Studying Creative Writing
  with Joseph O'Connor


Maybe you’d like to become a better writer? Perhaps you’re interested in writing fiction, stage plays or film scripts. If so, there’s a new opportunity coming up at the University of Limerick: our MA course in Creative Writing, starting this September.

Every published novelist throughout history has studied Creative Writing. It’s just that some of them did this on their own. But it’s worth knowing that a story has (and is) a structure, that there are things we can learn and teach about it. That a story will tend to be pieced together in acts. That effective characters resonate and embody contradictions. The great novelist Doris Lessing said ‘I dislike words like inspiration. To me, writing is more like engineering.’

Simple things: if you know the end of the story, you have a destination to aim at. When you take out a sentence, what happens is powerful. Less is more. Character is plot. Absence is presence. Cut the first paragraph. Come into a scene late, leave it early.

There are aspects of storytelling understood by everyone from the ancient Greeks to the writers of THE WIRE and LOVE/HATE. Writing is an art, but it’s also a craft. Studying it can’t make you a writer. But it won’t hurt your chances. John Boyne and Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright are only two of the award-winning Irish authors who took Creative Writing at third-level. John McGahern said ‘Writing is seeing.’ But it’s more than that. Writing is knowing what to say. As Syd Field, the great Hollywood screenwriting guru once put it: ‘The hardest thing about writing is knowing what to write.’ That’s where knowledge opens up discovery. The structured approach of our new Creative Writing MA at UL will foster that discovery. Our students will be taught by published and internationally successful writers who will engage one-on-one with their work.

The workshop approach to Creative Writing develops the capacity to analyse, edit and re-write, three skills worth learning if you intend writing to be any part of your life. But our approach is workshop and literature based. There’s a hinterland. We can learn so much from critically reading Claire Keegan, Raymond Carver, Jennifer Egan or James Joyce, so why not? Reading and writing are intimately related, two aspects of the same act of empathy. With accomplished and experienced colleagues, we’ll offer a wide range of background courses and contextual groundings, with the core workshops that will focus on your writing.

We’ll be looking at contemporary Irish fiction: more women writing than ever before, voices of the new immigrants to Ireland beginning (slowly) to appear, the emergence of the first generation of Irish writers not to be influenced by each other or by the generation immediately preceding. Ireland is home to many award-winning writers, including Colm Toibin, Sebastian Barry, John Banville, Dermot Bolger, Kevin Barry and Deirdre Madden, but younger or newer authors like Claire Kilroy, Donal Ryan, Paul Murray, Michelle Forbes, Colin Barrett and Audrey Magee are making Irish fiction more vivid than ever. Published novelists and makers of theatre will be visiting our MA students regularly. We’ll be learning to read like writers.

Our Creative Writing MA is focused on originating, producing and developing work: a suite of short stories, a sequence of a novel, scenes from a play or script. We’ll also cover the basics of playwriting, screenwriting and writing for radio. Students will be meeting publishers, editors, literary agents and film and television producers. There is no substitute for critical reading but we’ll be ranging more widely, looking at songs as a form of storytelling. If you want to explore the possibilities of, say, the epistolary narrative technique, it’s easier to play Eminem’s STAN, which takes four minutes, than to read all of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. We’ll be looking at Irish, British and American ballads as a way of understanding narrative. We’ll be looking at blues, rap and folk. The old Scottish traditional song ANACHIE GORDON uses multiple narrators, shifting points of view and altering tenses - techniques the novel wouldn’t discover for a further hundred years. Given the international reputation of UL for traditional music and performance, the prospect of making music a part of thinking about Creative Writing is particularly exciting.

So, if you’d like to study writing with teachers who know what it takes to write and publish a novel, consider the Creative Writing MA at UL. If you have an undergraduate degree, or have worked in the arts, or are a person who’s done some writing but would like to do more, we’re interested in hearing from you.

Details from

Joseph O’Connor
Novelist and Frank McCourt Professor of Creative Writing
University of Limerick.


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