Tuesday, 31 March 2015

#reviewsdaytuesday: University of East Anglia's English Literature with Creative Writing (Q3W8) Couse

For the past 3 years I've studied on UEA's English Literature with Creative Writing course, and over that time I've formed a couple of opinions on it that might be useful to anyone looking to apply to a creative writing programme.

The course is technically split 75% English with 25% Writing, but over the course of your degree you can definitely move that toward the 50%-50% mark. I took 5/16 modules in creative writing, but two of those are weighted more heavily than the others, and at least 3 of my other modules offered the chance to be assessed on my creative writing rather than writing an essay.

All information I'm providing is based on my own experience and may not be up to date, so please check with the uni website if you're keen on applying for this course.

I'm going to go through year by year, module by module and give a brief explanation of what each module entails and my thoughts about it. This is going to be a very wordy post, which I can only apologise for.

First Year

There are no optional modules in first year for creative writing students (in my experience).

Literature in History 1 - Dossier based module looking at texts moving from middle English through to the 1900s. Taught as a 1hr lecture and 2hr seminar each week, with up to 15 people per seminar group. Assessed in two essays.

- I enjoyed this module, although on reflection I think that was just because it was my first module at uni. I don't think I really took much from it. It doesn't really prepare its students for university study (in terms of what it asks you to read week by week), but the seminar lecture structure is good. I can barely remember anything about it - other than it being the place where I met one of my house/best mates, and that the seminar leader was very good.

Reading Texts 1 - Up to 6 people per 1hr seminar. Subject matter based on tutors interests. I studied Katherine Mansfield and some war poetry. Assessed in two essays.

- I really enjoyed this module. My tutor was very old (picture a classic, tea-stained professor and you're on the right track) so the seminar was very slow but very interesting. The reading material was really good too - although we were given minimal critical work to look over (unlike some of my friends who had critical heavy material).

Introduction to Creative Writing - Follows Andrew Cowan's The Art of Writing Fiction, taught in 2hr seminar. Mostly focused on the craft of writing, with opportunities to share writing but no workshop space. Assessed in two short stories and one critical self commentary.

- My favourite module of first year. A really good introductory course, although I wish we had moved away from the book more often. I could have done 90% of the course by just reading the book. It's also a poor module for people interested in poetry or script, and offers little to no help in that area.

Literature in History 2 - 'Realism'. One book to read per week. 1hr lecture and 2hr seminar structure. Up to 15 people per seminar group. Assessed in one essay and one exam.

- I enjoyed this module too, and it was the one which best prepared me for the rest of my university career - mostly because of its quick turnaround reading times.

Reading Texts 2 - Focus on one longer novel and one critical text. 6 people per 2hr seminar. Assessed in two essays.

- I studied Dostoyevski and Adorno for this module and found it very challenging. My tutor was incredible and really increased my enjoyment of this module.

Writing Texts - Theory intensive. 1hr lecture and 2hr seminar structure. Up to 15 people per seminar. Assessed as one critical creative essay and one standard essay.

- My least favourite module from my degree. The quality of both lectures and seminars was poor - interesting and useful material wasn't delivered very effectively. This was partially due to my seminar tutor's total lack of self confidence, which made my entire class very apathetic about their work.

So, for my first year, I really enjoyed 4/6 modules, found 1/6 'meh' and hated the last.

Second Year

Second year is the year where things count, and it's also the year where creative writing students have a choice in the modules they pick.

UEA splits their modules into A, B and C. I had to pick 3 modules from block A, 1 from block B and 1 from block C (leaving me with two free choices that I could pick from any school in the university). It's also worth noting that block C had only creative writing options.

If you're a non-creative writing student you also get the option to join a creative writing introductory module at this stage, and if you want to carry on to a higher level creative writing module to have a achieve a certain standard (I think 68%).

As a final note, UEA has a ridiculous policy where 40 credits of your degree have to come from pre-1789 literature (or a Y-code module). Each second year module is worth 20 credits, each third year module is 30. I hate this policy with a passion. We are paying £9,000 a year for our course, we should get to study thing we are actually interested in. If UEA wants us to study pre-1789 modules, I think they should make it a larger part of first year study, so students can make an informed decision on whether or not they want to continue to study from that period.

18th Century Writing - Studying 1700-1788. Books include Treasure Island and Gulliver's Travels. 1hr lecture and 2hr seminar, with up to 15 people per seminar. Assessed in two essays. Filled one of my pre-1789 requirements.

- My least favourite module of second year, purely because of the reading list. I didn't enjoy any of the literary texts at all. Lectures were quite interesting, seminar less so but that was probably a combination of the group I was in and my seminar tutor rather than content itself. I took it purely because it filled up one of my Y-code module slots!

Creative Writing: Prose - A workshop based module. Assessed in two short stories and one critical self commentary. Up to 15 people per 2hr seminar group.

- I really enjoyed this module. I love reading and editing other peoples work, and I like hearing feedback on my own work. There is no safer space than around a creative writing editorial table and (apart from one girl who overstepped the critical mark) it was a productive environment to be in.

Creative Writing: Poetry - Half workshop, half analytical. Assessed in two poetry collections, one self commentary and one short essay on another poem from an anthology. Up to 15 people per 2hr seminar.

