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First UK Masters in Creative Non-Fiction Writing launches at Imperial College London

For Immediate Release
18 March 2005

A new Masters programme in Creative Non-Fiction Writing will start in October 2005 at Imperial College London. The first programme of its type to run in the UK, the creative non-fiction course will tackle writing at length by developing craft skills that combine analytical expertise, factual research, and explanatory techniques.

The programme's initial focus will be on popular science writing. In setting up the course, the organisers recognised that being a subject expert or diligent researcher and competent exponent of facts and ideas is no longer enough to write a successful non-fiction title.

Cover of the Double Helix book

Writing with the explanatory clarity of Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, as engagingly as Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything or as dramatically as James Watson in The Double Helix demands literary skill of a high order, say the organisers.

"To get beyond the image of the half-articulate scientist and avoid the dead hand of the textbook you have to have an edge," said Dr Nick Russell, director of science communication. "One device is to use narrative, bring the story alive through characters and plunder from tried-and-tested literary techniques such as dialogue, plot and point of view.

"While there is a large number of postgraduate courses in creative writing to help people who want to write fiction, programmes in journalism and professional writing for those aspiring to write for newspapers and magazines, there is no British course for those aiming to write non-fiction at book length." In America the first course in creative non-fiction began at the University of Pittsburgh in 1973.

The Imperial Creative Non-Fiction Writing course emphasises creative output, and by the course end, students will have developed an extensive piece of non-fiction writing.

Several successful creative non-fiction writers will run seminars as part of the programme, including Armand Leroi, author of Mutants (2003), winner of the 2004 Guardian Book Prize, and Olivia Judson, author of Dr Tatiana's Sex Guide to all creation (2003), shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, 2004.

"Students will receive a level of editorial support on the course that is not easy to find elsewhere," said Dr Jon Turney, editorial consultant for Penguin Books and leader of the new course. "They will be able to explore a wide range of platforms and outlets for their work. Successful students should find it easier to locate a publisher after completing the programme."

As well as helping potential writers explore their aptitudes and interests, it will also dissect the structure of the non-fiction publishing industry, analysing how previous successful non-fiction books have been written, and developing an understanding of the cultural and historical context of non-fiction writing.

Cover of the Mutants

Dr Leroi, a member of the College's department of biology, added: "This programme will do for non-fiction what Malcolm Bradbury and UEA did for fiction: change the course of English literature."

Imperial College's Science Communication Group has pioneered post-graduate education in communication in science. Its MSc in Science Communication has been offered since 1991 and was one of the first courses to prepare people with science backgrounds for professional communication careers; in print, in broadcast, in museums, and in pubic relations. In 2001 the Group started the MSc in Science Media Production, a course focused on broadcasting, in which students make a film or radio programme instead of undertaking an academic dissertation.

The closing date for 2005 applications is Friday 29 July 2005.

Further details online from the Postgraduate Prospectus at

Science Communication group pages at

For more information please contact:

Nicholas Russell,
Director Science Communication Group
Imperial College London
Tel 020 7594 8761

Dr Jon Turney
Course leader MSc Creative Non-fiction Writing Tel 020 7639 5713 Email

Tom Miller
Imperial College London press office
Tel 020 7594 6704

Notes to Editors:

About the new MSc in Creative Non Fiction Writing

Who is this course for?
All graduates who would like to develop their non-fiction writing expertise. We hope it will prove particularly attractive to the following groups:

  • All those with a passion to write, to express their own ideas about aspects of the world, but whose urge does not necessarily spring from the personal, the fictional, or the need for direct self-expression.
  • Aspirant or achieving writers on personal or practical themes who would like to broaden their writing range to embrace intellectual topics.
  • Aspirant or achieving writers of fiction who would like to expand their opportunities.
  • Scholars, professionals, or teachers who would like to communicate their work to a wider audience beyond their fellow professionals.
  • Teachers wishing to write for audiences beyond the classroom and the textbook.
  • Journalists, editors or producers who would like to tackle themes and develop ideas and critiques beyond the space and time limits imposed in the periodical press and broadcasting.

What will happen during the course?
The programme will combine theoretical and practical modules leading to the award of an academic qualification (MSc).

There are now bodies of knowledge about the history and practice of factual writing in journalism, in books and for the screen, and of publishing and broadcasting non-fiction material, which can be brought together into a coherent theoretical core. In this course such material is explored through the specific examples of writing on science, technology and related subjects.

In the practical courses students will practise writing and, in response to feedback, writing again; learning by doing. This often lonely and painful process can be made enjoyable and fruitful, by responding to commentary from supportive fellow writers in a constructively critical environment. A native aptitude for non-fictional writing can be nurtured so that it better evokes interest and feeling, finds an individual voice, is able to master and express difficult topics, constructs logical and persuasive arguments, and engages readers with the worlds of serious ideas, analysis and argument. Potential writers can explore fresh ways of dealing with all these issues by writing and reacting to each other's work and by analysing the ways in which published authors have already attained these goals.

This practical development of writing ability combined with the academic analysis of factual communication in the sciences and other non-fiction subjects will allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the complex interaction between individual writers and the cultural contexts in which they work.

What is the course structure?

Core academic modules

  • Popular science as genre and practice
  • History of communication in science and society
  • Publishing

Academic options drawn from

  • Narrative
  • Science and Fiction
  • Rhetoric of science
  • Science policy
  • Scientific controversies
  • Scientific ethics
  • Two practical writing modules
  • Extensive creative non-fiction writing project

Who will teach this course?
The course leader will be Dr Jon Turney, currently an editorial consultant for Penguin Books, ex-features editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement, and until recently Senior Lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. Besides his extensive experience as an award-winning science writer and editor, Jon is a leading academic analyst of popular science books, their writing and publication.

Dr Emily Mayhew, Research Associate in the Humanities Programme attached to the Science Communication Group, author of The Reconstruction of Warriors, Greenhill Books, 2004, and advisor and presenter on historical matters for both documentary and drama television, currently also working with book-website tie-ins, will give seminars on her areas of expertise.

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