Creative Writing Summer School


This residential summer school offers you a singular chance to immerse yourself in your writing over three intensive weeks spent in Oxford.

Under the guidance of experienced tutors, you will write, develop your technique, sharpen your critical faculties and discuss your work in small, focussed seminars. Each day you’ll attend a plenary talk given by an author, publisher, agent, or editor.  You’ll live and work in beautiful Exeter College – founded 1314 – the environment that nurtured J.R.R. Tolkein, Philip Pullman, Martin Amis, William Morris and many others.

At the end of your three weeks, you’ll have acquired new skills, made new friends, and developed a fresh portfolio of creative writing.

The academic programme consists of

  • small interactive seminars featuring writing exercises and group discussion
  • guidance by tutors who are both published authors and experienced teachers
  • daily talks and readings given by established authors, agents, editors and others

Seminars are offered at two levels (Level 1 and Level 2 – see ‘Selection Criteria‘ below) to ensure a good fit with your experience as a writer.

Applicants at Level 1 take two mandatory seminars, Critical Reading for Creative Writers and Developing as a Creative Writer.

Applicants at Level 2 choose two seminars from:

  • Approaches to Discovering and Writing Poetry
  • Creative Non-Fiction
  • Fine-Tune Your Fiction
  • Turning Ideas into Narratives
  • Writing for Performance
  • Young Adult Fiction.

Seminars will involve writing exercises, group discussion, and the development of a portfolio of creative writing.

Each seminar has two two-hour meetings per week. Classes typically contain no more than 12 students.

Contact hours

The programme provides a minimum of 46.5 contact hours, comprising:

  • 24 hours of seminar meetings (12 hours per seminar); and
  • 22.5 hours of talks and readings (15 sessions, each lasting 1.5 hours).

Social programme

Optional social events are offered throughout the summer school, and may include a walking tour of Oxford, after-dinner talks and weekend excursions to sites of literary and/or historical interest. ((Most of these activities incur additional costs, which are payable by students in Oxford.)

Students have an opportunity to share their ideas and work with the group at open mic nights (one per week) and informal peer-led workshop sessions (two per week).

Beyond the summer school, Oxford is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a busy cultural and social scene offering a wide variety of plays and shows, concerts, films and exhibitions.

Programme details


Please check the seminar timetables carefully to ensure that your first and second choice courses do not run at the same time.

Seminar options

Level 1 courses

Critical Reading for Creative Writers

What can we learn from fiction writers and poets, and how can we feed this back into our own creative writing? This course takes a selection of writing from the 1800s to the present as a basis for critical reading and discussion, asking what the techniques of canonical writers can tell us about our own creative work. We shall also consider less successful writing, and writing from a range of genres – from crime fiction to chick lit – to analyse what it is that makes a piece of writing ‘good’ or ‘bad’: and to think about how we might apply this to our own creative projects.

Tutor: Dr Tara Stubbs is Associate Professor in English Literature and Creative Writing at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, and Director of the Creative Writing Summer School. She is the author of a range of publications on modernist poetry and fiction, with a focus on Irish and American literature, and is working on new projects on Anglo-American poetry, Irish-American literature, and the idea of the sonnet within modern Irish poetry.

Developing as a Creative Writer

Want to improve your creative writing? This course will offer you the chance to develop your creative prose in an inspirational and nurturing environment. By looking at the techniques that published writers use, we shall learn how we can bring our own stories to life. Practical exercises and discussion of each other’s work will enable us to deepen our understanding of fundamentals such as character, description, plot, dialogue, point of view and suspense. We shall also experiment with different narrative forms. Last but not least the course will explore how to rewrite and edit – vital skills for your creative writing in the future.

Tutor: Frank Egerton read English at Keble College, Oxford, and has reviewed fiction for The Times, Times Literary Supplement and Financial Times. He teaches creative writing at undergraduate and postgraduate level for Oxford University. He is the author of The Lock (Smaller Sky Books, 2003) and Invisible (StreetBooks, 2010). He is interested in both the close examination of fiction and how new technologies are changing the publishing industry. The e-book edition of The Lockreached the finals of the Independent eBook Awards. He is a former editor of The Oxford Writer and Chair of Writers in Oxford. He has recently completed a work of life writing, entitled I Am the Man Who Lives in a Shoe.

Level 2 courses

Approaches to Discovering and Writing Poetry

Robert Frost once said ‘No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader’. In this course we shall look at a range of ways to surprise ourselves in the act of writing as well as examining relationships between form and content. In playful collaborative exercises and individual work, as well as the study and analysis of poems by great practitioners of the art, we shall try to see what makes a vivid or striking poem, and start to employ some of these approaches in our own writing.

