wherein your tutor is an active participant;
  • group discussions in forums centred on each other’s work. This is because the value of group activity as a catalyst for the creative imagination is a central tenet of the course.

There is a three-week residential summer school at the end of the first year of study, which provides an unparalleled opportunity to concentrate on living and working your craft. This is an integral part of the course. Please note accomodation is not included in the course fee.

The summer school is a vibrant culmination to your first year, allowing dedicated time and space for your writing. Sessions for the whole group are balanced by individual sessions which allow you to focus on areas of your choice. There is time set aside for uninterrupted writing, and guidance will be given, as a group and individually, about how best to focus your efforts during the summer vacation so that you can get the most out of your second year. Nearly every day begins with a plenary lecture by a visiting speaker – most often these are professional writers in various media, but also other industry professionals such as agents, publishers and producers too. There are four two-hour face-to-face classes with your tutors every week. The programme also includes a range of optional activities, such as visits to theatre or similar events, tours of ‘literary/historical’ sites and so on.

Throughout the course, whichever study option you take, you will be producing your own work (see below for more details). For each assignment, there is usually a one-to-one tutorial with a specialist in this type of writing, making an unrivalled opportunity for focused, developmental discussion of your own work in progress. Remember that you will need to devote a considerable amount of time to your writing outside the timetabled sessions — you should plan for at least 12 hours each week.

The course in detail

Course content

Year 1 teaching

The first term provides an introduction to the three main genres: prose, poetry and drama. From the outset you will be able to engage in practical activity and wide-ranging group discussions of aims, techniques and issues.

All good writers must first be skilled readers. Developing your strengths as a critical, intelligent reader allows you to consider and articulate the ways in which various kinds of writing work. In the second term, you can refine and develop your analytical skills with three weeks of Reading for Writers, followed by seven weeks of close attention to the structures and approaches of prose fiction.

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

Year 2 teaching

Year 2 allows you to consolidate and broaden the advances in skill, confidence and analytical ability you will have made in Year 1.

Term 4 provides in-depth concentration on short and long fiction, while Term 5 focuses on advanced Reading for Writers (three weeks) and further high-level consideration of the craft of poetry. Term 6 gives students up-to-the-minute experience of how to write broadcast drama.

Tutorials

Each term you will have two tutorials of around 45 minutes each. These one-to-one sessions allow time for concentrated appraisal of your work in progress, giving you feedback on the strengths of your work as well as those areas which may need improvement. The tutorials focus on work you have produced in relation to the genres studied during that term. This means that as early as Term 1 you have considerable freedom of choice to engage with prose, poetry or drama (though you should expect to engage with more than one category in that term). For those students pursuing Option 1 (face-to-face) tutorials can be arranged in person or online; for those pursing Option 2 (online) all tutorials are online except for those at the summer school.

Space for specialisation

At the end of both years you will be able to work more extensively in your own area of interest, producing a portfolio of around 6,000 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, guided by a preliminary tutorial discussion of the content you are proposing, and a review tutorial on completion of the project.

Assessment

You will be assessed 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 of prose, 15 pages of drama, or about 100 lines of poetry. 
  • The end-of-year portfolio submission, which will be around three times this length.

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.

IT requirements

To study at this level you are expected to have some IT skills, access to a computer and the internet. Your course requires you to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment for course materials and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. Students need to have regular access to a computer and the internet, and some level of experience and skill including the use of Microsoft Word or similar word-processing package, email and internet browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.

The computer you use should meet our recommended minimum computer specification.

Teaching staff

The following staff are expected to be the Tutors on the course this year (*note – the teaching staff CAN vary sometimes depending upon tutors’ availability):

John Ballam is the author of two collections of poems, six stage plays, four screenplays, two novels 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 script consultant/screenwriter for several major film producers in Hollywood, London and Mumbai. His latest work is a novel entitled The Mary House, published in NYC in 2019.

Edward Clarke’s new collection of poems is called A Book of Psalms (Paraclete Press 2020). He presented Clarke’s Psalter, a documentary about writing these poems, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2018. His poems and translations, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in numerous journals and his pamphlet, Eighteen Psalms, was published by Periplum Poetry in 2018. He is also the author of two books of criticism, The Later Affluence of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (Palgrave Macmillan 2012) and The Vagabond Spirit of Poetry (Iff Books 2014). His teaching experience began almost twenty years ago at Trinity College, Dublin. Now he teaches creative writing and English literature to undergraduates and mature students at various colleges and in the Department for Continuing Education, Oxford University. He is also poetry editor of the magazine Cassandra Voices. 

