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EN232 Composition & Creative Writing

Convenor: Gonzalo Garcia Ceron



Compulsory core module 2nd year English & Creative Writing Students only.


Seminars: Thursday 10:00 - 11:30, Thursday 11:30 - 1:00, Friday 11:00 - 12:30

This is a core module for second years of QP36 ‘English Literature and Creative Writing’ only. It is available only as a 100% fully assessed module. It proceeds in the form of writing workshops and seminars. Absence from these workshops will severely limit your capacity for achieving strong work. It is not available as an optional module.


This module encourages you to consider the question of narrative in all its forms.You will become more aware of the processes involved in writing narrative fiction and non-fiction, including traditional and experimental methods, revision, drafting, editing and considerations of audience.You will also gain critical insights into works of contemporary and classic literature and the traditional and modern processes of literary production.


The course is taught in workshop-style seminars.Students will remain within the same group throughout the course of an academic year.You are also asked to attend all Warwick Thursdays events. A complete list of the Autumn Term events will be posted at the start of term:


The course is assessed by 2 written assessments.

Assessment 1, Term 2: a portfolio of 5,000 words. This will comprise 2 parts, consisting of 2,500 words each. Part 1 will be a work of fiction, Part 2 will be a work of non-fiction. Guidelines and suggestions for the assessed work will provided during the term.

Assessment 2, Term 3: a portfolio of 5,000 words. This will comprise 2 parts, consisting of 2,500 words each. Part 1 will be a work of fiction, or fictions. Part 2 will be a work of non-fiction. Guidelines and suggestions for the assessed work will provided during the term.



“Line by line, writing’s not so hard . . .You do a little sentence and then another little sentence. It’s when you allow yourself to think of the totality of what you have to do, of the task which faces you with each book that you feel it’s hard, even terrifying. In my daily work, minimizing the terror is my object.” (Hilary Mantel, “Growing A Tale”)

The first half of this term proposes itself as an antidote to creative – or rather, uncreative – terror and will look at ways in which you can begin, sustain and partially resolve a piece of fiction without losing your poise, hair, nails and sanity. We’ll also consider, week by week, a story or a book that exemplifies some bit of the puzzle – situation, voice, form and structure, character, register, etc.

The preceding paragraph could be the beginning to a story. Who is speaking? Where are they speaking/writing? What might happen next? Where might it lead?

Week One:

Now. What are writers writing at the moment? Imagining a situation, peopling and furnishing that situation. Reading: Cat Person, Kristin Roupenian

Carmen Maria Machado, The Husband Stitch:

Week Two:

Where to start: playing with time, large and small.

Tobias Wolff, ‘Bullet in the Brain’

TC Boyle, ‘Chicxulub’ New Yorker podcast plus discussion with Lionel Shriver
If we have time, we’ll also discuss inventive use of time in fiction, including Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life; Paul Auster’s 4,3,2,1 and Laura Barnett’s The Versions of Us. You don’t have to have read any of these (bonus points if you have), but they provide interesting starting points for talking about how writers use time.

Week Three:

Shape and scale (voice, perspective and a whole world in 5000 words) Alice Munro, Axis, available via The New Yorker podcast

Lorrie Moore, Paper Losses

We’ll also refer to Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Week Four:

Voice, dialogue and pace…experimentation and the tyranny of the dreaded Muse (or absence thereof). 

George Saunders, Adams (via The New Yorker Fiction podcast)

We’ll also refer to some extracts from Days without End, by Sebastian Barry and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.

Week Five:

Endings. Working towards that final point. The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

The Spot, by David Means (discussed on The New Yorker podcast with Jonathan Franzen):

Further reading suggestions:

The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter

Days Without End, Sebastian Barry

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth

Swimming Home, Deborah Levy

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

Our Story Begins, Tobias Wolff

Bring Out the Dog, Will Mackin

Sunrise Sunset, Edwige Dandicat

A Love Story, Samantha Hunt

The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall

The Green Road, Anne Enright

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

Collected Short Stories, by T.C. Boyle

American Pastoral, Philip Roth

Choke, Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri



In the second half of term, we’ll be practising editorial techniques and discussing the use of non-fiction narrative both to “mine” personal memory and to cultivate a more objective sympathy for others’ lives and circumstances. We'll try to get a feel for accurate reporting. We’ll consider what it means to stand “behind the camera” in our evocation of unfamiliar eras, cultures and environments.