Tutor: Matthew Barton has won many poetry awards, is a creative writing tutor at Oxford University and has published three collections of poems, the latest from Shoestring Press.

Creative Non-Fiction

How do we tell stories: about ourselves; the people we have known; the places that have influenced us? This course uses the writer’s own experiences as a starting point for the development of the creation of character, setting, and the narrative voice. By honing their observational and interpretational skills – learning to mine the world around them for material – students will view themselves as both writer and character, learning to see the relationship between themselves and their world in literary terms. Drawing from my experience as a travel writer, journalist and essayist, I shall challenge students to see how, for example, writing about a formative childhood romance and profiling a Christian street preacher require similar skills. Topics will include writing about place, writing about people, and writing about the self.

Tutor: Tara Isabella Burton is a regular contributor on religion, culture, and place to National Geographic, Al Jazeera, the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and more. She has written on Sufi mystics in the Caucasus, Islamic shamans in Izmir, and Christian evangelical street preachers in Las Vegas. In 2012 she received the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing. Her fiction has appeared in PANK,, Shimmer, and more; she has recently completed a novel.

Fine-Tune Your Fiction

This course is designed to help you hone your craft as a writer and see your project through to its completion. We shall start by examining your aims and motivation, troubleshooting any problems you are having when it comes to maintaining your commitment and progress. We shall explore how to give your writing maximum resonance and power, analysing how you can use voice and point of view, give your characters extra depth and weave together story strands, themes and images. Finally, we shall look at sending your work out into the world, with advice on editing and pitching, together with a synopsis surgery.

Tutor: Lorna Fergusson is a literary consultant, novelist and prize-winning short story writer, who has taught on various Oxford University Department for Continuing Education programmes since 2002. In 2013 she republished her novel, The Chase, originally published by Bloomsbury in 1999. Her chapter on ‘Pre-writing’ appears in Studying Creative Writing (ed. Sharon Norris; The Professional and Higher Partnership, 2013).

Turning Ideas into Narratives

This course is aimed at those who are starting to write prose but do not yet feel fully confident. Using a variety of exercises and some examples from literature, we shall investigate the formation of character, and develop character arcs. Then we shall develop story and plot outlines together, planning scenes and getting to grips with cliff-hanger chapter endings. Finally, we shall attempt to identify and discuss your unique strengths and preferences with a view to finding your USP – unique selling point.

Tutor: Dr Rachel Bentham has been Royal Literary Fellow at Bath University, and teaches for both Bristol and Bath Spa Universities. Her plays and short stories have been regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and her poetry is internationally published. She has recently completed a novel set in nineteenth-century Tahiti. Her current collection of haiku is called Let All Tongues Flower (firewaterpress, 2013).

Writing for Performance

This course will provide anyone who wants to write for stage, screen or radio with a toolkit of essential skills for creating compelling drama – story design, character development and delivery of themes through action and dialogue. Exploring these key techniques of good writing will be supported by the tutor’s practical experience of working in theatres and on radio. We shall explore key skills, discuss extracts from scripts, and work creatively in group activities and collaborative and solo creative writing. No experience of script writing is required, but a desire to give actors great lines and audiences dramatic moments to excite them is crucial!

Tutor: Shaun McCarthy is a playwright of stage and radio dramas. He runs his own production company, Hooligan Theatre Productions, and is currently writing and producing a ‘compilation’ musical and writing a farce about spies. Recent stage productions include Trades (Brewery Theatre at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, 2013), The Hooligan Nights (Hooligan Theatre/Redgrave Theatre, Bristol, 2014), Collider, (Old Fire Station, Oxford, 2015), and showcase performances of a musical Scrumpy and Western prior to touring (2015).

Young Adult Fiction

The young adult/crossover fiction market is one of the fastest growing areas of publishing. This course, run by an established novelist, will look at the way successful writers have used dialogue, tackled taboos and developed plots to appeal to younger readers. It will also explore such key topics as planning, research, and inspiration. Students will be guided in the development of a story of their own, and there will be an opportunity to share work during the seminars.

Tutor: Julie Hearn is the Carnegie-nominated author of a number of novels for young adults: Follow Me Down (2009), The Merrybegot (2005), Ivy (2006), Hazel (2007), Rowan the Strange (2010), and Wreckers (2011), all published by Oxford University Press. Her seventh novel, Dance of the Dark Heart, was published by OUP in April 2014.


All students who complete the programme will receive an ‘attendance certificate’.

