Languages for All
Short Courses
Your basket
Your account

Experimental Writing (10 credit points)

Course Times & Enrolment

Thursdays from 18th April 2024 (Code CW062-305) Thursdays from
18th April 2024 6:30pm - 8:20pm • (10 classes)
G38 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: Nicky Melville MA MPhil PhD
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

Kundera often asked how the novel would have developed had Sterne’s Tristram Shandy had more of an influence, instead of realism becoming the dominant style. This course introduces eminent innovative writers and the opportunity to try out approaches such as Surrealist techniques and other experimental fiction devices.

Course Details

Content of Course

1. Surrealists: Brief overview of Surrealism, including Lautréamont, its main influence, Breton’s Nadja, Surrealist parlour games, Leonora Carrington and Aimé Césaire, among others. The class will try some automatic writing.

2. The Magic of Everyday: A brief look at writing that came to be called magical realism, including Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Samanta Schweblin, Toni Morrison and Carole Martinez. This week the class will be inspired to look at life in a different way; seek out the amazing in the ordinary.

3. Cut Ups: William Burroughs and Brion Gysin were pioneers of a collage technique, initiated by the Dadaists, as they took the craft to new levels, composing larger pieces of work in that manner. A variety of cut-up and found writing will be considered. Class will be asked to bring in material that can be cut up for this week’s task.

4. Modernists & Stream of Consciousness: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett: some of the most influential writers of the 20th century. This class will look at free and indirect style and stream of consciousness in particular.

5. Facts & Hybrid Forms: The use of facts creates an interesting counterpoint to fiction, and indeed calls into question the notion of truth and reality in books. Patrik Ouředník’s book, Europeana, is a novel composed entirely of factual statements. Is it a novel then? We will also consider other hybrid form writers including Sven Lindqvist, Mary Robison, David Markson and Claudia Rankine. Students will be asked to enter facts into their writing.

6. British: Generally speaking, British writing has tended to be less experimental than that of other countries, with a few notable exceptions, as well as one of the forefathers of the playful novel, Laurence Sterne. This week will look at excerpts from BS Johnson, Stewart Home and Alasdair Gray, Ann Quin, Christine Brooke-Rose and Muriel Spark. The exercise will focus on metafiction.

7. European: It can be argued that the rebirth of the experimental novel began in Europe in France and can be seen to blossom in disparate countries across the continent. A brief overview through Kafka to Milan Kundera. Writing exercise inspired by excerpts from Kundera’s The Art of the Novel.

8. Oulipo: A look at the French-based Oulipo movement. Essentially a boys’ club, which included Georges Perec, Italo Calvino and Raymond Queneau, we will also look at some work by the sole female Oulipians: Anne Garréta, Michelle Grangaud and Michèle Métail. This week’s writing class will be informed by Oulipian games/rules imposed on writing.

9. Conceptual Writing: Writing which suggests that the idea is more important than the finished result. We will consider women’s conceptual writing in opposition to the main figurehead Kenneth Goldsmith.

10. Finally: Students will read from and share their own experimental writing written during the course.

Teaching method(s)

Interactive sessions with tutor presentations, group discussion and writing workshops.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Identify different authors’ styles of fictional experimentation and know the context of the works;

  • Understand/breakdown the process involved with each genre/author studied in class;

  • Compose their own prose pieces in a similar vein;

  • Analyse and discuss their own creative process.


Core Readings


Any of the following, but handouts provided:

Acker, K., 1994. Blood and Guts in High School. New York: Grove Press.

Beckett, S., Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, the Unnamable. New York: Grove. Bergvall, C., Browne, L., Carmody, T., (eds), 2012. I’ll Drown My Book. Los Angeles: Les Figues Press

Breton, A., 1999. Nadja. London: Penguin. Burroughs, W., 2010. The Soft Machine. London: Fourth Estate.

Caws, M.A. (ed), 2018. The Milk Bowl of Feathers. New York: New Directions Books. Césaire, A. 1995. Notebook of a Return to My Native Land. Hexham: Bloodaxe.

Johnson, B.S. 2001. Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry. London: Picador. Joyce J., 2008. Ulysses. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kafka, F., 2007. The Trial. London: Penguin. Kundera, M., 2005. Art of the Novel. London: Faber & Faber. Lindqvist, S., 2003. Bench Press. London: Granta. Marquez, G. G., 2007. One Hundred Years of Solitude. London: Penguin.

Musil, R., 2017. The Man Without Qualities. London: Picador. Ourednik, P., 2005. Europeana. Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press. Perec, G., 2008. A Void. London: Vintage. Quin, A., 2019. Berg. Sheffield: And Other Stories.

Rankine, C., 2015. Citizen: An American Lyric. London: Penguin

Rawle, G., 2006. Women’s World. New ed. London: Atlantic Books. Robison, M., 2004. One D.O.A. One on the Way. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.

Schweblin, S., 2019. Mouthful of Birds. London: One World Publications.

Sebald, W.G., 2002. The Emigrants. New ed. London: Vintage.

Spark, M., 2007. Loitering With Intent. London: Virago.

Woolf. V., 2014. Mrs Dalloway. London: Vintage.


Lautreamont, C., 2006. Maldoror. London: Penguin. Sterne, L., 2003. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman. London: Penguin

Web Sources

Various web sources will be suggested throughout the course.

Class Handouts

Handouts with examples of prose, guidance in readings / finding books on the web.


10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.