Virginia Woolf said, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ – but Student Finance England will probably lend you enough cash for an undergraduate degree and we have plenty of socially-distanced study spaces for writing academic prose, or fiction!
Poor, dear Virginia Woolf couldn’t receive a degree for her studies at King’s, from 1897 to 1901. However, things have vastly improved since her time here, and now students of all genders can sit inside a building named after Mrs. Woolf, studying creative writing as part of an English degree.
Although King’s College London doesn’t offer a degree named Creative Writing, you are able to take both creative writing and poetry writing modules on the English BA. The flexibility of the English Literature programme means that you can tailor your BA to suit your own interests; be that writing about contemporary social theory or Victorian novels, or writing your own poetry. There are second-year modules in writing poetry, prose and creative non-fiction, an immensely popular genre that makes accessible many complex subjects. There are also options in third-year to take these skills further, with advanced poetry and fiction workshops.
As is generally the case in the English department, second-year modules are taught through one lecture and one seminar each week. When I studied Prose Fiction, the lectures introduced me to so many smatterings of texts by brilliant authors, many of whose work I have subsequently revisited and explored more fully. The module highlighted to me a technical means of analysing writing, somewhat different to the thematic or linguistic analyses often employed in other areas of literary study. It was hugely informative, and also inspiring! I found it exciting to consider the constituent parts of great literature, from English works and beyond – especially in relation to improving my own writing.
In the seminars, or workshops, we did a combination of brief exercises – I remember being asked to describe a room containing a corpse, without mentioning the body – and analysing one another’s work. That was initially a bit nerve-wracking, but we muddled through on very much even footing and quickly became comfortable! We each took a turn to write a one thousand word story on a given, but broad, theme: for instance, mine was something from that week’s news. Before the workshop, this was emailed to the seminar leader and the students in your group, who would then come prepared to give feedback. People’s offerings, in stories and feedback, were gloriously varied. I found it a rare and valuable opportunity to gain so many people’s opinions of one piece of work. As is often the case in third-year, creative writing modules dispense with lectures in favour of a two hour seminar, offering a more discursive experience. For our assessments, which were graded by tutors according to a marking criteria that is separate to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities’ usual brief, we wrote two short stories. I found this added variety to my usual workload of essays in a way that was really helpful and mentally enlivening. I also wrote stories that I just wouldn’t have thought to write, were it not for confines of the questions we were set, but of which I’m still proud. I recently re-edited one of my assessed stories, to read aloud at an independent writing club. The module helped me to make time for a kind of writing I’d been wanting and meaning to explore for some time. Some of the creative writing modules get you writing even more regularly. For instance, the poetry courses require students to write a poem each week; assessment is of a portfolio of work, selected from those weekly creations.
Perhaps even more than the creative writing modules themselves, it’s important to remember that creativity is an inherent part of any English studies. Many academic modules have a creative writing option for assessment – for a module called Experimental Theatre, I wrote a theatre review and actually submitted the following cartoon! My grades for this were partly based on my research and analysis, but also on the quality of my writing and the imagination I utilised to conceive my somewhat zany ideas. Our use of the written word is a key element of all English assessment and all of my feedback has improved my writing, leaving me more able to say exactly what I mean.
My Prose Fiction efforts to envisage how a character might make certain movements, figuring out how to articulate that process – those contemplations of people in language have helped me to lift other works of prose, poetry and drama from their respective pages. Studying creative writing has made me better at reading, relatedly, my wider literary studies impacted on my wider writing. For me, English at King’s has provided an explosion of inspiration, in the forms of texts and ideas – English and Creative Writing studies can’t help but inform one another, I think. You might not always feel like this during an English degree, Virginia also said ‘it is impossible to read too much.’
To explore the King’s English Department page, click here
To read Isabel’s blog post, ‘5 Things I love about studying English’, click here
To read some lockdown reading recommendations, click here