Those seeking credit at their home institution may request a ‘detailed certificate’ which lists contact hours (for talks, readings and seminars), an assessment of their contribution to seminar discussions, grades achieved for written work, and the number of private study hours required. Certificates will usually be sent to students’ home institutions within a month of the end of the summer school.

As Oxford University does not offer credit for this summer school, those wishing to obtain credit from their home institution for attending this programme must make appropriate arrangements with that institution in advance.



Founded in 1314, Exeter College is one of Oxford University`s oldest colleges and is situated in a prime city centre location.

Bedrooms and meals

Students who choose to attend the summer school on a residential basis will have a single study bedroom.

Bedrooms are located up the four to nine floors of a staircase; bath and/or shower and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. A limited number of rooms have private bathroom facilities (shower and toilet) and these are available for a higher fee. Early application for these rooms is essential.

Students cannot be accommodated at Exeter College either prior to or beyond their programme dates. Family members and/or friends who are not enrolled on this summer school cannot be accommodated in college.

Residential students will take meals in the college’s dining hall. Breakfast and lunch are self-service with a range of options available; dinner is a served set menu meal. Should applicants have any dietary requirements (eg vegetarian, gluten-free) they are required to complete the relevant section on the application form.

Non-residential students

Students who choose to attend the summer school on a non-residential basis are responsible for finding their own accommodation. Information on accommodation in Oxford is available at:


Students will have access to the Continuing Education Library (around 10 minutes’ walk from Exeter College), but no other Oxford University libraries.

IT requirements

Although it is not required, most students bring a laptop to Oxford to assist them with their studies.

For residential students, wireless internet access is available in all bedrooms; for all students, wireless access is available in communal spaces of the college.

All students will be eligible to use the computers and printer in Exeter College’s computer room.


Residential: Standard (shared bathroom) – £2,945; Residential: En suite (private bathroom facilities) – £3,225; Non-residential (no accommodation or meals) – £1,300


Programme fees

  • Residential: Standard (shared bathroom facilities) – £2,945
    Fees include tuition; access to IT facilities and libraries; accommodation in a standard single room with shared bathroom facilities for the nights of Sunday 23 July to Friday 11 August 2017 inclusive; meals in hall from dinner on Sunday 23 July to breakfast on Saturday 12 August 2017 (except lunch on Saturdays and Sundays).
  • Residential: En suite (private bathroom facilities) – £3,225
    Fees include tuition; access to IT facilities and libraries; accommodation in a single en suite room with private shower and toilet for the nights of Sunday 23 July to Friday 11 August 2017 inclusive; meals in hall from dinner on Sunday 23 July to breakfast on Saturday 12 August 2017 (except lunch on Saturdays and Sundays).
  • Non-residential – £1,300
    Fees include tuition; access to IT facilities and libraries; no accommodation; no meals, except the programme`s formal opening and closing dinners on Sunday 23 July and Friday 11 August 2017, respectively.

There are no sources of funding (scholarships, bursaries, etc) available for applicants.

Invoicing and payment

Successful applicants who accept their offer of a place on the summer school will be invoiced for the appropriate programme fee once they have been formally enrolled on the programme.

Invoices will be emailed to students together with full instructions for payment. Fees may be paid online with a credit or debit card, or by bank transfer.

Students are required to pay the full fee within 30 days of the date on which their invoice was issued. Late applicants (see ‘Apply for this course’, below) are required to pay the full fee within 7 days of their invoice date.

Please note that:

  • students are expected to take out vacation cancellation insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs (see ‘Cancellations’, below);
  • a student’s place on the summer school is not confirmed until their fees have been paid in full;
  • places will not be held for students whose fees are not paid in full by the due date; and
  • in no circumstances will students be admitted to the summer school unless all fees have been paid in full.

When you have paid your fees

Your place on the summer school is confirmed as soon as your payment is received by OUDCE.

You will receive a receipt for your payment: by email if paid online, or by post if paid by bank transfer.

If you are a non-EEA student you will receive a letter confirming your enrolment and course details which may be used to support your application for a short-term study visa: this letter will be sent by post (see ‘Level and demands’, above).


All enrolments are subject to OUDCE’s ‘Short Selective Course Terms and Conditions’.

A contract between OUDCE and a student comes into being when a student accepts an offer of a place on the summer school.

You have the right to cancel this contract at any time within 14 days, beginning on the day you accepted the offer.

Please be aware that if you cancel your place at any time after the expiry of the 14-day period you will not be entitled to a refund of the price paid for the summer school.

If you wish to cancel your place on the summer school you must inform the Programme Administrator by email at

You are expected to take out vacation cancellation insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs, and you should consult your travel agent and/or insurer for information and advice. OUDCE does not provide any insurance cover.

