Click here to view the intermediate-level 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.
In this course you will explore who you are as a writer, reflecting on the stories that you see and hear in the stuff of everyday life and thinking about what you, uniquely, can bring to those stories that you choose to tell. We will discover how to depict fictional worlds, characters, relationships, situations and sequences of events so that they seem ‘real’ but at the same time sing on the page and make for compelling reading. To this end, we will be spending our time on writing exercises and discussion - sharing our work, ideas and experiences as and when we are comfortable to do so.
Tutor: Suzannah Dunn has published two collections of short fiction and twelve novels, seven of them historical, one of which, The Confession of Katherine Howard, was a Richard and Judy Pick. Her thirteenth novel, Levitation for Beginners, will be published by Little, Brown in 2024. She has decades of experience as a tutor of creative writing in all kinds of settings with writers of all levels of confidence and skills. For five years she was Director of Manchester University’s MA in Novel Writing, and is now a tutor and mentor at Curtis Brown Creative.
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 influences what we think we know about our own lives and those of others. The course will focus on narrative prose. It will provide an opportunity for students to work on an idea for a life story or an existing project. Students will be encouraged to work on their own writing during the course. We will discuss the challenges we all face as writers and how to address them. There will be opportunities to explore contemporary examples of life-writing that challenge traditional autobiographical and biographical narratives and the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. We will address questions about form and style that help us to decide what kind of narrative we want to write, whether it be a book, an article, or a short life story.
Tutor: Dr Jane McVeigh publishes on different aspects of life-writing and twentieth-century women writers. Her most recent book is Richmal Crompton, Author of Just William: A Literary Life (Palgrave 2022). In Collaboration with British Literary Biography: Haunting Conversations (Palgrave 2017), explores the nature of contemporary biography and the haunting 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.
Middle-Grade and Teen/Young Adult Fiction
The middle grade and teen/young adult fiction markets are 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.
Poetry: Form and Function
Have you ever been ambushed by the emotional power of a poem and wondered how it is that just a few words on the page can elicit a visceral response in you? Poetry is a multi-dimensional art form, where content, sound and shape work in synergy to power the twin engines of thought and feeling. In this series of interactive workshops we shall take apart a selection of inspiring poems and examine the nuts and bolts to discover how some of our finest poets do it. We shall take our findings into our own writing, set up some experiments with form and let the conscious combination of imagination and craft take our poems to new and unexpected places.
Tutor: Jacqueline Saphra is a poet, playwright and teacher. Recent collections are All My Mad Mothers, shortlisted for the 2017 T.S. Eliot prize and Dad, Remember You are Dead (2019), both from Nine Arches Press. A Bargain with the Light: Poems after Lee Miller (2017) and Veritas: Poems after Artemisia (2020) were published by Hercules Editions. One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets was published by Nine Arches Press in 2021 and her fifth collection will be out in July 2023. She is a founder member of Poets for the Planet and teaches and mentors for The Poetry School.
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 has had over a dozen stage plays professionally produced and a range of radio dramas broadcast. His adaptations include J.M. Synge’s The Aran Islands (BBC R4 Classic Serial), a stage version of A Christmas Carol that was a critique of David Cameron’s ‘big society’ and had a happy, unexpected ending; and a re-set of Strindberg’s Miss Julie to Oxford 1963. He teaches a range of creative writing courses for OUDCE, runs Hooligan Theatre Productions to develop his new plays and co-runs the writing events and residential writers’ retreats company ‘Stage and Page' in the UK and Italy.
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.
Writing the Past
In this course for lovers of historical fiction, we shall explore the special challenges of this rewarding and immensely popular genre. We shall study some wonderful examples from current historical novels and use them as a basis for developing the unique skills which this genre demands. Friendly workshops will support students in developing their ideas and gaining the experience they need to create original and compelling fiction, and those ready to approach the publishing industry will gain useful insights into the paths to publication.
Tutor: Dr Celia Brayfield is a lifelong lover of historical fiction. She is the author of nine novels and six non-fiction books, including Writing Historical Fiction: A Writers' and Artists' Companion (Faber, 2016). Her fiction has ranged from contemporary social novels to Sunday Times and New York Times No1 bestsellers. She teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University, mentors emerging novelists through the Gold Dust organisation and has also led courses for the Arvon Foundation, the Ty Newydd Writers' Centre and The Guardian Masterclass series.