MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction (Part time)

"My year at UEA was on of the best of my life"

In their words

Ian McEwan, Creative Writing Graduate and Booker Prize winner

Article

UEA has announced the launch of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW), which contains the extensive personal archive of the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, and literary material from other prominent authors such as Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw, Malcolm Bradbury, Amit Chaudhuri, J.D. Salinger, Roger Deakin, Lorna Sage, WG Sebald and the playwright Snoo Wilson.

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The MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction is for anyone seeking to develop their writing in the increasingly diverse and exciting genre of non-fiction.

UEA is the country’s leading university for the teaching of Creative Writing. In 2018/19 the MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction will be taught by Kathryn Hughes, Ian Thomson and Helen Smith, all of whom have won major literary awards. This part-time course is taken over two years, and the seminars are timetabled to be convenient to those who wish to travel from London.

During the two years of study you will meet agents and publishers, hear talks by distinguished non-fiction writers and write a piece to be published in the annual student anthology.

Overview

Literary non-fiction is currently undergoing rapid change and reformation. Instead of the old ‘cradle to grave’ narratives of well-known literary or political figures, our best writers are now experimenting with new forms and subjects. Nature writing, the personal essay, food journalism, art criticism and memoir are all part of this exciting, emerging mix. This part-time MA programme is for anyone who wants to develop their own writing in any of these genres, whilst studying in the UK’s leading university for the teaching of creative writing.

Teaching is by three-hour seminars during which you will discuss a recent work of non-fiction and workshop your own writing. You will take two modules each year, and in the second year submit a dissertation at the end of the summer.

Course structure

At the heart of this Master’s programme are three compulsory modules: Writing Lives and Writing the First Person, taken in the first year, and The Life of the Book, taken in year two. These will allow you to explore the form and function of biography and creative non-fiction, via discussion of a range of influential examples both old and new. As well as examining the many forms that autobiography and biography may take, you will address practical matters such as how to write a proposal, conduct research and take a project through towards publication.

In the second year you will take an additional fourth module, which you may choose from the wide range available within the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. These include The Theory and Practice of Fiction; The Art of Short Fiction; Adaptation and Interpretation; and Living Modernism, although please note that the choice of modules may change from year to year.

In the summer semester (May–June) of your second year you will have one-to-one sessions with a tutor as you work on your dissertation – a 15,000-word piece of non-fiction.

We also invite leading non-fiction writers to give seminars on aspects of their craft. Recent guests include Kate Summerscale, Alexander Masters, Richard Holmes, Olivia Laing and Philip Hoare. These are supplemented by one-to-one tutorials with your module leader. In most years students also choose to set up informal reading and writing groups among themselves. 

We encourage you to take advantage of UEA’s vibrant literary culture. Each year a dozen or so leading novelists, poets and non-fiction writers visit Norwich to take part in our autumn and spring literary festivals. You will also have the opportunity to meet some of the UK’s leading agents and publishers, who make regular visits to the University to give talks.

We publish an anthology of our students’ writing each year and distribute it to a key list of editors, agents and critics. In addition, you will be encouraged to post your writing on UEA’s Creative Writing website, a new platform designed to showcase the best work emerging from students of Creative Writing. 

Assessment

In addition to the final dissertation, submitted in September of year two, each compulsory module is assessed on a 5,000-word essay.

Course tutors and research interests

All our teaching staff are acclaimed writers. Kathryn Hughes’s work includes George Eliot, the Last Victorian, which won the James Tait Black Prize, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton, which was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and, most recently, Victorians Undone, a study of celebrated body parts. Ian Thomson’s Primo Levi won the W. H. Heinemann Award and his book about Jamaica, The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica, was awarded the Ondaatje Prize in 2010. Helen Smith is the winner of a Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction and the Biographers’ Club Prize for her book The Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett.

Where next?

Each year a couple of students will go on to publish with a major house. Many others will produce work for smaller, more specialist publishers. Some choose to stay with us to undertake a PhD, working on a full-length project; others return to their original discipline (teaching, journalism, law) with the intention of integrating what they have learned into their practice. 

Frequently asked questions

Who does biography and creative non-fiction at UEA?