OUDCE reserves the right to alter details of any course should illness or any other emergency prevent a tutor from teaching, and to cancel a course or seminar if exceptionally low enrolment would make it educationally unviable.

The status of this course will be reviewed on 15 May 2017. If it is likely that individual seminars or the course may be cancelled, all those affected will be notified by email within 7 days, and possible options clearly explained.

If you have not heard from OUDCE by 22 May 2017, you should assume that the course and your seminars will be running; there is no need to contact us to confirm. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.


Before you submit your application

  • ensure you meet the admissions requirements (see ‘Selection criteria’, below);
  • make sure you have all the required supporting documents listed below;
  • ensure you are familiar with the terms and conditions of enrolment on the summer school, especially those relating to payment of fees and cancellations (see ‘Payment’, above); and
  • read the ‘Important information regarding immigration and visa requirements’ (see ‘Level and demands’, below).

The application process

Download, print and complete the application form.

Please ensure all sections are completed fully, clearly, and in BLOCK CAPITALS.

The form must be accompanied by:

  • A brief statement of purpose (350-400 words) detailing your academic reasons for wishing to attend the summer school. This should include what you feel the programme would offer you and your writing, and what you feel you could bring to the summer school. This may include details of creative writing courses you have previously taken, or the relevance of the summer school to your present course of study or professional development. Level 2 applicants: it is essential that you clearly state your reasons for wishing to enrol on specific seminars.
  • Samples of your writing which demonstrate your powers of creative expression.
    • If you are applying for Level 1 you should provide two 1,000-word samples: one being a piece of critical writing that analyses closely a poem, short story or other example of fictional writing (considering issues such as narrative or poetic voice, tone, point of view, form and style): the other a piece of prose fiction.
    • If you are applying for Level 2 please provide samples of your work relevant to your first and second choice courses and ensure that the name of the seminar is printed at the top of each sample.
      As a guideline prose fiction, narrative non-fiction and dramatic dialogue samples should be no more than 1,000 words in length (please provide an extract of a longer piece of work if appropriate); applicants for the poetry seminar should provide five short poems.
  • Copies of your university transcripts. These must be in English.
  • In the case of non-native speakers of English, official evidence of English language competency.
  • A letter of recommendation, ideally from a person who knows your academic work, though in the case of those no longer engaged in courses of academic study, recommendations from other sources (eg your employer or head teacher) will be accepted. A reference from a family member is not acceptable. Please note that the letter of recommendation must refer specifically to your application to the Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School.
  • Four photographs (UK passport-sized – ie 4.5cm high x 3.5cm wide), with your full name printed on the back of each.

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Applications should be posted to: Creative Writing Summer School, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK

You may wish to send your application by a courier service or registered post for speed and/or security of delivery.

We are currently unable to receive applications by email.

After you have submitted your application

You will receive an email from confirming receipt of your application materials, and informing you when your application will be reviewed by the admissions panel.

Application deadlines

This summer school operates a ‘gathered field’ closing date system by which applications are reviewed fairly and equally in batches at specific dates throughout the admissions period rather than on a first come, first served or rolling basis.

There is a limited number of places available on every graduate-level course within each gathered field, and in assigning successful applicants to seminar groups the admissions panel will pay particular attention to applicants’ personal statements.

There are three deadlines for applications:

  • Gathered field 1 – 1 February 2017
  • Gathered field 2 – 15 March 2017
  • Gathered field 3 – 1 May 2017

Subject to the availability of places, late applications may be considered on a first come, first served basis until 1 June 2017.

Notification of the admission panel’s decision

Applicants will normally be notified of the panel’s decision by email from within 14 days of the relevant gathered field deadline.

Applicants who are offered a place on the summer school must respond in writing within 14 days to accept or decline the offer. In accepting an offer of a place applicants are committing to paying their programme fees in full by the due date.

Late applicants will be notified within 7 days of their materials having been received, and successful applicants will then have 7 days in which to accept or decline the offer of a place.


Students will be formally enrolled on the summer school once they have accepted their offer of a place.

The enrolment process includes the issuing of invoices, which will be emailed to students together with full instructions for payment (see ‘Payment’, above).

Further course information

Students will receive the following information by email from prior to the summer school:

  • In April 2017 – academic and course information, including detailed course content and required preparatory reading*
  • In April 2017 – joining instructions, containing a wealth of practical information to assist students as they prepare to travel to to the summer school (eg how to get to Oxford, arrangements at Exeter College)*
  • In May 2017 – details of the lecture programme
  • In June 2017 – details of the social programme
  • In June 2017 – confirmation of arrival day arrangements.

