MA in Creative & Life Writing

This programme is designed to meet the needs of committed writers who are interested in exploring and exploiting their own possibilities as writers, and in critically examining their own writing. It is unique in combining creative and life writing in a stimulating and enriching programme.

About the department
English & Comparative Literature

Length
1 year full-time or 2 years part-time.
Funding
If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants.

The Department of English & Comparative Literature sometimes offers fee waivers for this programme.

Fees
See our tuition fees.
Further information

Goldfish on-line journal - work from students currently enrolled on the programme.

Contact the department
Contact Maria Macdonald
Visit us
Find out about how you can visit Goldsmiths at one of our open days or come on a campus tour.

We examine relevant literary and cultural theory as well as the politics and practicalities of language and writing from the point of view of the writer.

Practitioner-led, the programme offers you the opportunity to work with a range of published writers who visit the College to give readings and lead workshops.

Visiting writers have included, William Fiennes, Jackie Kay and Aminatta Forna. Poetry Masterclasses have been led by Sharon Olds, Les Murray, Derek Walcott and C K Williams We also expect to draw fully upon London’s rich tradition as a converging point for culturally diverse literary practices.

Our graduates have gone on to have successful careers as writers and have won awards including the Guardian First Book Award, the Eric Gregory Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Two of our graduates were recognised in Granta's 2013 Best of Young British Novelists list.

What you study

There are three main components:

  • Creative and life writing workshops
  • Contemporary Contexts for Creative and Life Writing
  • One-to-one tutorials

There will be two core modules: a two-term workshop in creative and life writing, and a one-term Contemporary Contexts for Creative and Life Writing seminar module.

Workshop in Creative and Life Writing

All students attend this two and-a-half-hour compulsory workshop – part-time students attend in their first year. In the first term you will be encouraged to experiment with a variety of genres in creative and life writing, and then in the second term to develop your individual interests in poetry, fiction, autobiography and biography, or perhaps a fusion of those genres.

Each term you submit a piece of your own writing together with a critical account of how you have structured and developed it. Presentations of your work to other students with an account of your aims and approaches form an additional important element.

Some workshops will be taken by visiting writers, introducing you to a range of practices, concerns and techniques. The workshop also enables you to debate issues raised in the Contemporary Contexts module in relation to your own practice.

Contemporary Contexts for Creative and Life Writing

This is a two-hour seminar module, made up of informal talks by visiting speakers, followed by a seminar. These talks might be by practising writers, biographers, critics or philosophers (from both outside and inside Goldsmiths).

Our notable visitors have included Ali Smith, A L Kennedy, Daljit Nagra and Jon McGregor. Wide-ranging topics have included: the role of the writer and politics; writing the self; the relationship between contemporary fiction and biography; the relationship between fictional and non-fictional autobiography; writers and their readers; the publishing world; contemporary ideas about language; gender and writing.

In both the Contemporary Contexts module and the workshops you will be asked to consider works by significant contemporary writers in relation to your own writing practice. Assessment is by a critical essay on a writer or literary issue. Full-time students take the Contemporary Contexts module in their first term and part-time students in their second year.

Tutorials will be offered at regular intervals during the year (12 in all).

Options

You also choose an option module lasting one term. Full-time students take the module in the second term, while part-time students take it in the second year (second term). You can choose from a specialist workshop in fiction, poetry or life writing, or an option from the list of MA options offered by ECL including topics such as European Avant-Garde, Postmodernist Fiction or Re-writing Sexualities.

Assessment

Assessment is by the submission of four pieces of writing of 5,000 words each – either an essay, or, for workshops, a piece or pieces of creative or life-writing – plus a critical account of how you have structured and developed your work. You will also be assessed on a portfolio (maximum of 20,000 words) containing a piece or pieces of creative or life-writing together with a critical account of how you have structured and developed your work. In all cases, the number of words applies to prose. 


Applying and entrance requirements

You can apply directly to Goldsmiths via the website by clicking the ‘apply now’ button on the main programme page.

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have: 

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments.
  • The email address details of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference.
  • A personal statement. This can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online.
  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory).