You should have a bachelor’s degree, but this doesn’t have to be in any particular subject: our previous students have included doctors, barristers, teachers, therapists and an asparagus farmer. We also take younger people who have just completed their first degree. What we are looking for is evidence of interest in and engagement with non-fiction of all kinds (this might include memoir, travel writing, nature writing, sports biography and food journalism).

What kinds of things do students write about?

There are no guidelines regarding what you should write about: it can be anything and everything, from football or murderers to wine, poets, saints and music.

How many students do you recruit each year?

We generally accept between 12 and 16 students each year.

Can I talk to someone before I put in my application?

Yes, if you have any questions please email the course Director, Helen Smith (helen.smith@uea.ac.uk) in the first instance.

Course Modules 2017/8

Students must study the following modules for 40 credits:

Name Code Credits

WRITING LIVES

RESERVED FOR STUDENTS ON ROUTES T1Q325102/T2Q325202 MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION. This module explores the many ways in which writers have grappled with getting 'life' and 'lives' down on paper. We will look at samples of writing from many different genres, for example, travel, nature, music and sports writing. Students will be encouraged to find their own special subjects, to study comparative non-fiction and to look at the many new experimental approaches that make biography and creative non-fiction such flourishing phenomena today. During the workshop you will be expected to submit your own creative work and critique the work of other members.

LDCE7001A

20

WRITING THE FIRST PERSON

CORE MODULE FOR STUDENTS ON THE MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION ONLY. This module looks at autobiography in the broadest sense, taking in memoir, nature writing, travel writing, reportage and essay. We'll be talking about the history and variety of first-person narratives, the ways writers reveal themselves in their words, how autobiography keeps to and departs from the facts, the importance of form and structure, and about non-fiction's relationship to novels and poems. Seminars will feature practical writing exercises as well as readings and discussions.

LDCE7005B

20

Students must study the following modules for 120 credits:

Name Code Credits

CREATIVE WRITING AND RESEARCH SEMINARS

This 10-credit module consists of a series of lectures by Creative Writing and Critical faculty of direct relevance to the practical aspects of researching and writing a major piece of creative work. Attendance is compulsory.

LDCC7006B

10

ENGLISH LITERATURE DISSERTATION

Students are required to write a dissertation of a length as specified in their MA Course Guide on a topic approved by the Course Director or other authorised person.

LDCE7015X

90

THE LIFE OF THE BOOK

RESERVED FOR STUDENTS ON ROUTES T1Q325102/T2Q325202 MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION This module will follow the arc of a biography or work of creative non-fiction from inception to reception. How do you choose a subject, determine a book's structure, find a voice and build character? What about the often daunting question of research? Once the book is written, how do you set about writing a proposal, finding a publisher and what happens during the editorial process? The emphasis will be practical, with a significant workshop element.

LDCE7003A

20

Students will select 20 credits from the following modules:

Name Code Credits

ADAPTATION AND INTERPRETATION

Critical reading and creative writing meet in the activity of adapting a text in one medium for presentation in another. The module focuses on dramatic adaptation, establishing a foundation in basic theory and then focusing on readings or original works and screenings. Discussions probe the choices offered by original texts and explore the possibilities and limitations inherent in different dramatic forms. In the later sessions, students will have the opportunity to workshop an adaptation for a final project.

LDCC7010B

20

EAST ANGLIAN LITERATURE

Throughout the medieval and Early-Modern periods Norwich was one of England's most important cities - probably second only to London - and East Anglia one of the country's culturally liveliest and richest areas. This module explores the literature of these periods in its material contexts (the region's prosperity and power may still be seen in its architecture and in the rich holdings of its libraries and museums) and asks whether there was a specifically East Anglian cultural tradition. The module explores East Anglia's rich dramatic traditions, its devotional literature and practices (in orthodox forms and in those that brush against the heterodox), and, insistently, the manner in which its literature participates in its broader social and cultural worlds. The module is compulsory for students on the Medieval and Early Modern Textual Cultures MA but may also appeal to those with an interest in the cultural traditions of Norwich and East Anglia or, more generally, in the literature of place.

