Working with (and Being!) Living Authors.

As readers and students of literature, we all enjoy the work of living authors.  It’s great to be able to think that the writer whose book is in front of you may produce more novels, plays or poems, or that the story you are following is only the first volume of a trilogy still being written!  We can hear authors read their work aloud at events like the Chester Literature Festival.  We may get to chat to authors at book signings, attend conferences on their work or even interview them.

At the University of Chester, several of the tutors in the Department of English are published novelists, short story writers and poets.   As a student with us, you’ll meet these authors in seminars and lectures on the English Literature and Creative Writing programmes, as well as at open mic nights, book launches and readings.  Professor Alan Wall has written several acclaimed novels, Dr Ian Seed has many well received poetry collections to his name and visiting fellow Dr Francesca Haig has published the hugely successful Fire Sermon trilogy for Harper Voyager.  The film rights to The Fire Sermon have been optioned by Dream Works and we are all eagerly awaiting the movie! 

Francesca’s novel is a core text on our first year module Approaches to Literature.  The story takes place in a dystopian far future after nuclear war, where all humans are born as twins but one half, the Omegas, are mutated and treated as inferior by the others, who call themselves the Alphas.  The Fire Sermon raises profound questions about disability, identity and technology.  It’s also a really enjoyable read with lots of dramatic scenes and wonderful writing.  Our students will hear Francesca lecture about her novel in March 2018 and will be able to ask her questions.

Sadly, living authors pass away.  It was difficult for all of us to hear of the death of Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018) whose work is read by students on two of our modules: Science Fiction and Alternative Worlds.  With the parting of literary great comes a reassessment of their work.  We asked Dr William Stephenson of the English Department about the impact of Ursula Le Guin’s writing and its legacy.  He told us: “I teach A Wizard of Earthsea on Alternative Worlds here at Chester, and The Left Hand of Darkness on Science Fiction.  Earthsea is a fantasy novel that deals with the growth of a wizard’s mind.  Ged, our hero, goes to wizarding school and battles with dragons – and this was published forty years before Harry Potter! Whereas The Left Hand of Darkness is set on a planet whose people are neither male nor female most of the time. They only find themselves with a gender once a month, and they can’t choose which it will be! 

“Getting students to think of themselves in such a situation is amazing and opens their eyes to how science fiction and fantasy can make us rethink our world.  Any author who could write either of these novels would be considered major, but to publish both at the same time in the late 1960s was a stunning achievement.  Le Guin’s legacy will last for generations.  I’m proud to be able to teach her work and to hear from students how much it engages them.”

Want to know more?

To find out more about studying English Literature or Creative Writing at the University of Chester take a look at our website or contact Reader in Modern and Contemporary Literature William Stephenson by emailing w.stephenson@chester.ac.uk.

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