Frank Egerton studied English at Keble College, Oxford, and from 1995 to 2008 reviewed fiction for publications that included The Times, TLS and The Financial Times. He is interested in both the close examination of fiction and how 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. Also in 2010, he founded the micropublishing imprint StreetBooks. In 2016 he was co-investigator on a digital project looking at narrative shapes and is now in the process of completing a memoir entitled Trust: A family story. He is a member of Common Room at Kellogg College. As well as teaching creative writing, he is a librarian and subject consultant with the Bodleian Libraries.

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 was 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.

Victoria Condie has taught for the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education since 2000 on its award-bearing courses, public programmes and summer schools. Her involvement with the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing began in 2012 when she taught the day school, Reading for Writers. As a medievalist by training, whose doctoral thesis looked at the way language is used in certain Old English prose sermons and verse, she is particularly aware of how writers craft language to their own persuasive ends. Currently she is a Bye-fellow of Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge where she teaches English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550, a paper which involves close linguistic analysis. She also teaches Practical Criticism and Critical Practice for the Cambridge English Tripos. Her current areas of research similarly concentrate on the way writers use language, especially in prose. Her most recent paper, which she is currently working on as a contribution to a publication on recreating Old English after 1500, investigates the rhythms and cadences of Old English as it is used to achieve a specific effect. In this instance, she is exploring the deliberate contrast in prose effected by Kenneth Grahame in the non-narrative chapters of The Wind in the Willows

Jeremy Hughes has published two novels – Wingspan (2013) and Dovetail (2011). He was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition and was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He also publishes short fiction, life writing and reviews. He studied for the Master’s in Creative Writing at Oxford.

Helen Jukes has published fiction and nonfiction in a range of print and online journals, including Caught by the River, BBC Wildlife, Resurgence, The Junket, and LITRO. In 2015 she was awarded the Skaftfell Artists Residency in Iceland, and in 2016 and 2017 the Alde Valley Festival Writing Residency. As a writing tutor Helen has worked with writers at every stage of their career, offering one-to-one manuscript advice and feedback and also delivering group workshops for the IDLER Academy, the University of Oxford, Crisis and Freedom from Torture. Her first book, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings, was published in the UK and Australia in July 2018 and will be published across Europe and the US in autumn 2018 and spring 2019. www.helenjukes.com 

Sue Leigh read English at London University and completed her doctorate at the University of Aberystwyth. Her collection, Chosen Hill, is published by Two Rivers Press (2018).  The TLS described it as ‘an intelligent and considered collection that pays homage to the act of paying attention’. Her work has been published in magazines and journals including AretéThe Spectator and the TLS.  She won the BBC Proms Poetry Prize with a poem inspired by the work of the composer, Peter Maxwell Davies. She reviews regularly for PN Review. She lives in the Windrush valley and spends much time walking. 

Shaun McCarthy has had a dozen stage plays professionally produced. He has written book and lyrics for two musicals, and has written single dramas and series for BBC Radio 4. He teaches a range of writing for performance courses at the Department and also teaches at the University of the West of England, and guest lectures at various universities in Europe. He runs his own production company, Hooligan Theatre Productions, to develop new works for stage with co-producing companies. He is currently writing a version of Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ reset to Oxford 1963, and developing a social drama/ghost story set on the Oxford canal.

Lucy Ayrton has an MA in Creative Writing from Warwick University, and is a novelist and performance poet. Her debut novel, One More Chance, the story of a young mother battling imprisonment and addiction, was published in 2018 with Dialogue Books and was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Award. Her next two novels will be published with Dialogue in 2021 and 2022. She wrote and performed two full-length spoken word shows at the Edinburgh Festival, which were respectively turned into a poetry pamphlet and a radio play. She also competed as a national finalist at the UK Poetry Slam. Lucy has taught creative writing at all levels up to undergraduate, and is currently a module leader at the London College of Creative Media.

