Students Staff

Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies

Creative Writing

León Ferrari, Sin título (Caligrafía), 2000 © León Ferrari. Image © ESCALA

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Undergraduate courses

Undergraduate creative writing courses

Our undergraduate courses offer a unique exploration of the practice and theory of writing and can be taken as single honours degree or in combination with film studies as a joint honours degree.

Creative writing at Essex focuses on the practice and theory of becoming a writer. Since our department's inception in the 1960s under the poet Donald Davie, we have nurtured a tradition of distinguished writers, who have shaped literature as we know it. These include Robert Lowell, Michèle Roberts, Ken Smith, Tom Raworth, Ed Dorn, Ben Okri, Pierre Joris and Ted Berrigan.

Our undergraduate courses explore a full range of writing styles and genres and help you to develop your writing skills and voice in tandem with your understanding of the history and theory of writing practice. We also offer the option to take creative writing as a joint degree with literature or film studies.

At postgraduate level, our MA Creative Writing follows Ezra Pound's call to “make it new” and places a strong emphasis on innovation, experiment, and invention. We have a large and active doctoral community and welcome applications for PhD study combining original creative writing with critical commentary.

Studying a Creative Writing degree at Essex

Learn from experienced and established writers

Our creative writing staff have a unique breadth of writing experience across literary genres, from novels, prose and plays, to poetry and song:

We regularly invite writers to give writing workshops to our students as well as talks as part of our Writers at Essex series.

Nobel laureate Derek Walcott was Essex Professor of Poetry from 2010 to 2013, and made annual visits to the department to give special masterclasses and direct performances of his plays at the University's Lakeside Theatre.

More about creative writing at Essex

  • Research and publications

    Ongoing research ventures include Memory Maps, an online writing project that began as a collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, and continues to provide opportunities for students to contribute work. You can also publish with our creative writing journal Creel, which is released on an annual basis.

  • Our alumni

    Many of our students go on to publish work after graduation with recent success stories including Alexia Casale, whose novel Bone Dragon was published by Faber & Faber. Other graduates include the writers Petra Mcqueen as well as Patricia Borlenghi, the founder of Patrician Press, which has published works by a number of our alumni. Another group of recent graduates have collaborated to publish a short story collection called Sense.

  • Life after graduation

    We have an excellent student support system to offer guidance and advice during your studies, and to prepare you for success after graduation. Our University's Employability and Careers Centre also provides support to help you pursue your chosen career path, including by finding work experience and internship opportunities that allow you to put the skills you learn into practice.

  • Journey of a student: Ruth Raymer

    I arrived at Essex after spending 5 years studying part-time with the Open University (OU). I enrolled with the OU after a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia - trying to keep my brain moving was suddenly a huge motivator for me. I began an 'Open' degree and studied modules in languages, social sciences, and IT. Then I signed up for a module in Creative Writing. I found my 'thing'.

    After 5 years I became jaded with online study and was desperate to connect with other creative people. During a study trip to the library in Colchester I saw a poster for the MA Creative Writing at Essex. I'd long seen the towers of the university as we drove past on the way to Colchester but I didn't really think about going to a red-brick uni until that moment, when I realised that I could follow my dream, to write.

    When I arrived at the Open Day, I felt like a total impostor. Most prospective students were accompanied by their parents, not their husbands! I went to the LiFTS department stand and met Dr Adrian May. He assured me that I had nothing to be worried about and I would fit right in. The journey was begun.

    I filled out the application with trepidation but also determination to make the most of this chance. I was afraid of being viewed by the younger, more traditional students as a mother figure because with seven children of my own, I'd been there, done that. I needn't have worried though. I have only ever been treated as just another student with a passion for my subject. In fact, some of my closest friends are in their twenties and I met them in seminars.

    I have also been very lucky to have made friends in the postgraduate community very early on in my time at Essex. Because of those connections, I found aspirations I didn't even know I had – when I came to Essex, I didn't really know what a Master's degree was, much less a PhD, but here I am, about to embark on a PhD in Creative Writing as a CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership scholar.

    As an undergraduate, one of the best things about the BA Creative Writing course was the opportunity to try out so many different genres of writing and being encouraged to find my own voice. In the final year for instance, I studied the Understanding and Writing Science Fiction module with Matthew De Abaitua. I learned so much, not just about science fiction but about writing fiction in general. It was one of my favourite modules at that level.

    I also undertook an extended writing project, in which I wrote about walking in Wales. While doing that, I realised that there was much more to be written than I had space for and decided to go on to the MA course, mixing up some of the MA Wild Writing modules with the Creative Writing ones. My MA dissertation was about an area in Wales owned and managed by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. I approached them with a view to gaining some sponsorship, but they quickly offered me a residency in which to research and write my dissertation.

    I spent a month in a small cottage on the side of a mountain, with no mains electricity, no TV or Internet, no mobile phone signal, and best of all – very few people. It was bliss. It also sowed the seeds of what has now become my proposed PhD thesis. I spent a good deal of time thinking about what constitutes Home. This was the first time in my life I had lived alone and there was plenty of time for thinking and reflecting. It was one of the most formative experiences of my adult life.

    The LiFTS department encourages prospective PhD researchers to apply for all available streams of funding. I applied for and have successfully won, funding via the CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership. This is a great privilege and has boosted my confidence – I still have that impostor's voice in my ear sometimes, though I can keep it in its place now.

    The support from my department has been a huge part of my reason for staying at Essex to continue to PhD study. From the administrators in the general office, to the lecturers, and my supervisors – Chris McCully (for MA) and James Canton (for PhD) - each one has helped to nurture my confidence and development. The LiFTS department is a very special place that nurtures discovery, no matter how old you are, in a way that only creativity can. I'm not alone as a woman who got to the point where her children are getting older and leaving home, making their own lives, leaving Mum to wonder 'who am I now?' My time at Essex has given me the chance to find out who I am, and what I can achieve. To find out who you truly are, is a gift.

    Moving on, I have some ideas for post-doctoral research – taking my PhD to another level. I'd also like a chance to teach, and to share my enthusiasm for writing with new students.

    To anyone considering study at Essex after the traditional entry age, I have three pieces of advice:

    1. As a mature student, you will never be the impostor you think you are. No matter what your age, you will fit right in – there is a 'You'-shaped slot right here.
    2. The support available to you is first class, but do ask for help when you need it – no one can help if they don't know you need them.
    3. The best gift I gave myself was a workspace of my own (I bought a shed but you don't need to go that far). A corner you can put a desk and not be disturbed will do, but make sure that everyone in the house knows it's YOUR space and your computer and pens/other equipment and books are off-limits to everyone else. Trying to study effectively at the dining table in amongst your family's stuff just doesn't work for most of us.

    Of course, the most important piece of advice is… get that application in – you CAN do it!

Research excellence

Research excellence

Three-quarters of our research is rated 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' (REF 2014). We do both creative and critical work across genres and media forms using a distinctly comparative approach.

Masters courses

Creative writing masters

Our MA Creative Writing emphasises innovation and experiment and provides a challenging course of practice based study that allows you to develop your writing voice across an exciting range of forms and genres.

PhD study

Creative writing PhD

PhD study in creative writing allows you to combine an original creative writing project with critical commentary. You will be supervised by award winning writers with a unique breadth of experience across literary genres.

Ask us a question

Ask us a question

Would you like to find out more about our courses in literature, creative writing, drama, film studies and journalism? Ask us a question, our friendly team of advisors are here to offer support and information.