LDCE7002B

20

FICTION 'AFTER' MODERNISM: RE-READING THE 20TH CENTURY

Fiction 'After' Modernism: Re-reading the 20th Century responds to the current reassessment of critical narratives about twentieth century fiction by restoring significance to a critically awkward phase of twentieth-century writing. Focusing roughly on the years between 1930 and 1980, we examine what it meant for mid-century writers to work in the wake of modernism. By thinking about mid-century fiction in terms of its own historical and aesthetic awkwardness, we will challenge the formalist distinction between experimental and realist fiction that has dominated the most influential work on the mid-century novel, and which has also stamped many post-war writers as irretrievably minor. In a similar spirit, we will explore how writers worked in the 'between' of modernism and postmodernism. Rather than produce a cohesive narrative about the period, we will examine how our writers engage with, and disturb, their own literary, historical and critical inheritances. This module is an opportunity to participate in an emerging critical conversation that is carving out new directions in literary study. Working through the period with special attention to previously marginalized (and in some cases forgotten) writers, alongside a selection of critical and theoretical texts, we will examine the ways our writers accede to, challenge, and disrupt our critical understanding of fiction after modernism. By re-reading the 20th century, this module offers an opportunity to participate in - and indeed contribute to - a still emerging critical conversation that is redefining twentieth century literary studies. Recent critics have expressed an "invariable sense of disappointment" with the aesthetic failures of fiction written 'after' modernism: but it is precisely the fiction these critics have neglected to read critically that is leading other scholars to radically re-think the stories critics have told about the period. The critical re-evaluation of neglected writers is pushing twentieth century scholarship in new directions, and creating new debates and dialogue about how we read the twentieth century. In this module, we join the conversation.

LDCE7012A

20

LIVING MODERNISM

A COMPULSORY MODULE FOR STUDENTS ON THE MA IN MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY WRITING. This core module will introduce students to Modern and Contemporary Writing. It does so through the idea of 'Living Modernism', highlighting the worldliness of modern writing and exploring modernism's continuities in contemporary culture. After an introductory session focusing on some recent critical attempts to assert modernism's continuing relevance, students will spend five weeks reading James Joyce's Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse alongside critical essays exploring the texture and the worldly contexts of these modernist experiments. The second half of the semester will consider the living legacy of worldly modernism. Starting with a consideration of the 1930s and 1940s as key decades in literary-historical accounts of the 'end' of modernism, we will consider Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as different responses to the radical energies of modernist culture. This is partly a question of literary influence: Has modernism degenerated into a 'host of distinct private styles or mannerisms' as Fredric Jameson argued? And what is its significance for the critical theory of Jacques Derrida, Fredric Jameson, Giorgio Agamben and others? The other focus is on the persistent 'worldliness' of modern writing, as it continues to tarry with ideas of law and justice. With this in mind, we end the module by turning to Roberto Bolano's epic 2666, a contemporary novel with ambitions to compare with those of Joyce. The questions of whether, how and where modernism continues to live--which have elsewhere been posed as drily academic questions about where we draw the boundary lines between literary periods or movements--are taken here to have an urgent aesthetic, ethical and political significance for our contemporary moment. Authors explored will include James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, George Orwell, Jacques Derrida, Roberto Bolano, and Giorgio Agamben.

LDCE7007A

20

LUDIC LITERATURE

Play, or the ludic, is often listed as one of the main characteristics of postmodernist art, but what is meant by play is usually left no more clearly defined than what is meant by postmodernism. This course seeks to trace the evolution of leading postmodernist styles and themes, especially ludic ones, back to their origins in Joyce, Kafka, Borges, and Nabokov. Using these enormously influential authors as a starting point, we will read a range of ludic authors, passing back and forth between languages, nations, and genres. Authors studied will include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Angela Carter, Paul Muldoon, and John Ashbery. We will examine these authors in relation to one another, and to their major pre-postmodernist sources, such as Carroll, Rimbaud, Mallarme, and Dostoevsky. We will also be reading theorists of play such as Schiller, Huizinga, Derrida, and Bakhtin. Central to the module is the exploration of play as a response to literature, and a way of creating new literature out of old, through the play of parody, imitation, transposition, and translation. We will be studying these ancient modes of literary response and performing them ourselves: all students will be encouraged to try their hand at parodying and imitating the texts we are studying, though this is not compulsory. Final assessment can take the form of a 5000 word critical essay or of a combination of a creative piece and a critical essay, to make up 5000 words.