Elisabeth McKetta has taught writing for Harvard Extension School for ten years and received their highest teaching award in 2018. She advises master’s theses; teaches courses on creative writing, business writing, the essay, and fairy tales; and has received numerous Dean’s Commendations for Distinguished Teaching Performance, based on student evaluations. She is a leader at Harvard in creating community in the online classroom, offering mentorship to her colleagues. She serves as a guest speaker and workshop leader for organizations and schools across the United States. Her PhD (Univ. Texas 2009) focused on the uses of myth and fairy tales to structure life writing, an idea that informs her work. She has published eight books including a biography, a writing guide, several books of poetry, a children's book, and her debut novel is due in March 2021. Her writing has won awards, been adapted to film, and been featured in over fifty journals. Elisabeth lived for three years in a tiny house with her family, an adventure she discusses in her TEDx talk, “Edit your life like a poem.”

Nicholas McInerny has been a professional and award-winning dramatist for thirty years with over 80 credits in TV, Stage, Radio, and now Film. For eight years he was one of the main writers on The Bill (Freemantle) and has also worked on Holby and Casualty (BBC). He has written over 30 radio plays and 15 stage plays. In 2018, he had a production of Belle Fontaine as part of the VAULTS FESTIVAL at Waterloo East Theatre, Project Managed the 4th UK International Radio Drama Festival at Herne Bay, and saw the premiere of his Webseries Pilot – Yourdadsgay – , adapted from his highly successful BBCR4 Series, How to Have a Perfect Marriage. Nicholas has taught at over 20 Universities throughout the UK, moderated for UEA, and written the online course for the Department – Writing Drama. He is Chair of the Radio Committee of the Writers Guild of Great Britain.

 

Study Skills

The course team will provide both academic and pastoral support, 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. This can help 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), 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 undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0)1865 270286.

Award and credit transfer

Students who successfully complete this two-year course will be awarded the Oxford University Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing. Outstanding performance will qualify for a Distinction. You will be invited to receive your Diploma at the annual Awards Ceremony of the Department for Continuing Education, held at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

The course carries 120 CATS points at second-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 5) . 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 Course Administrator on +44 (0)1865 270286.

Contact information

Course Director, Dr John Ballam +44 (0)1865 280885 john.ballam@conted.ox.ac.uk

For queries on applications and admissions: +44 (0)1865 270286 undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision and sources of funding: +44 (0)1865 280355 undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

For information about Study Skills courses: +44 (0)1865 280892 studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk

How to apply

Please click on the ‘Apply’ button which will automatically notify us that you want a link to the online application form. We will email you that link together with a code to waive the application fee, and guidance on completing and submitting your application.

You will need to upload the following documents as part of your application:

  • 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, and stating which pathway you are applying for.
  • proof of your English language ability if you are a non-native English-speaking applicant (see below for more information).

You will also need to provide contact details for one referee. If possible, your referee should be someone who can comment on your academic ability and background, but where this is not appropriate, please choose a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment and potential. A reference from a family member is not acceptable.

Your application will be treated in accordance with the University's Equality Policy. We fully endorse the Equality Policy and our admissions procedures are kept under regular review to ensure compliance with this policy.

The final decision on admission to the course rests with the Department. No correspondence will be entered into if your application is unsuccessful.

Fees

Option 1: 

The fee for Option 1 in 2021-22 is £2,938 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £5,031 (Overseas students). An option to pay the fee in instalments may be available.

Option 2: 

The fee for Option 2 in 2021-22 is £2,938 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £5,031 (Overseas students). An option to pay the fee in instalments may be available.

Please be aware that fees will usually increase annually.

Following an announcement by the Universities Minister on 23 June 2020, EU fee status students starting a course in 2021/22 will no longer be eligible to pay fees at the ‘Home’ rate and will instead be charged the higher ‘Overseas’ rate. This change will not apply to Irish nationals living in the UK or Ireland, who will continue to be charged fees at the ‘Home’ rate for the duration of their course. 

Information on financial support can be found on our website here.

Pathways

The Department for Continuing Education offers day and weekend courses, weekly classesonline short courses and summer schools in English literature, creative writing and film studies. In the Undergraduate programme, we offer the Foundation Certificate in English Literature, the Certificate of Higher Education, and the Diploma in Creative Writing. At Postgraduate level we offer an MSt in Creative Writing and MSt in Literature and Arts, along with the DPhil in Literature and Arts.

If you are planning on embarking on a new career as a result of your studies, or hope to progress in your current field, you can access help and advice through the University Careers Service.

English language requirements

Check information on the specific English language requirements for this course.

Applicants are required to have the Higher level scores