My experience studying English Literature and Creative Writing @ Newcastle University

Now that I have finally finished all of my third-year assignments I wanted to talk honestly and openly about my course at Newcastle University. These last few months have been chaotic and my entire life at university was turned upside down due to Coronavirus similarly to students across the world. However, regardless of the current situation I wanted to discuss the reality of being an English Literature and Creative Writing student at Newcastle University. Every student will have a different experience, and this is mine. Prior to university I remember searching for YouTube videos or looking for blog posts on my course and I could not find any. That’s why I hope that this post can provide an insight into specific details of the course which are excluded from the university prospectus. 

My reasoning for choosing to study English Literature and Creative Writing at Newcastle University

Newcastle University was my first-choice university because it offered the option to study both English Literature and Creative Writing which is only offered at a limited number of universities. I was hesitant to take straight Creative Writing after studying for my A-levels as I was concerned that it would be too narrow, and it would limit my job prospects. So, I thought that by taking English Literature and Creative Writing it was the perfect balance. I also wanted to move to a large city which was far away from my hometown in Leicester as I wanted to live in a place that I had never been to before. The grade requirements for Newcastle University generally are incredibly high. I needed to get 3 A’s at A-level. I was overjoyed on A-level results day when I received confirmation from Newcastle University that I had secured a place on the course before I had even received my results from my college. 

First Year 

The modules which I took (2017-2018):

  • Introduction to Creative Writing 
  • Introduction to Literary Studies 1 
  • Introduction to Literary Studies 2 
  • Transformations 
  • Close Reading 
  • Drama, Theatre and Performance 

These are the modules which I took in my first year. I had no choice in my modules in first year. I did not mind as it encouraged me to read multiple books which I never would have picked up. However, there were very few opportunities to produce creative writing. I excelled in my creative writing modules and found English literature modules much more challenging. 

Something that struck me about the course is that it focused on traditional literature. You are expected to read a novel in a week for some modules which was incredibly stressful at times. You have study groups as well for the entirety of your BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. Study groups are not often used in other degrees at the university, nevertheless nearly all English literature modules ensure that you have a study group. You are expected to meet up once a week for each literature module and discuss ideas. Study groups were helpful socially as I met more people from my course, but I do not think I’m alone in saying that they did not help academically. 

In regard to exams the first year of my degree is the only year I have ever had an exam. I try to avoid exams as I would rather have a tonne of coursework which I can do over a longer period of time, in contrast to studying for one two-hour long exam. My exam was for my Transformations module and it was at St James’ Park. I had to write about Homer’s The Odyssey and Margret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. I was happy with my result; however, I purposefully chose modules without exams going forward. 

My first-year mark did not count towards my final degree classification. You only have to pass, get above 40 marks overall, to move on into second year. At the end of my first year I made my module choices for my second year. I really wanted to take modules which focused on the theatre as this is an area which I’ve always had an interest in. There was not as much choice as I had first hoped. The majority of my modules had to be literature modules. Only two out of the six modules which I took were creative writing based. 

Second Year 

The modules which I took (2018-2019):

  • Writing the Renaissance 
  • Revolutionary Britain 
  • Victorian Passions 
  • Creative Practice 
  • Popular Performance Here and Now 
  • Theatre Script Workshop 

The transition from first to second year I found much harder than the transition from A-levels to first year. Lecturers became more critical of my work and style of writing in second year. I had to really work on my essay writing skills in the first semester as techniques which I’d been taught at A-level were not considered relevant in my degree. For example, in A-level English Literature and Language I’d been taught that I must determine the type of word I am analysing. If I was analysing a common noun, possessive pronoun or attributive adjective. My lecturers explained to me that this kind of detail is irrelevant. I was also told to not talk about semantic fields in essays as this too was perceived to be irrelevant. My essays improved a lot from the harsh criticism I received in first semester which I am incredibly grateful for in hindsight. 

Something that I would advise to anyone taking this course is to talk to your lecturers in their office hours. I would never visit my lecturers in office hours in first year and I wish I had. Lecturers designate a specific number of hours each week for students who wish to talk to them 1:1 in their office. It helps to talk to the person who is marking your essays as you can ask them what they expect in the assignment. Most lecturers will not look at your work, however some lecturers offer to read excerpts of essays prior to the deadline. 

In addition, I would suggest to anyone taking this course that if there is an opportunity to do a creative writing assignment within an English literature module, DO IT. I once thought it was a good idea to write an essay instead of a creative writing assignment for my Popular Performance Here and Now module and I regretted it. There is a reason why you are taking a creative writing degree so use your creative writing abilities whenever you can. 

The creative writing modules are so much better in second year. I personally did not enjoy having lectures on how to write creatively which I had as part of the Introduction to Creative Writing module in first year. I was able to specialise in scriptwriting in second year which was so much fun. I wrote a theatre script for the Theatre Script Workshop module and a screenplay for the Creative Practice module. I was incredibly happy with my marks for both modules. There were so many opportunities to see theatre shows for free in my second year which I LOVED. It was such an amazing experience to go and watch theatre performances as a group with other creative writing students and it is some of my fondest memories of my course. 

At the end of second year I was able to choose my final year modules. There is so much choice in third year compared to second and first year. Some modules are incredibly competitive to get onto and are limited to a small number of students. Therefore, it is so important to get onto the online portal to pick your modules as soon as you can. 

Third Year 

The modules which I took (2019-2020):

  • Screenwriting Portfolio (Dissertation)
  • Women on Trial: Gender, Power and Performance in Shakespeare’s England 
  • Contemporary Documentary 1: Theory and Practice 
  • Between the Acts: English Theatre, 1660-1737
  • Cultural Industries Placement Module (Semester 2)

Third year has been by far my favourite year in regard to my course. The majority of my modules were much smaller which I preferred as I got to know other students and my lecturers much better than in previous years. My favourite module which I have studied during my degree was the Contemporary Documentary 1: Theory and Practice module. I planned and recorded a four-minute documentary about my relationship with Catholicism. I filmed the documentary at a local church in which Dec (from Ant and Dec) got married. It was an amazing experience and I learnt how to use a professional camera and edit a documentary on Adobe Premiere Pro. I had to do a 10-minute individual presentation for the module, which was nerve wracking, but I felt such a sense of achievement after completing the module.

My dissertation took the form of a 5000-word screenplay, a synopsis between 750 – 1000 words and a 1500-word self-reflective essay. I could have written a prose portfolio, which is the most popular choice amongst creative writing students, or a theatre script. Although, I had received my highest mark from the screenplay which I had written in second year and I am really interested in writing for the screen industry in the future. As a consequence, I chose to specialise in screenwriting. I had the full academic year to write my dissertation as it takes up one of your three modules from each semester of third year. I was assigned an amazing dissertation tutor who was incredibly patient with me as I tried to brainstorm the perfect logline during first semester. Writing my dissertation was a rewarding experience and made me realise that I was interested in working within the screen industry. 

I would advocate taking a practical placement module if you have the chance to. I know people who did it in their second year and I really wish I had done too as it has secured them brilliant work experience opportunities. I changed onto the Cultural Industries Placement module at the last minute as I realised it offered the opportunity to do work experience within the film industry. I did 50 hours work experience at the North East media production company, Bridge + Tunnel. It was the best decision I made during my degree as I had the opportunity to work alongside a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and a successful female producer. I learnt so much during my time at Bridge + Tunnel and I know that it has improved my job prospects based on the employability skills which I gained during my time working there. 

Would I recommend studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Newcastle University?

Yes! I would. I thoroughly enjoyed studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Newcastle University especially in second and third year as I was allowed to choose the topics which I studied. The course focuses more on English literature than it does creative writing. Hence, if you want to be writing creatively for the majority of your degree, I would suggest taking a straight creative writing degree at a different university. Some of the lecturers are amazing and have gone above and beyond for me as a student. The workload is ideal for students who enjoy working independently. Your contact hours decrease each year. I was in university most days in first year, yet by third year I was only at university 3 days out of the week. I have learnt so much throughout my undergraduate degree and whilst I’m relieved that I will never have to read books like Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ever again I am going to miss both my course and Newcastle Uni. 

Link to the official course page on the Newcastle University website: Click here

2 thoughts on “My experience studying English Literature and Creative Writing @ Newcastle University

  1. It sounds like you had a really good time at Newcastle! I am a recent university graduate, and I went to Warwick and studied MORSE (Maths operational research stats and econ) so completely different to you. Best of luck for the future Caitlin, and I look forward to reading more blog posts from you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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