LDCE7006B

20

PUBLISHING - A PRACTICAL APPROACH

This module aims to give students an introduction to the modern publishing industry and a practical survival guide to the different functions involved in the publication of a book. As well as learning about the structure and economics of the British book industry, the opportunities and challenges of digitalization, students will engage with the process whereby books are chosen for publication, review principles of text and jacket design, practise basic copyediting and proofreading skills and learn tips for running a marketing and publicity campaign, writing 'blurbs' and press releases. The course will also touch on copyright law, finance and distribution. Students from the module are invited to join the core team producing the annual MA Creative Writing anthologies.

LDCC7012B

20

THE ART OF SHORT FICTION

PLEASE NOTE: ENROLMENT PRIORITY IS GIVEN TO MA PROSE FICTION STUDENTS. Short fiction is too often defined in terms of what it is not - namely, a novel. Whether stories, novellas or experimental short fiction, short fiction is an art form in its own right. While acknowledging that there are no 'rules' as to what makes a good short story, we will look at the expectations and technical challenges created by the form, and in so doing to sharpen our analytical and critical faculties. This is predominantly a practical, workshop-based course oriented at writing short fiction, although students will also be asked to form critical opinions and perspectives on published short stories, the technical aspects of writing in the form, and on themes and trends in short fiction.

LDCC7013A

20

THE NON FICTION NOVEL

Some of the most exciting and innovative fiction of the moment is in fact a hybrid form of fiction, borrowing subject matter and techniques from traditionally non-fiction modes such as memoir, criticism, journalism, reportage and life-writing. These novels depart from the usual concerns with character, realistic dialogue and plot to focus on voice, place, time, employing strategies of literary craft to be formally innovative. This course looks at original non-fiction and also at contemporary 'realist' novels which are pushing boundaries and gaining attention in the wider literary culture. We will study the forms, techniques and thematics of both non-fiction and fiction, with an aim to experimenting with and improving students' writing in both forms. Some writing in class and between classes will be required. The second half of the module will include workshopping student work-in-progress. This is a practice-based module taught by a novelist and non-fiction writer and aimed primarily at students on the creative writing strands but is also open to students studying for critical MAs.

LDCC7022B

20

THE POETICS OF PLACE

This module explores innovative and experimental forms of place writing, from the critical and theoretical to literary and artistic. Among the critical and theoretical approaches that the course takes in will be such subjects as psychogeography, ecocriticism, critical heritage studies, deep mapping, animal studies, and literary activism. At the same time, it will consider a number of original works of literature from recent years, thinking carefully about the relationship between theory, method and form.

LDCC7023B

20

THE WRITING OF CRIME/THRILLER FICTION

This module will provide students with critical and creative knowledge of modern crime/thriller fiction, and is designed to complement the Creative Writing MA programme, but is open to students across the MA. Crime/thriller fiction, the world's most popular literary genre, is particularly subject to ever evolving conventions, expectations, precedents and sub-genres. Understanding the presiding logistical and thematic issues is fundamental to both the creation of and critical response to crime/thriller fiction. The module will analyse the developments and characteristics of the modernisation of the genre, through a symptomatic approach to authors, from Dashiell Hammett to Denise Mina, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. Issues of literary worth, escapism and social context, particularly will be examined. A prior interest in the genre is not necessary, while there will be much focus on the structural aspects of the novel. Creative work will also concentrate on how to craft a convincing plot, creating believable characters, building narrative drive and suspense, and generating voice. Students will be required to make presentations on particular authors from the set texts, and to produce original crime/thriller fiction. Assessment by creative writing, fiction up to 5000 words, and/or an accompanying critical essay.