- I know I have just said there is no safer space than around a creative writing table, but some people in this particular seminar group didn't agree. For a lot of us it was our first time in a poetry specific module, and our tutor expected a lot from us. I personally got on with her very well and really liked that she pushed us, but I know a few other people struggled and found her quite harsh - but that's all personal taste. I liked this module on the whole, although I would have liked some more guided reading through the anthology we were given.

Shakespeare - 1hr lecture, 2 hr seminar structure (up to 15 people per seminar). Almost 1 play per week. Assessed in one essay and one exam. Fulfilled one of my pre-1789 requirements.

- I have very mixed feelings about this module. I loved my seminar leader and group, but on reflection I don't know how conducive that combination was to me actually learning anymore about Shakespeare plays. I found the reading of the plays pretty tough (if you do study Shakespeare try and find a copy to watch his plays, or at the very least read them out with spark notes close to hand!). Most of the lectures were pretty good, although we had one lecturer who consistently overran - on one occasion he looked at his watch and said 'Oh bollocks, I'm 45 minutes in and I haven't even started my lecture yet!'

Contemporary Writing - 2hr seminar with up to 15 people. Almost 1 book per week. Assessed as two essays.

- I loved this module. Although I didn't enjoy all of the books, the seminar leadership and structure more than made up for it, and I always left the class enjoying the books more than I went in. I cannot recommend this module more highly.

Three Woman Writers - 2hr seminar with up to 15 people. 5 books and 5 critical texts over the 12 weeks. Assessed with one essay and one exam. Focused on Woolf, Mansfield and Wharton.

- I have mixed feelings on this module. I enjoyed the books, but didn't get as much out of the critical as I had expected to. I also hated all of the essay questions we were given - it was as if our tutor forgot what we had been talking about in our seminars, or rather picked up on passing remarks and seized them like important points! I generally enjoyed the seminars, however, which says a lot considering it was 9am on a Wednesday morning (and the uni club night is a Tuesday!)

Third Year

As I said above, third year modules are worth 30 credits, so we only have four of them over the year. A dissertation is worth the same as any other module, and is not compulsory.

Creative Writing Dissertation: Prose - 3hrs of one-on-one tutorials spread across 12 weeks. 6,000 word short story with a 2,000 critical self commentary.

- I really enjoyed writing my dissertation. It was hard work, but so rewarding. I wrote a whole post on dissertations, so you can check that out for more in depth thoughts.

Traumatergies - 3hr seminar with up to 15 people per group. Mixture of theoretical texts and literary texts. Assessed through two 5% mini assessments, one 15% 'traumatergy' in the form of essay, creative writing, or any other creative form (I did a scrap book), one 75% written project (although that can also be creative, or sit on the boundary between creative and creative critical). Focused on how we write and think about trauma.

- I loved this module, and it was probably my favourite from my degree as a whole. Very theory intensive, and it is incredibly hard work but so rewarding and worth it. I'd had this module pegged from when I first joined the course and it was so worth it.

Creative Writing: Prose - 2hr seminar with up to 15 people. Workshop based. Assessed in two short stories and one critical self commentary.

- I've really enjoyed this module so far (I still have two weeks left). I love the work-shopping structure, although I know some people don't. As a class, we asked if we could have 3 hours rather than 2 as we felt shortchanged considering the amount of time given to literature students in their final year, and our seminar leader was very obliging.

The Art of Emotion - 3hr seminar with up to 15 people. Theory intensive module. Similar to traumatergies in structure, with two 5% pieces, one 10% project in any format, and one 80% written project which can also be creative. Focused on how we write and think about emotion.

- Again, I've really enjoyed this module. It has been very challenging but so worth while. I'm currently working on my 80% project (5,000 words) and it is tough but I'm getting to grips with it slowly! The module leader for this (same as traumatergies) is excellent, although her incontactability is sometimes an issue.

OVERALL - some points for improvement

I think the structure of the degree is very good, although some first year modules could be improved upon. I think the pre-1789 requirement is ridiculous, as provided people are given enough opportunity to explore pre-1789 texts in first year they should be trusted to decide if its an area they want to pursue.

Online submission of essays should be available for every module except in cases where it limits the form in which the response to a question could be demonstrated (ie, I couldn't have electronically submitted a scrapbook).

The HUB (the admin centre for our degree) is very flawed. Our work rarely gets returned within the 20 day turnaround, and they have been known to lose whole modules worth of coursework. Their email response system needs to be improved.

More meetings should be instigated by personal advisers throughout the three years. I have never felt the need to speak to my adviser about anything, so I have been reluctant to make an appointment with her. As a side note, I do not feel comfortable going to my adviser anyway, as I don't believe she is approachable for undergraduate students (although that is a personal matter, I have found that there are a number of tutors who appear to feel that teaching undergrads is beneath them, luckily I have encountered only one).

I have loved my course and my time at UEA. As much as I have mentioned the negative, most of that comes from an administration side of things. I have got on incredibly well with 80% of the tutors I have encountered and found them to be both engaging and engaged. If you're interested in a creative writing course, if UEA's reputation isn't enough to persuade you then I hope this is!

If you have any other questions about studying at UEA, feel free to tweet me @VickiMaitland (or DM me if it's something more private), or leave a comment below!

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