Open University A363: Advanced Creative Writing

Open University

The OU’s Advanced Creative Writing (A363) course ended in May. Or was it June? I can’t remember. Either way, I couldn’t wait for it to end. You may have mistaken the lack of any A363 entries on this blog being down to me being thoroughly engrossed in the course and spending every waking minute devouring the contents of the coursebook: A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice. This wasn’t the case. I barely opened the book. It was drier and less engaging than the poetry section of A215 (Creative Writing) and that’s not something to be said lightly.

It didn’t bode well from the start. After Googling my tutor I found out he was a professor in 19th Century literature. Hmm, not quite my kind of thing and, undoubtedly my thing wasn’t going to be his thing. Don’t get me wrong, my tutor was great. He always gave timely feedback and was always there with a quick response if needed. At the day school he was encouraging and motivating.

I love the day schools, I always come back full of motivation and inspiration. Unfortunately, with A363, you only get two of them. I’d like far more, although I appreciate that some people only do courses with the OU because they don’t have to leave the house and see other people.

The first TMA (a short story) came back with a mediocre mark.

The next TMA was to be either a stage play, a radio play or a film/TV play based on the story we wrote for TMA1. This is where I look like a complete hypocrite and say that I absolutely loved the screenwriting bit of the book. I got totally engrossed in learning how to write a stage play and decided that, although I had probably seen fewer than ten plays in my life, I was going to adapt my short story for the stage. I spent hours making notes, setting out where the actors would stand, what props I’d have, etc.

Then I decided my story would be better as a radio play.


I thoroughly read through the pages in the coursebook on writing for the radio, borrowed a great book –  Writing for Radio: A Practical Guide – from the library, looked on the BBC Writersroom for scripts to read and template scripts to help with the layout, listened to radio plays on the radio and downloaded some from The Wireless Theatre Company  and wrote my play.

I received another mediocre mark. Ho hum. But I was well pleased with my play, so ner.

TMA3 was a 1,000 word critique on another student’s work. This was the TMA I was most dreading. I’m no good at critiques. My critiques begin with ‘I’ and end with either:

‘like it’ or

‘don’t like it’.

Not quite the in-depth 1,000 word essay the OU were looking for. Still, I somehow managed to blag my way through it and ended up with a good mark.

For TMA4 we had to write a short (approx 500 words) proposal for our ECA, outlining briefly what it would be about. As the ECA wasn’t due in for months, I didn’t have a clue, as I’m more of a ‘I’ll decide the day before the assignment’s due what to write’ kind of writer, not a ‘I’m going to meticulously plan this story months and months ahead’ one. But it was only a few hundred words, so on the day of the deadline, with a massive hangover, I typed out a few hundred words of rubbish. It wasn’t possible to fail this TMA (well, it was, but only if you wrote fewer than 475 words, I think) but you did have to – at least loosely – stick with what you had proposed when it came to write the ECA.

TMA5 was the second piece of original writing we had to do. Another short story. I’d actually had an idea of what I wanted to write for a while. I wanted to write about a goth dinner party where all the food was black. Yes, I know, not quite literary enough for the OU. My tutor didn’t like the slapstick ending (neither did I but that’s not the point), although he did say in the feedback that that was a personal thing.

TMA6 was a 1,000 word extract of the ECA. I bashed out 1,000 words and received a deserved mediocre mark.

By this time I was well and truly fed up with this course. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I’d found what looked like a great Creative and Professional Writing degree course at Canterbury Christ  Church University and had applied for that. I was thrilled to be invited for an interview (they call it an audition, as it’s a performing arts college) and had hoped that after showing them my work (I’d taken a short story, my bagel poem, my radio play and a couple of pieces of flash fiction) that they would see what a genius I was and immediately offer me a place, despite  me not even having one single CSE to my name and then I could pack in this stupid course.

Unfortunately not. They gave me a conditional offer on the successful completion of A363. Bah.

That meant I had to do the dreaded ECA. 4,000 words of a story I really didn’t want to write. I’d never written 4,000 words before. I like short, short stories. Ones under 1,000 words (although I think even 1,000 words is a lot to read in one go). I sort of cheated and wrote a 1,000 word each monologue for three characters, and rounding it off with the final 1,000 words being from the first character. I sent the ECA off and hoped they didn’t notice my story didn’t have the usual ‘beginning, middle and end, and a conflict to be resolved’ the OU are so fond of.

They didn’t notice. Or, if they did, they weren’t too bothered. I passed. Not brilliantly, not terribly, but I passed.


So, to sum up. Did I enjoy the course? Apart from the play writing bit, no, not at all. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But plenty of people on my course did enjoy it. I only gave it the bare minimum of effort and my marks reflected this. I’d probably have enjoyed it more if I had worked harder, but I just didn’t engage with it.

Now that the OU’s behind me, I am massively looking forward to starting full-time education in a brick university, (I would say ‘real’ but I know how much that offends people who are with the OU) as well as being massively scared of it being three years’ long and being surrounded by 18 year olds.

