Click here to view the seminar timetable.
Writing about real lives and experiences – your own, or someone else’s – is rewarding but also daunting. What if you have too much information, or your story involves other people? How do you fill the gaps? How do you keep the reader reading? What if your core purpose is to write creatively not about a life, but about a specific place or time, journey or sickness, idea or vocation? And when does storytelling tip over into fiction? In this course we will use practical exercises, examples, discussion and the sharing of writing to explore ways of imagining, researching, developing, shaping and voicing real-life material to form a narrative.
Tutor: Dr Emma Darwin’s memoir, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin (Holland House Books, 2019), explores her disastrous attempt to write a novel about her family. Her debut novel, The Mathematics of Love (Headline Review, 2006), was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ and other awards; her second, A Secret Alchemy (Headline Review, 2009), was a Sunday Times bestseller; Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction (John Murray Learning) was published in 2016. She has a PhD in Creative Writing (London) and was an Associate Lecturer at the Open University; she blogs at This Itch of Writing.
By looking at techniques used by published writers, we shall learn how we can bring our own stories to life. Practical exercises and discussion of each other's work will deepen our understanding of fundamentals such as character, description, plot, dialogue, point of view and suspense. We shall also experiment with different narrative forms. Last but not least, the course will explore how to rewrite and edit - vital skills for your creative writing in the future.
Tutor: Dr Lisa O’Donnell is Lecturer in Creative Writing at City University, London and Tutor in Creative Writing at Curtis Brown Creative. Her first novel, The Death of Bees, was published by Random House in 2012 and Harper Collins in 2013. Her second, Closed Doors, was published by Random House in 2013 and by Harper Collins in 2014. The Death of Bees was awarded The Commonwealth Book Prize in 2014 at The Hay Festival presented by the late John Le Carré. It has been translated into 19 languages and longlisted for the Barnes and Nobles Discover Great Writers Award in the US, and shortlisted for the Waterstones First Book Award and the Anobi First Book Award. It also won an ALEX AWARD in 2014 awarded by the American Library Association.
Advanced-level seminar options
Click here to view the advanced-level seminar timetable.
We tell stories about ourselves and others every day. Taking a close look at autobiography, memoir, and biography, we will discuss how these stories are told and the extent to which this has an impact on what we think we know about our own lives and those of others. The relationship between narrator and subject, facts and invention, transnational perspectives and questions of style and form, including online lives, in creative non-fiction life-writing will be explored. There will be opportunities to share our own writing and publication plans.
Tutor: Dr Jane McVeigh is Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton. She publishes on different aspects of life-writing. Her biography, Richmal Crompton, Author of Just William: A Literary Life (forthcoming 2022) considers Crompton’s life, the extent to which it influenced her writing and why she tried to keep so much of it hidden from view. In Collaboration with British Literary Biography: Haunting Conversations (Palgrave, 2017), explores the relationship between a biographer and his or her subjects.
Fiction: Turning Ideas Into Narratives
This course is aimed at those who are starting to write prose but do not yet feel fully confident. Using a variety of exercises and some examples from literature, we shall investigate the formation of character, and develop character arcs. Then we shall develop story and plot outlines together, planning scenes. Finally, we shall attempt to identify and discuss your unique strengths and preferences with a view to finding your USP - unique selling point.
Tutor: Dr Rachel Bentham has been Royal Literary Fellow at Bath University, and teaches for both Bristol and Bath Spa Universities. Her plays and short stories have been regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and her poetry is internationally published. She has recently completed a novel set in nineteenth-century Tahiti. A recent collection of haiku was called Let All Tongues Flower (Firewater Press, 2013); and her most recent collection, also of haiku, is titled Other Roads North (2019) and reached number one on Amazon.
Fiction: Fine-Tuning Your Writing
This course is designed to help you hone your craft as a writer and see your project through to its completion. We shall start by examining your aims and motivation, troubleshooting any problems you are having in maintaining commitment and progress. We shall explore how to give your writing maximum resonance and power, analysing how you can use voice and point of view, give your characters extra depth and weave together story strands, themes and images. Finally, we shall look at sending your work out into the world, with workshopping and advice on editing and pitching.