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

If you're applying for funding you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for UK/EU students and international students. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

Selection process

You must submit a portfolio of your creative or life writing with your application. Your portfolio should include two or three short stories, 20-30 poems or several extracts from a novel.

Entrance requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least second class standard in a relevant/related subject. 

You might also be considered for some programmes if you aren’t a graduate or your degree is in an unrelated field, but have relevant experience and can show that you have the ability to work at postgraduate level.

We also accept a wide range of international equivalent qualifications, which can be found on our country-specific pages. If you'd like more information, please contact the Admissions Office.

English language

If your first language isn't English, you need to demonstrate a minimum score of 7.0 in IELTS (including 7.0 in the written element) or equivalent to enroll and study on this programme. 

Please check our English language requirements for more information.

Find out more about applying 

Contact us 

Get in touch via our online form

UK/EU

+44 (0)20 7919 7766
course-info@gold.ac.uk

International (non-EU)

+44 (0)20 7919 7702
international@gold.ac.uk

MA in Creative and Life Writing Staff

Maura Dooley – Poet and Programme Co-ordinator for the MA

Maura has published six collections of poetry, including ‘Kissing a Bone’, and recently ‘Life Under Water’ (2008) both of which were shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. Maura is also an anthologist, has worked as a script consultant and been involved in numerous initiatives to enhance the profile of poetry in the United Kingdom.

Stephen Knight – poet, novelist and theatre director

His poetry publications include ‘Flowering Limbs’, ‘The Sandfields Baudelaire’, ‘Dream City Cinema’, and, for children, ‘Sardines and Other Poems’. He has published the novel, ‘Mr Schnitzel’ in 2000, and an anthology, ‘I Am Twenty People’, edited with Mimi Khalvati. His fiction and poetry reviews have appeared in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ and the ‘Independent on Sunday’.

Francis Spufford – novelist and anthologist

Francis produced an anthology of literature about the poles, ‘The Ends of the Earth’ (with Elizabeth Kolbert), and he is the author of ‘The Child That Books Built’, ‘The Backroom Boys’ and ‘Red Plenty’.

Ardashir Vakil – novelist and short story writer

His first novel, ‘Beach Boy’, won a Betty Trask Award, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and has been translated into 10 languages. His second novel, ‘One Day’, was shortlisted for the Encore Award.

Associate Tutors include Romesh Gunesekera, Pamela Johnson, Eva Salzman and Nick Drake.

Blake Morrison

“It’s a thrill seeing young writers I’ve worked with at Goldsmiths have their books accepted.”

Blake Morrison is best known for his autobiographical works ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ and ‘Things My Mother Never Told Me’, which redefined the memoir form. He has also written fiction, poetry, journalism, literary criticism and libretti, and has adapted plays for the stage. Blake has been a Professor at Goldsmiths since 2003 and is the director of the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre.

You’ve been at Goldsmiths for ten years this year. What is about the place that has kept you here?

“Yes, it will be 10 years in October, but my relationship with Goldsmiths goes right back, to when I ran a poetry workshop at the College in my mid-twenties. I like the energy of the place, the iconoclasm, the willingness to take risks and try new things.”

You live in South London and some of your writing is based here. What is about this area that inspires you?

“I come from the North (Yorkshire) but settled south of the river (Blackheath). It took me a while to write directly about South London; the landscapes in my head were all Pennine landscapes. But you can’t live in a place for long and avoid writing about it, and the river especially has begun to flow into my poems and novels – the Thames barrier and the Millennium Dome have already featured, and the Shard will be there in my next book.”

Is there any advice that you give in your teaching that you wish you’d taken yourself?

“Have confidence. Go for it. And keep going. I spent 15 years doing a full-time job as a books editor, writing only in spare moments, on the side. I wish I’d put my own writing at the centre of things a little earlier.”

How has your writing changed over the years? In what way has being at Goldsmiths shaped this?

“Teaching writing to others inevitably makes you more aware of what you’re up to in your own work. That isn’t necessarily a good thing – self-consciousness can be a curse – but at best you work harder to correct your faults, to ‘fail better’ as Samuel Beckett put it. I’ve certainly learned things from students I’ve worked with and I’m grateful for that.”