I’ll be blogging about life as a ‘mature’ student here.


  1. Enjoyed this Cathy. Glad I wasn’t the only one to hate A363 and long for it to be over. It has put me off the OU forever (in fact all distance learning). Communal moaning, groaning and celebrating etc on a daily face to face basis with fellow sufferers is jolly good therapy and very motivating. I am really envious of your place at Canterbury. I shall follow your blog and feedback with great interest.


    PS I bet you are not the oldest student on your course. Lots of luck with it.

  2. Hi Cathy, enjoyed that a lot!

    I have to confess an interest here – I work in Marketing at Christ Church and helped to put together the ‘blurb’ for the Creative and Professional Writing Course. But professional pride aside – I’m really looking forward to hearing about how you get on with it. And don’t worry, there are so many different types of people studying at UCF – you’re not in too much danger of being surrounded by 18 year olds! Myself, I’m starting the part-time MA Creative Writing in Canterbury in about 3 weeks. Terrified. Starts with a short story module which is so not my thing. Good tip about the short stories for i-phone – I will be downloading some this evening. Good luck anyway. Look forward to reading more of your stuff. L

  3. Hi Cathy,
    Only just seen your post, thought I must have a word too.
    I didn’t enjoy the course too much either, for different reasons though. My tutor didn’t seem to gel with my work at all, she left part way through the course, by which time, my most favourite TMA, a screen-play (that I had attempted both because the new format interested and stretched me). I received a bare-pass for which more or less meant that I could only, at best secure a grade 2 pass…I didn’t feel the tutor’s comments were fair, and I wasn’t the only one in the tutor group who felt the same way. Stuffing knocked out of me, I spent the rest of the course playing safe…I hate doing that, and felt I didn’t experiment or throw myself into exploring style which is what I believe any course should encourage. I too passed the course with a grade 2. but I’m left feeling cheated as all the fun-stuff was torn off the bone by the lack of encouragement of the first tutor. Our replacement tutor was entirely different, it’s such a shame we didn’t have him from the start…so I sympathise with your views. So glad you passed, this year I am doing E301…it’s looking tough, but I’ll give it my best shot.
    I wish you all the very best, I’ve taken an interest in your writing from A215, A363 and feel you have enormous writing skills, which I’m sure you already know…good luck.
    best wishes, Liz

  4. Hi Cathy
    I think that the point of A363 was to make us think for ourselves about our own creativity. I galloped straight into the ECA miles b4 it needed to be in and then spent two months… ummm… reading books. cos I thought I orta do summat. I published my ECA in booklet form and hurled it around… it got good marks but no-one who read it liked it. Maybe cross-dressing dutcart-driving serial killers who fall in love with sheep farmer serial killers aren’t to my pals’ tastes. hmmyah. so I’m def thinking hard about my creativity, but am slowly filling up shopping trolleyloads of poetry books to return them to the charity shops. Ezra Pound…. wot claptrap. Wordsworth…. we are supposed to understand these acclaimed creative geniusness but I don’t think I ever will.
    and so…
    I’m studying law instead now.
    I’m glad you have decided to go full time to uni. Good luck and keep in touch.
    Mon xx

  5. If you ever renew your interest in radio drama, I heartily recommend William Ash’s The Way to Write Radio Drama.

  6. I loved A363, my tutor was excellent and, more importantly, gave me good marks. I think it was a course more about planning and editing though, rather than writing. Glad you are still writing though. And studying.


  7. I discovered your blog when I noticed on Webmaster Tools that you linked to mine. I couldn’t find the link, but was interested to see that you hated A363. So did !! I got great marks for A215, but my A363 tutor and I obviously had different ideas. Like you, I really enjoyed the script writing. And the tip I really remember, and try to employ, is to vary my descriptions so they go from wide angle to zoom. (I go to a Creative Writing Adult Ed Class) Best wishes for all you do.

  8. Do you still have a copy of the workbook? I’m starting in October and would love to get a head start! My email is above. Thanks!

  9. Hi Cathy!
    I enjoyed reading your experience on the A363 module. It was very well written, very honest, and did make me laugh out loud. (or should that be lol?)

    I’m on the course myself, I’ve had one assignment returned so far and it wasn’t a bad mark. But it’s early days so far, so I wont get too cocky!

    I’d love to read nmore of your stuff, how do I go about it?

    Thank you

  10. If you’re looking for somewhere to work with likeminded writers, a bunch of OU MA students have got together.

  11. Interesting. It seems to depend on who does the marking.

    Anyway, nice blog. I just finished the MA Creative Writing. I wondered what to do now. There’s a chance I would stagnate without the assignment motivation. We formed a group and set the bar high as there are so many shallow writing groups out there.

    There are 25 of us. All ex-OU students

  12. Author

    Thanks for reading! Well done on your MA and good luck with your writing in the future.

  13. Author

    Good idea – good luck with your writing!

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