*Successful gathered field 2 and 3 applicants will receive this information on enrolment.

Any queries?

Please contact the Programme Administrator by email at

Level and demands

Participants are expected to

  • undertake preparatory reading in advance of the programme;
  • attend all seminar sessions and talks and readings;
  • be actively engaged with their seminar topics;
  • submit an assignment of 2,000-3,000 words in length for each seminar taken; and
  • undertake approximately 96 hours of private study during the programme (elements of private study will include: reading, writing and other preparation between seminar meetings, work in the library, writing papers, etc).

Important information regarding immigration and visa requirements

If you are an European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss national you do not need a visa to enter the UK to participate in the summer school. You are free to enter the UK as long as you show your EEA or Swiss passport on arrival.

If you are not an EEA or Swiss national, you may need to apply for a visa to enter the UK depending on which passport you hold.

If the system shows that you require a visa: you should apply for a short-term study visa, which allows students over the age of 18 to study either part-time or full-time for up to 6 months in the UK.

If the system shows that you do not require a visa: you will still need to bring certain documents to show at the border in order to be admitted as a short-term student.

If you are not an EEA or Swiss national we strongly recommend that you establish whether you will require a visa before submitting your application. Please check current visa processing times to find out how long getting a visa might take in the country you are applying from. You should ensure your summer school application is submitted as early as possible to allow yourself sufficient time to complete the visa application process.

The Programme Administrator will provide all non-EEA students with a standard format letter confirming enrolment and course details once their fees have been paid in full.

For legal reasons the Programme Administrator is not permitted to provide any visa advice to applicants: all such enquiries should be submitted to Oxford University’s student visa and immigration advisers via email at

Disabled students (including those with mobility difficulties)

The aim of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (OUDCE) is to treat all students equally and welcomes applications from people with disabilities. Individuals` needs are taken into account as far as possible, providing reasonable adaptations and assistance within the resources available. We ask that people let us know of any disability or special need (confidentially if required) so that we can help them participate as fully as possible.

When applying for OUDCE`s college-based summer schools, prospective students with mobility difficulties or visual or hearing impairments may want to make preliminary enquiries to the Programme Administrator, as the age and layout of these colleges often makes them user-unfriendly (although adaptations are often possible). Oxford, as an ancient city, tends to be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. The number of very old buildings, designed in an age less sensitive to issues of disability, makes access to much of the city centre difficult. However, OUDCE will do as much as it is able to make study with the department possible.

Applicants should contact us if they will have problems gaining access to a bedroom or a teaching room that is located on upper or basement floors, or to the college dining hall (which is reached via a flight of stairs).

Selection criteria

This is an intensive programme of study taught to an informed international audience. Applicants should be confident that they are academically and linguistically prepared for such a programme.

  • All applicants should be keen readers and bring an open-minded, questioning approach to both reading and writing.
  • All applicants should have written regularly and read widely over a sustained period.

Academic requirements

Seminars are offered at two levels, to cater for students’ writerly experience:

  • Level 1 is suitable for applicants who have completed one year of a full-time single honours university degree course in creative writing or English literature, or a combined honours university degree course in creative writing and English literature.
  • Level 2 is suitable for applicants who have completed two years of a full-time single honours university degree course in creative writing or English literature, or a combined honours university degree course in creative writing and English literature.
  • Note for those whose degree is in a different, but related, subject: the admissions panel will look for evidence that applicants have taken a significant number of courses in creative writing or English literature, namely the equivalent of one year’s worth of credits in these subjects if applying for Level 1 and two years’ worth of credits if applying for Level 2.

The summer school is not appropriate for those who have already achieved commercial publication.

In exceptional circumstances the admissions panel may consider applications from those who do not have experience of studying creative writing or English literature at university: in such cases applicants must be able to provide evidence of significant prior activity as a creative writer.

English language requirements

As students are expected to participate fully in seminar discussions and are required to produce written work it is important that applicants can demonstrate an appropriate level of proficiency in the four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Applicants for whom English is not their first language must provide evidence of their competency in the form of an original certificate or a certified copy that is not more than two years old on the date the summer school starts. These applicants must satisfy one of the following requirements:

  • IELTS Academic – minimum overall score of 6.5, with not less than 6.5 in each of the four components
  • TOEFL iBT – minimum overall score of 100, with not less than 25 in each of the four components
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) – grade C or above.

For further information on English language qualifications:

However, non-native speakers of English who have successfully completed a full-time degree-level programme at a university where English is the language of instruction or who have significant business and professional experience in an English-speaking environment may not need to provide a certificate of English language qualification. Please contact the Programme Administrator for further details.

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