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Focus on fiction: A series of workshops with Cambridge University’s creative writing tutors

Guardian Masterclasses

Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM - Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 4:00 PM (GMT)

Focus on fiction: A series of workshops with Cambridge...

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Focus on fiction: A series of workshops with Cambridge University’s creative writing tutors Nov 10, 2017 £399.00 £6.50
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Hone your storytelling skills and energise your writing with Professor Jem Poster and Dr Sarah Burton of the University of Cambridge creative writing programme

Whether you are a beginner when it comes to writing fiction, or you’d simply like to sharpen and energise your practice, this four-part series with Professor Jem Poster and Dr Sarah Burton, will boost your confidence and help you develop key skills. Currently leading the master’s degree course in creative writing at the University of Cambridge, between them Jem and Sarah have over 30 years’ experience and have published fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

This comprehensive creative writing series will start with a look at memory and imagination, helping you to unlock your creative resources. The subsequent sessions will see you delve into character and plot development, finding your narrative voice and the right point of view for your story, as well as creating a convincing setting.

You will work in a supportive and relaxed environment, participate in practical exercises and be able to receive feedback and ask any questions you may have during the sessions. Although you are encouraged to sign up for the entire series to best develop your writing, you also have the option to attend individual sessions, bookable via links below.


Session 1: Memory and imagination - Saturday 11 November 2017

Aspiring writers are often told: “Write what you know.” But how do we really know what we know? When Shakespeare created compelling characters, such as Othello and Shylock, he didn’t know what it was to be black or Jewish – but he did know what it was to be an outsider, and he found in his own remembered experience the basis for an understanding of his characters’ imagined lives.

Empathy is an act both of memory and of imagination, and our writing will be enriched if we learn how to harness the two. Through discussion and practical exercises, this session will examine the nature of memory and imagination, and the creative chemistry of their interaction. You will leave with the knowledge and confidence to use your own experiences and observations as springboards to writing imaginative fiction.

Session 2: Character and plot - Saturday 9 December 2017

Which comes first, a great plot idea or a brilliant character? Ideally the two feed into each other, but it’s often difficult to know where to begin. Whether you have great ideas for stories and struggle with characterisation, or invent wonderful characters but are daunted by plot – or, indeed, if you find both challenging – this session will help you create believable three-dimensional characters and convincing stories for them to inhabit and influence.

Jem and Sarah will discuss how characters reveal themselves through speech and action, how plot may determine character and how character may influence plot. You will leave the day having learned to channel your understanding of the interaction between plot and character to create a consistent and convincing narrative.

Session 3: Point of view and narrative voice - Saturday 13 January 2018

When you have your story and your characters, how do you decide the point of entry for your reader? First person or third person? Reliable or unreliable narrator? One point of view or several? Whose voice do you want the reader to “hear”? All stories pivot on the question of which character knows what and – crucially – what your reader knows and when you let them know it.

This session engages with the narrative issues facing the fiction writer in relation to voice and viewpoint, exploring the advantages and limitations of various approaches. You will discover the importance of narrative voice and viewpoint to the establishment and development of your stories, and leave feeling more confident about cultivating your own voice and those of your characters.

Session 4: Time and place - Saturday 10 February 2018

How do you create atmosphere and make your readers feel as though they are “really there”? How do you inspire a strong sense of time and place without holding up the narrative? This session will explore the ways in which you can evoke environment, from the intimate and domestic to the epic landscape, and make context work for your story.

You will observe the treatment of time and place in storytelling, paying attention to both landscapes and interiors. You will leave the day with an understanding of how time operates in fiction and how you can create a sense of place through concrete cues and sensory stimuli in your writing.

Tutor profiles

Jem Poster is the author of two novels – Courting Shadows and Rifling Paradise – as well as a collection of poetry, Brought to Light. He has won major prizes in the Cardiff International Poetry and the Peterloo Poets Open Poetry competitions. He is emeritus professor of creative writing at Aberystwyth University and has been chair of the editorial board of New Welsh Review. He is currently programme adviser to the Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education’s MSt in creative writing and director of its international summer programme in creative writing.

Sarah Burton has been course director of the creative writing MSt at Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education since 2013. Her publications include two critically acclaimed biographies, Impostors: Six Kinds of Liar and A Double Life: A Biography of Charles and Mary Lamb, which was shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year award; a children’s book, The Miracle in Bethlehem: A Storyteller’s Tale; a page-to-stage guide, How to Put on a Community Play, and the humorous Complete and Utter History of the World By Samuel Stewart, Aged 9.

Full course and returns information on the Masterclasses website

Have questions about Focus on fiction: A series of workshops with Cambridge University’s creative writing tutors? Contact Guardian Masterclasses

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When & Where

The Guardian
Kings Place
90 York Way
N1 9GU London
United Kingdom

Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM - Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 4:00 PM (GMT)

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Guardian Masterclasses

Welcome to Guardian masterclasses – a unique programme of learning embedded within one of the world's most forward-thinking media organisations.

Masterclasses offer a broad range of short and long courses across a variety of disciplines from creative writing, journalism, photography and design, film and digital media, music and cultural appreciation.

Harnessing the expertise and specialisms within the organisation, our courses are led by first class and award winning guardian professionals whilst also drawing on the skills and expertise of other leading figures at the forefront of the creative and digital industries.

The programme is aimed at anyone interested in personal or professional development whether that be refining your skills, focusing your ambition or simply broadening your mind and gaining inspiration.

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