When you were younger did you ever expect to be a published writer, and do you still get a kick from seeing your name in print? 

“I grew up in a middle-class family but it wasn’t a literary family and the idea of being a published writer seemed remote. So yes, it was a thrill to get my first poems published. That thrill hasn’t altogether gone away, to get a finished copy of a new book is always a big moment, but the bigger thrill these days is seeing young writers I’ve worked with at Goldsmiths have their books accepted.”

Modules

Modules information to follow.

Programme specification

To find out more about this degree, including details about the ways you'll be assessed and information about our marking criteria, you can download the programme specification.

Student and Graduate profiles

MA in Creative and Life Writing, 2004

"I continue to tell anybody and everybody just how good this course is"

I completed the course in 2004, and continue to tell anybody and everybody just how good it is, and how useful it proved to be for me. Not because it greased my wheels into the publishing industry, but because the relationships I developed there, with fellow students and with tutors, have supported my career as a writer ever since. This has happened because of the atmosphere of the course, and its concentration on the craft of writing process and the importance of having the mindset, rather than the publishing competitiveness of some courses.

I began my first novel at Goldsmiths, and am now starting my third. Things have gone very well for me so far, I suppose, career-wise, but it is testament to how and why I began writing, on the course, that the work itself is always more important to me than that work's place in the book world.

Ross was one of two MA Creative & Life Writing graduates recognised in Granta's 2013 Best of Young British Novelists list.

Evie Wyld

"One of the most valuable things to learn - which Goldsmiths really helped me to discover - is when you’re writing well, and when you think you’re sounding like a writer - two very different things"

Goldsmiths is in a part of London that I have a great affection for. It still feels like it’s evolving - it’s so easy to get into central London from New Cross, and yet it feels a long way out. The course itself appealed because I wanted to be able to take writing seriously, something I found hard without time dedicated to it. I liked the idea of having a reading list that would mean coming across books I wouldn’t normally have picked up. Part of the joy of this is in working out what you like and what you don’t like and why. But most of all it was giving myself the dedicated time to write. 

My lecturer Stephen Knight was incredibly helpful and his advice still guides me today. He had a reputation as being quite hard on students’ work, and a few times he told me that what I was doing was baffling, and he was completely right. I think one of the most valuable things to learn - which Goldsmiths really helped me to discover - is when you’re writing well, and when you think you’re sounding like a writer - two very different things, and accepting that you’re going to write some total crap is all part of learning. Maura Dooley was another lecturer who helped me immensely. She is generally thought of by all who meet her as a golden god. Calm and very kind, I remember she made the entrance interview a lovely thing to undertake rather than a moment of horror. 

Evie was one of two MA Creative & Life Writing graduates recognised in Granta's 2013 Best of Young British Novelists list.

"Writing can be a pretty lonely business, but Goldsmiths provided support, an intellectual and creative environment, and an academic framework for me to work in."

I began the MA in Creative and Life Writing part-time in 2000, the first year of the course. I had wanted to write for a long time and the huge support and encouragement from staff in the department and fellow MA students was crucial in me beginning to find my feet as a writer, as well as giving me the conviction to carry on once the course was over.

Through the course I got an agent and then began to get stories published in the US, Ireland and here in the UK. I received a grant from the Arts Council to finish my first collection which was published in 2009 by Harvill Secker. By then I had already returned to Goldsmiths to begin a PhD in Creative Writing. I have the same supervisor, Maura Dooley, as I did for my MA and that continuity and her familiarity with my writing has been invaluable. Writing can be a pretty lonely business and Goldsmiths provides support, an intellectual and creative environment, as well as an academic framework for me to work in. Throughout my PhD I have continued to publish and have just been shortlisted for The Sunday Times/EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, the largest prize in the world for a single story. I aim to finish my PhD in summer 2013 and feel I will then be well placed to continue my career both inside and outside academia.

Neil

"It was only really during the degree that I started contemplating writing something new, hitting on the idea of a memoir."

During my degree I found myself being influenced by those around me, especially Blake Morrisson’s memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, which offered massive clues as to my own writing, and which suddenly changed midway through the degree with the likes of Stephen Knight, Francis Spufford, and the wonderful Maura Dooley all seemingly convinced that I was a ‘life writer’ hiding behind fiction.

