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EN236 The Practice of Fiction: Contexts, Themes and Techniques

**Available to English Literature & Creative Writing Finalists only**


Convenor: Will Eaves
Tutor: Will Eaves (T1), Tim Leach (T2)

From 2019/20, there will be a new module code: EN3B9.


Seminars: Tuesday 3:00-4:30, Tuesday 5:00-6:30. Both seminars will be taught in the Writer’s Room


This module will introduce students to a range of traditional and contemporary approaches to writing fiction.

The module will develop skills in reading contemporary fiction, both in English and in translation. Students will become familiar with a range of writers and will learn to make connections between writers, trends and styles, across generations and boundaries of nationality, gender, and politics. They will be expected to develop their own reading lists from the primary texts, using recommendations in Further Reading, and their own research.

Students will also develop a variety of techniques for writing fiction, practising the craft of writing through workshops and assignments.


The module offers a mixture of writing workshops, critical discussions of primary texts and peer reviewing.

There will be writing assignments for each unit alongside the class reading. At the end of week 6 all students will submit a redrafted exercise from earlier in the term, to be peer reviewed in later sessions.

Students taking this module are also expected to attend related not-for-credit courses, workshops and events, such as Warwick Thursday talks and readings in the Writers' Room, or events at the Arts Centre. Attendance is not compulsory for paid events, but is recommended.


100% Assessed : Your final portfolio will consist of a portfolio of 5000 words of fiction and a personal essay (5000 words) about themes in contemporary fiction. The fiction portfolio may consist of a single story, several short stories, or an extract from a longer piece of work.

Preparatory Reading

Some basic reference works:

The two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is a good investment.
Roget’s Thesaurus.
A good book on usage: H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2nd rev. ed. By Sir Ernest Gowers, 1965); R.W. Burchfield, ed., The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd edn., 1996); Eric Partridge, Usage & Abusage (1973).
A good book on grammar: Sidney Greenbaum, The Oxford English Grammar (1996).
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (4th ed., 2000); Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing (1994).
A book on editing: Mary Norris, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2015) – see also MN’s website; Claire Kehrwald Cook, Line by Line (1985).

The following books address creative practice / criticism in general:

Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis (1953)
Forster, E. M., Aspects of the Novel (1927)
King, Stephen, On Writing (2000)
Lodge, David, The Art of Fiction (1994)
Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners (1961, 1972)
Sennett, Richard, The Craftsman (2008)
Shields, David, How Literature Saved My Life (2013)
Wood, James, How Fiction Works (2008)
Woolf, Virgina, The Common Reader (1925, 1932); A Room of One’s Own (1928)

Term 1

“There are only two types of plot. Either the heroine leaves home or a stranger comes to town” – attrib. “A friend”, to the writer Patricia Duncker

Tutor: Will Eaves

Week 1 – The Place We’re In

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room. Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop (Secondary Reading: John Williams, Stoner. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary. Helen Simpson, Hey Yeah Right Get A Life, Constitutional, Cockfosters.)

Week 2 – Other Minds and Other People

“Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People”, Lorrie Moore, from Birds of America. “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”, Alice Munro, from the book of the same title. (Secondary Reading: William Trevor, Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel. Agota Kristof, The Notebook.)

Week 3 – Times, Echoes, Foreshadowings

William Golding, The Inheritors. (Secondary Reading: David Malouf, An Imaginary Life. Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian.)

Week 4 – Beyond Genre

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (Secondary Reading: Philip K. Dick, The Man In The High Castle. Brigid Brophy, The Finishing Touch.)

Week 5 – The Idea: Concepts, Paradox, Satire

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. (Secondary Reading: Danilo Kis, The Encyclopaedia of the Dead. Nikolai Gogol, “The Nose” in Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, Paulette Jonguitud, Mildew.)

Weeks 7–10 – Fiction Workshops and Readings

Please Note: it is essential that students read the primary named texts for each weekly section throughout the year. Familiarity with the books on the secondary and suggested reading lists is also highly desirable.

Term 2

Week 1 – Beyond the Short Story

The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh

Week 2 – Journeys, Shapes, Maps

The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr

Week 3 – Immersion and Pace

The Bone Snatchers, Charlotte Salter

Week 4 – Research and Place

River of Ink, Paul Cooper

Week 5 - Endings and Conclusions

Milkman, Anna Burns

Week 6 – Reading Week

Weeks 7-10 – Writing Workshops


Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man For Himself, The Birthday Boys, Injury Time

Kevin Barry, Dark Lies the Island

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Anton Chekhov, Short Stories (especially: Ward No 6 and Other Stories)

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Maureen Duffy, That’s The Way It Was

Félix Fénéon, Novels in Three Lines

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Beginning of Spring, Human Voices, The Blue Flower

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (translated by Lydia Davis), Three Tales

E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

Graham Greene, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana

M. John Harrison, Light and Climbers (one sci-fi, one not)

Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Strangers on a Train

James Hilton, Lost Horizon

Alan Hollinghurst, The Spell, The Line of Beauty

Homer, The Odyssey (translated Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1996.)

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris (translated by John Sturrock)

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris

Hilary Mantel, Every Day is Mother’s Day, Beyond Black, Wolf Hall

W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (Vol 1 of In Search of Lost Time, translated by C. K. Scott-Moncrief and Terence Kilmartin, with revisions by D. J. Enright)

Jack Robinson, An Overcoat

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Symposium

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories

Jeannette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry