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The University of Southampton

ENGL2087 Great Writers Steal: Creative Writing and Critical Thinking

Module Overview

Many writers have penned essays about fiction and memoir: E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, A.L. Kennedy, A.S. Byatt, to name just a famous few. Indeed, it seems essential at some point for authors to write critically about creative writing. What makes a novel, memoir, or story work? Interestingly, writers don’t necessarily put pen to paper about their own work. Instead, they write about the authors who influenced them, both those from decades before and those working contemporaneously. Sometimes this results in critical essays that examine the craft and themes of a classic writer’s work, giving us knowledge of how fiction works in general. Other times, writers respond to influences with a new piece of creative writing. T.S. Eliot is paraphrased as saying: “Good Writers Borrow, Great Writers Steal”. In this module, we will look at how writers steal: how they draw upon other writers for knowledge about craft and for inspiration. We will look at two pairings of creative work, seeing how a contemporary writer responded creatively to a classic book. We will also look at related critical essays by writers about those works. In doing so, we will go backward to examine a writer’s influences; inward to a writer’s own writing; and forward to the writers they have influenced, analysing as we do so ideas of theme, structure, inspirations, and the craft of character, place, and narrative.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the relationships between the critical and creative works of selected fiction and non-fiction writers
  • the ways that writers draw upon both pre-existing stories or creative works by others and critical thinking in the production of their own work
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • ability to generate ideas and write creatively on demand
  • ability to think critically about creative projects
  • confidence in presenting your work to small groups of other students
  • ability to give and utilise constructive criticism
  • ability to plan, structure, rewrite and edit your work
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • be able to think critically about your own work including your creative methods and influences
  • be able to write critical commentaries on your own work
  • have practised working with key elements of fiction and creative non-fiction, e.g. character, viewpoint, plot, dialogue and imagery


In this module, you will read contemporary work side by side with the classic book which influenced the new work. Examples of such a pairing might be Vladmir Nabokov’s seminal memoir, Speak, Memory, with a contemporary memoir such as Chernobyl Strawberries, by Vesna Goldsworthy, and Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way with the 2010 novel Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You will look at both the critical and creative links between them, including the formal aspects and more instinctual aspects to which the contemporary writer responded. You will also look at critical writing by creative writers, such as Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, to gain further insight into the links between creative and critical thinking. As you read these works, you will also be responding to them through critical analysis of the crafting of story as well as creative responses, which after a process of development become works in themselves. These responses may feed each other, your “critical” responses informing your “creative" responses, and vice versa. You will be expected to respond both critically and creatively to the work during the semester, which will lead to your assessments: a 3,000-word creative piece and a 1,000-word essay.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The teaching whether in lectures, seminars, classes and workshops, will both focus on critical analysis of published works, and engage you in writing exercises aimed at eliciting your creative responses to your reading. You will have opportunities to review your work in small groups and with the tutor. You will be expected to bring drafts of your work to seminars prior to each deadline, and to offer feedback to your fellow students on their work. You will be able to see your seminar tutor in consultation hours and to ask for feedback on work in progress as well as on marked assignments. We hope that a writer whose work has been highly influenced by a classic book will be invited to speak at one of the lectures.

Follow-up work12
Wider reading or practice12
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Completion of assessment task42
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Vesna Goldsworthy (2006). Chernobyl Strawberries. 

Jennifer Egan (2011). A Visit From the Goon Squad. 



Critical responses


MethodPercentage contribution
Creative writing  (3000 words) 75%
Critical commentary  (1000 words) 25%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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