Tutor: Lorna Fergusson is an experienced writing coach and editor who has taught on various OUDCE programmes since 2002. She has republished her novel, The Chase, originally published by Bloomsbury. Her chapter on Pre-writing appears in Studying Creative Writing published by Frontinus. She has won the Historical Novel Society’s short story award with ‘Salt’ which appears in An Oxford Vengeance. She has been shortlisted for Macmillan’s Write Now Prize and was runner-up for the Mogford Prize in 2021. Her new book for creative writers, The Unputdownable Writer’s Mindset, will be published in 2022.
'I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering’ (Robert Frost). In this course we shall embark on unpredictable journeys of discovery, in particular exploring the realm of ambiguity and multiple levels of - sometimes conflicting - meaning. In collaborative exercises and individual work, as well as analysis of poems by established poets, we shall try to see what makes a vivid or striking poem, and how best to channel and shape the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings' (Wordsworth). The course will consist of taught seminars followed by workshopping of students' work.
Tutor: Matthew Barton has published three collections of poetry, Learning to Row (Peterloo Poets, 1999) Vessel (The Brodie Press, 2009), and Family Tree (Shoestring Press, 2016). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies also appeared this year from Shoestring. He has won many awards for his work including BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year (twice winner), second prize in the National Poetry Competition, joint second prize in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine and first prize in the Strokestown competition (Ireland). He is a tutor of poetry for the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing at OUDCE and the editor of Raceme Magazine.
This course is based on the study and creation of scripts for stage, screen and radio and on helping aspiring dramatists to develop a practice to engage with a golden age of script writing. Convincing characters in coherent plots, with a keen awareness of genre, is the basis of all good fiction. We shall explore such core elements, culminating in the submission of a short script. In the third week, students can workshop a script begun outside the course. Dramaturgy will be strictly focused to help writers to develop individual writing for performance projects, using processes that are ‘industry standard’.
Tutor: Shaun McCarthy is a professional stage and radio dramatist. He teaches for Oxford and other universities in the UK and Europe. He is currently writing a resetting of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, to May Eve in Oxford 1963, and co-producing a play based on seven after-show discussions about a play we never actually see.
The Short Story
This course encourages you to become a braver, more vital writer by experimenting with the short story form. As close to poetry as it is to prose, the short story is ideal for testing uncommon characters and situations, innovative structures and syntax. Unlock voices and creative techniques that will transform your writing practise. In the final week we will focus on intensive self-editing and how to transform a saggy, weak story into a powerful, shapely narrative, through close examination of language, rhythm, energy and pace. Perfecting short fiction is a great way to build your track record through publication in literary journals and entry to awards judged by agents and publishers.
Tutor: Susannah Rickards' collection of short fiction, Hot Kitchen Snow, drawn from experiences of growing up in North East England and working in East Africa, won the international Scott Prize in for best debut fiction collection in 2010, and is published by Salt. Her writing regularly appears in journals and anthologies and has been broadcast on BBC radio. She read English at Oxford University and now lives in Surrey, UK, where she writes and mentors new and established authors.
Teen/Young Adult Fiction
The teen/young adult fiction market has become one of the most exciting, and rewarding, areas of publishing. This course, run by an established novelist, will look at the way successful writers have chosen subjects and themes, explored fantasy and/or social realism, and found exactly the right voice to appeal to younger readers. It will also explore such key topics as planning, plot development and perspective. Students will be guided in the development of a story of their own, and there will be plenty of opportunities to workshop ideas and get feedback on stories as they progress.
Tutor: Julie Hearn is the critically acclaimed author of a number of novels for young adults, all published by Oxford University Press. Included are: Follow Me Down, shortlisted for the Branford Boase First Novel Award, The Merrybegot, shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Highland Children’s Book Award, and Rowan the Strange, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and described by The Guardian as “nothing short of extraordinary”. Her eighth novel, I am NOT adorable, written for younger children, was published by Jolly Heron in 2018 and a collection of short stories, The Princess Thing, is in the pipeline.