I've just published my first book, Four Funerals and a Wedding (Journeys in Creative and Life Writing), on Kindle, and it will be followed by a paperback edition soon. I’d been working on the novel off and on for years, but if I’m honest, I didn’t really have the writing skills to bring it to a suitable end. I was never very ‘literate,’ and had not really read too many books of a classic nature, reading (and re-reading) mostly American crime novels. As such I simply kept writing, never really knowing how to finish, with one book turning into two, and then into a trilogy. It was only really during the degree that I started contemplating writing something new, hitting on the idea of a memoir.

By its very nature the book is extremely personal and reflective, but I’ve since realised that the themes I’ve tackled – love, death, relationships – are universal, especially the parts referring to bereavement and grief, which many people, those that have read parts of the book, have commented offer up similar experiences to their own.

Lucy Caldwell 

"Find your own pole star and follow it regardless of the 'success' or 'failure' you encounter"

Lucy was born in Belfast and, after gaining an English degree from the University of Cambridge, came to Goldsmiths to develop her creative writing on the MA programme. Her first novel, 'Where They Were Missed', was published in 2006 and her second novel, 'The Meeting Point', came out this year. It was awarded The Rooney Prize for its extraordinary promise. Her plays have been performed at the Royal Court Theatre and by the BBC. 

"The most important thing is to be resilient... to keep going," she said. "Find your own pole star and follow it regardless of the 'success' or 'failure' you encounter."

She said of the programme: "The best thing about it was the fantastic tutors. Now I'm an MA lecturer myself, I really appreciate the work that Maura Dooley, Stephen Knight and Blake Morrison put in to reading draft after draft of my novel-in-progress so closely, and for their unswerving support."

More from our graduates

Careers and Skills

Careers

Graduates of this programme include Tom Lee, Lucy Caldwell, Ross Raisin, Amy Sackville, Rohan Kriwaczek, Evie WyldSara GrantNaomi Foyle, Bronia Kita, Lijia Zhang, Ashley Dartnell and Suzanne Joinson and the poets Emily Berry, Andy Spragg, Kate Potts, Jack Underwood, Abigail Parry, Anthony Joseph, Katrina Naomi and Matthew Gregory.

Among them they've won or been shortlisted for awards including The Sunday Times/EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012, the Rooney Prize for Literature 2011, the 2008 and 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize, several Eric Gregory Awards, The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2009, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 2009 and 2010, the Guardian First Book Award, the New Writing Ventures Prize, and several Betty Trask Awards.

Other graduates have gone on to work in publishing (for example, as senior commissioning editors), journalism, public relations, teaching, advertising, the civil service, business, industry, and the media.

Skills

The MA will enable you to develop transferable skills, including: enhanced communication and discussion skills in written and oral contexts; the ability to analyse and evaluate different textual materials; the ability to organise information, and to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments.

Student work

Automatons
Derek Adams

Breton and Soupault, 1930
 
André writes, he does not stop,
words bubble from the depths, his pen 
erupts with images he can’t contain:
awake two days, two nights, the clock
no longer signifies a thing
its tic tic rhythm - crazy jazz -
synchronises a second hand with his.

Philippe’s eyes wide, his synapse sing
of chess pieces De Sade has bound,
surprising beasts and magnetic waves,
whose shapes appear and go to ground.
The pen nib screeches on the page,
thoughts run before its baying hounds:
words drop exhausted where they may.

 

Arpeggios
Elly Parsons

I

Driving Music

The radio survived the blow
but stuck, like spinning wheels in snow,
on Lennon’s eternal tone, so
this is Christmas / what have you done? 

II

Domestic

As I hear the laugh of another girl
enter my silent kingdom,
I stand my ground, iron your pants
and imagine you’re in them. 

III

Family Treasure

My Grandfather is writing a directory
of Corporation Rubbish Tips.
When he dies, which he will,
I hope I don’t inherit it.
 

>> Visit our online journal Goldfish for more samples of student work


Content last modified: 05 Dec 2014

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