This can be as playful as it is revealing: alongside the weekly set texts, we’ll look at recipes, pen portraits, psych evaluations and various experiments in criticism, reportage and life-writing. We’ll consider blogs and collage forms; the use of memoir to shape a life or a political standpoint; the “dramatic encounter” of New Journalism and its legacy; “voice” and register in the personal essay; the flexibility of genre.

Week Seven:

The making of memory. Finding a way into making a picture of the past. Joe Brainard’s I Remember.

Inventory, by Carmen Maria Machado (from Her Body and Other Parties)

Week Eight:

Writing, watching, listening: The Loser by Gay Talese.

Also H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. Wonderful podcast here: and a great discussion about Jeanette Winterson’s Why be Happy When You Could be Normal here:

Week Nine:

Cultural History by personal means Bad Blood by Lorna Sage. Also Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood and, if we have time,
Go Gentle into that Goodnight:

If we have time…

George Orwell, The Hanging

Week Ten:

Politics, objectivity and emotion; exterior and interior reportage. This is the Place to be, by Lara Pawson. Also, Arundhati Roy’s essay Democracy: Who’s She When She’s at Home?

We may also discuss at some point (or you may like to look at) the following:

Writers on writing: David Foster Wallace, The Nature of The Fun

Lorrie Moore, ‘How to Become a Writer’

Orwell: Why I write.

Zadie Smith, Fail Better:

Big ideas: Free Speech Hitchens)

The New Commandments, Christopher Hitchens

The tyranny of the ‘I’. Stream of consciousness and making it work.

Édouard Levé, When I look at a strawberry I think of a tongue (incomplete)

Humour: Kurt Vonnegut, Dispatch from a Man Without a Country.

Further reading:

Blake Morrison: And When did you Last See your Father?
Giving Up the Ghost, Hilary Mantel
Strangers in Iceland, Sarah Moss
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean Dominique Bauby
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran
Bluets, Maggie Nelson
H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald
The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr
Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James
Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala
Bad Behaviour, Rebecca Starford
Freakonomics, Steven Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The Wild Ways, Robert Macfarlane 
A Writer’s Coming of Age, Joyce Carol Oates
Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson
On Writing Stephen King 
Family Life, Akil Sharma
The Last Act of Love, Cathy Rentzenbrink
Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs



In the first 5 weeks of Composition, we’ll be focusing on Short Stories. We’ll be looking at structure, characterisation, sustaining a voice and advancing theme. We’ll be then looking at non-fiction, focusing on experience-based writing, problematizing wordiness and opting for precision and concision to more effectively provoke affective responses with our writing.

It is very important that you do the reading and prepare for each seminar. While the focus of each class will be practical, your tutor will be asking for your notes on the reading (this can be anything that sparked your curiosity) so that you can present them to your peers and we can then start a fruitful discussion.

Week 1: Common People, Unusual Situations – The plotting board


- Raymond Carver, Cathedral.

- Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants.

Week 2: Post-Modernity in Narrative


- George Saunders, Pastoralia.

Week 3: Anger, Politics and Humour


- Sherman Alexie, ‘The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless’, ‘Salt’ and ‘Bird-Watching At Night’ in War Dances.

- Lorrie Moore, 'You're Ugly, Too'

Week 4: The Short Tragedy


- Tillie Olsen, 'I Stand Here Ironing'

- Virginia Woolf, 'A Haunted House'

Week 5: Bursts of Emotion – Constructing Empathy and Using Super-Objectives


- Alice Munro, 'Runaway' in Runaway.

SPRING TERM: Weeks 7–10


“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his investigation, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds may not be without their glory.” Herodotus, The Histories

The second unit will examine the process of writing non-fiction investigations into the alien, the familiar, and the personal. In particular, the unit will aim to develop students beyond the narrow focus on the self and the tyranny of the “I”.


Week 7: Writing About Politics & Injustice


- Anabel Hernández, ‘The Hours of Extermination’ in The Sorrows of Mexico.

- Sam Jordison, ‘Milton Friedman’, ‘Ronald Reagan’ and ‘L. Ron Hubbard’ in Enemies of the State.

Week 8: Writing From Experience – Issues With The ‘Language of Feeling’

Reading: - Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman

Week 9: Playing with Genre

Reading: - Paul Ewan, How To Be A Public Author

Week 10: Writing for Publication Workshop & Editing Workshop


- Various articles will be handed to you by your tutor prior to the seminar.

- Bring example of what you consider to be bad writing. More examples will be handed to you by your tutor prior to the seminar.

Further Reading:

Dave Eggers, What is the What

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Al Alvarez, The Savage God

Jeannette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Tim Parks, Teach Us to Sit Still

Jon Ronson, So You Have Been Publicly Shamed

Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah