We asked our Writing and English Literature lecturers for their personal recommendations on books you should read, and other online resources you should check out, before joining one of our BA English Literature or Writing courses.
These recommendations come from Dr Colette Paul, Course Leader for our BA (Hons) Writing and English Literature, whose interests include short fiction (theory and practice), prose fiction, narrative theory and contemporary women’s writing.
New Yorker fiction podcasts
Every month a prominent writer choses a story from the amazing archive to read and then discuss in detail.
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
While Stephen King isn't everyone's cup of tea, this book is interesting reading for anyone who wants to be a writer. The first half is a memoir of how King became a writer (clue: papered his bedroom walls in rejection letters and didn't give up); the second half is a very accessible & practical guide to vivid and punchy writing. You can read more about it on Wikipedia, or buy it from Amazon.
Ursula Le Guin, 'The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas'
This short story co-opts the reader into the creation of their very own utopia. By the shocking finale, we are forced to confront our own ethical dilemma: would you walk away from Omelas? You can read the full story online (requires PDF reader).
The Paris Review Interviews
A fantastic archive of nearly every famous writer, playwright & poet you can think of. The questions are in-depth and focus on writing craft.
Paul McVeigh Blog
This great resource by Northern Ireland writer Paul McVeigh of free reads, competitions, and calls for submissions.
Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends
This, Rooney's first novel, was published to great acclaim when she was just 26 and concerns a lot of smart conversations (and texts and emails) between University students Frances and her best friend Bobbi. When Frances embarks on an affair with married Nick, Rooney skilfully manages to gives us both her self-delusion and her self-knowledge. You can find out more about it on Wikipedia, or buy it from Amazon.
Raymond Carver, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' / Nathan Englander, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank'
Two wonderful - and bleak - short stories. Englander updates Raymond Carver's original dark meditation on love & loss & hate. You can read Carver’s original on the Northern Highlands website (requires PDF reader), and Englander’s version on the New Yorker website.
T.S Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'
A haunting, beautiful poem which speaks of Prufrock's (and our) inner condition: alienation, isolation, and hesitation. You can read it, or listen to it, on the Poetry Foundation website.
Alice Munro, Dance of the Happy Shades
My favourite short story writer, and recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, introduces her fictional territory--the rural backwoods of Southwest Ontario, Canada, described in glowing, evocative detail. The stories focus mainly on childhood, on coming to terms with family, and on those on those small, illuminating moments in life when everything but nothing changes. You can find out more about it on Wikipedia, or buy it from Amazon.
Edna O’Brien, Country Girls
This is Edna O'Brien's (very short) coming of age novel, following the friendship of Kate and Baba, from school girls in rural Ireland (a 'boghole') to young women living in Dublin. Set in deeply conservative, Catholic Ireland in 50s, it was banned by the Irish censor and famously burned by the local priest. The prose is funny and bright on the surface, but dark underneath, relentlessly exposing the misogyny and hypocrisy of the society. You can find out more about it on Wikipedia, or buy it from Amazon.
John Fante, Wait Until Spring Bandini
Another short novel, the first of a trilogy of novels concerning Bandini, the main character, and Fante's fictional alter-ego. 14 year old Bandini is in love with Rosa (who doesn't love him) and baseball, and dreams of leaving home and becoming a writer. But first he must survive living with his fractured family in depression-era Colorado in Winter. Find out more about it on Wikipedia, or buy it from Amazon.