What’s it like studying Creative Writing?

Paul Haswell

The Creative Writing MA at Durham is such a great opportunity to improve your writing in the company of award-winning authors and talented students. The course includes creative and critical work, so get ready to write a few essays, including the Research Project which is half-creative, half-critical work. You can choose one module from the English department more widely, which is a good chance to explore areas of research you might not have considered before and really helps with developing your own creative work.

From BA to MA

I chose to study a Creative Writing MA at Durham because I took the one creative writing module offered in the English BA (also at Durham) and loved it. I knew that if I didn’t do the Master’s, I wouldn’t be motivated enough to write in my own time outside of university, so I chose to do it to force myself to create an actual body of work. I knew the tutors from my degree, and knew how helpful they are at pointing you in the right direction – and they should know! I never really allowed myself to believe that I could write in the future and resigned myself to a soulless job, but taking the course has changed my attitude. It’s now my absolute dream to be a writer for a living, and this course has definitely shaped that mindset.

Great modules

The actual modules on the course are great – the compulsory ‘Writing Prose’ (or poetry, if you so choose) forces me to write and receive feedback from my classmates and tutors, which is so helpful in developing my work. ‘Reading as a Writer’ challenges me to try out different techniques based on the lecture content – for example, I’ve had to write like Henry James, explore non-literary texts, and write music and images, something that I would never have done by my own accord. The fact that I have enjoyed this module has probably been the biggest surprise – the techniques I use have found themselves in my general creative practice and have sparked some of my favourite ideas. I definitely prefer the creative side of the degree to the critical – but, then again, who wouldn’t – although being forced to think critically about authors I haven’t written about before has strongly influenced my work. I have written an essay about the Surrealist writer and painter Leonora Carrington, whose work I became briefly obsessed with last term. Her incredible works have definitely influenced my own, and I find myself leaning towards the Surreal more and more!

Workshops are so helpful

Reading other people’s work was strange at first, because it felt almost intrusive, but now workshopping feels natural and it’s genuinely a privilege to read my classmates’ work. It can sometimes be daunting to read established authors’ work who are all at the top of their game, as I did constantly during my English degree – so it’s good to read the unfinished, developing work of the people around me. I can learn from them more easily than from reading Joyce, for example, because we’re all at a similar level.

The publishing process

This term we are developing a course anthology of our work, which will be published with the help of publishing students from UEA. I am one of the prose editors on the project, which will give me insight into the publishing process. Everybody is pulling together, with illustrators and proof-readers and event-launchers, so it feels like a real team effort. I am especially excited about it all as the anthology gets sent to a long list of publishers and agents!

Attack of the Fenkels


This is from a short story called ‘Attack of the Flenkels’, which follows a man who is taken to another world from his back garden. It, like a few of my stories, is quite silly, but aims to capture lost youth and the desire to feel alive again. I love writing about my native Derbyshire, and setting the fantastical within the real.

Durham has lots to offer

When I was thinking about where I’d like to do my Master’s, I did consider other courses like UEA or some of the London universities. But I landed on Durham for lots of reasons: the sheer range of societies to take part in outside of the degree, the beauty of the city and the surrounding countryside (well worth exploring), the excellent (cheap) range of college bars, and of course its proximity to the greatest team the world has ever seen (Sunderland A.F.C). When I do (eventually) leave Durham, I’ll always be pining for it and I expect I’ll be returning to the North East before long.

Discover more

Find out more about opportunities to study Creative Writing at Durham University 

Creative Writing MA

 Creative Writing PhD and MLitt 

Department of English Studies 

Paul Haswell

I’m studying for a Master’s in Creative Writing at Ustinov College. I love writing about my native Derbyshire, and setting the fantastical within the real.

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