LDCC7011A

20

THEORY AND PRACTICE OF FICTION

This module is designed to complement the prose fiction workshop but is open to students on related programmes. It is intended to provide students with creative and critical knowledge in a single experiential burst, by exploring as they are relevant to writing fiction such topics as time, place, dramatic structure, character and concinnity. The unit also gives consideration to professional issues confronting novelists, from writer's block to editing, contracts and dealing with the media. The module presents the writer as both artist and supplier of intellectual property to a market, while examining that and other tensions critically. Reading, writing and analysis happen alongside each other. Fictional, critical and professional texts are examined, writing exercises illuminating the issue at hand are undertaken. Students are also expected to make presentations on topics of their choice. Assessment by creative writing coursework with a critical commentary.

LDCC7015B

20

TRANSLATION THEORY AND HISTORY

This module explores key issues in the history of the theory and practice of translation in the West. We explore the changes in the cultural status of translation from ancient times to the present, analysing the ways in which translations have contributed to the reception of texts, and focusing on some of the political, theological and philosophical debates which translations have provoked. In the second half of the module we focus on a range of contemporary debates in translation studies. Students are encouraged to explore their own theoretical interests and present their findings in class. The module is compulsory for students on the MA in Literary Translation but can also be taken as an optional module by literature, drama and creative writing students, since there is no foreign language requirement.

LDCE7008A

20

Disclaimer

Whilst the University will make every effort to offer the modules listed, changes may sometimes be made arising from the annual monitoring, review and update of modules and regular (five-yearly) review of course programmes. Where this activity leads to significant (but not minor) changes to programmes and their constituent modules, there will normally be prior consultation of students and others. It is also possible that the University may not be able to offer a module for reasons outside of its control, such as the illness of a member of staff or sabbatical leave. In some cases optional modules can have limited places available and so you may be asked to make additional module choices in the event you do not gain a place on your first choice. Where this is the case, the University will endeavour to inform students.

Further Reading

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    The University of East Anglia's first literary festival took place in 1991 and over the last twenty five years we have welcomed a host of award-winning authors, journalists, illustrators, scientists, economists, broadcasters and more.

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  • #ASKUEA

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Entry Requirements

  • Degree Subject UK BA (Hons) 2.1 or equivalent
  • Special Entry Requirements Sample of work - see below

Students for whom English is a Foreign language

We welcome applications from students whose first language is not English. To ensure such students benefit from postgraduate study, we require evidence of proficiency in English. Our usual entry requirements are as follows:

  • IELTS: 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in each section and 7.0 in writing)
  • PTE (Pearson): 68 (minimum 55 in each section and 68 in writing)

Test dates should be within two years of the course start date.

Other tests, including Cambridge English exams and the Trinity Integrated Skills in English are also accepted by the university. The full list of accepted tests can be found here: Accepted English Language Tests

INTO UEA also run pre-sessional courses which can be taken prior to the start of your course. For further information and to see if you qualify please contact intopre-sessional@uea.ac.uk

Special Entry Requirements

A sample of your biographical writing or creative non-fiction of around 3000 words

Intakes

The School's annual intake is in September of each year.

Please note that those candidates offered a place on the course will not be able to defer their offer to the next year if they are unable to take up the offer of a place, however they are welcome to reapply the next year.

Alternative Qualifications

If you have alternative qualifications that have not been mentioned above then please contact the Admissions Office directly for further information.

Fees and Funding

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for the academic year 2018/19 are:

  • UK/EU Students: £7,550
  • International Students: £15,800

If you choose to study part-time, the fee per annum will be half the annual fee for that year, or a pro-rata fee for the module credit you are taking (only available for UK/EU students).

We estimate living expenses at £1,015 per month.

Scholarships and Awards:

There are a variety of scholarships and studentships available to postgraduate applicants in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. For further information relevant to the School of Literature and Creative Writing, please click here.

How to Apply

Applications for Postgraduate Taught programmes at the University of East Anglia should be made directly to the University.

You can apply online.

Further Information

To request further information & to be kept up to date with news & events please use our online enquiry form.

If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances prior to applying please do contact us:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)1603 591515
Email: admissions@uea.ac.uk

International candidates are also encouraged to access the International Students section of our website.

    Next Steps

    We can’t wait to hear from you. Just pop any questions about this course into the form below and our enquiries team will answer as soon as they can.

    Admissions enquiries:
    admissions@uea.ac.uk or
    telephone +44 (0)1603 591515