Non-fiction: Places - EN839

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 3)
View Timetable
7 30 (15)







This module will give students the opportunity to explore and create writing about travel and nature, and (re)construct complex landscapes in prose. After beginning with formulations of ‘home’, whether this be a house, a city, a prison, a lighthouse or anything else, students will be encouraged to begin to travel, both literally and conceptually, first into gardens, then into the countryside and then the ‘wild’ before attempting to write about the suburb, the city, the sea, foreign lands and the unknown. Emphasis will be on contemporary approaches to narrative non-fiction, where buildings, shops and other elements of material culture must often be considered as part of ‘the environment’, and where almost every journey can become a psychogeographical adventure. Landscapes can be beautiful, but they are also always sites of nature-culture encounters, which are themselves always political. How does one begin to address this in prose? What happens when landscapes, buildings and other environmental sites become the foreground in narrative, rather than the background?

Students will be encouraged to experiment with different techniques of narrative non-fiction, for example putting themselves at the centre of their narrative, or at its periphery; recording conversations and working with complex themes. They will learn about techniques of reportage, psychogeography, travel writing and nature-writing. Additional workshops will give students the tools they need to independently learn about relevant techniques needed to understand their landscapes fully, for example basic botany, architecture, geography and local history. Each week students will produce a 500-word informal assignment, which they will share on Moodle. Students will eventually choose one location, environment or encounter to write about and by the end of the module they will produce a 4000-word piece of narrative non-fiction exploring this. They will be encouraged to examine their location thoroughly, both in person and through archival and other forms of research. As well as this, they will hand in eight 500-word descriptions of other locations, which may or may not be related to the main location (they could form the journey, for example).

There may well be spontaneous or planned field trips!

Structure of the Module
Week 1: Homes
Week 2: Gardens
Week 3: The countryside/agriculture
Week 4: The concept of the near ‘wild’
Week 5: The train
Week 7: The suburbs
Week 8: The city
Week 9: The seaside and beyond
Week 10: Foreign lands
Week 11: The unknown


Contact hours

One two hour seminar each week

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List
The following reading list does not represent an entire curriculum as such, but indicates the range of (mainly) recent and contemporary works and traditions tutors will draw on. Students will be encouraged to find recently published writing about environments in newspapers, journals and magazines, both in hard copy and online. They will also be encouraged to independently research historical treatments of some of the weekly topics (for example Thoreau on ‘home’, Punch articles on fairgrounds, Charles Darwin on nature, Captain Cook on the sea).

Essential Reading
Kathleen Jamie, Findings (Sort Of Books, 2005)
Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places (Granta, 2008)
Granta 102 The New Nature Writing
Jenny Diski, Stranger on a Train (Virago, 2004)

Recommended Reading
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine (NYRB Classics, 2005)
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Penguin, 2000)
Rachel Carson, Under the Sea-Wind (Penguin, 2007)
Roger Deakin, Wildwood (Penguin, 2008)
Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm (Penguin, 2009)
Roger Deakin, Waterlog, A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain (Vintage, 2009)
Jenny Diski, Skating to Antarctica (Virago, 2005)
Bill Drummond, 45 (Abacus, 2001)
Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows (Flamingo, 2002)
Naomi Klein, No Logo (Fourth Estate, 2010)
John Lister-Kaye, At the Water’s Edge: A Personal Quest for Wildness (Canongate, 2010)
Richard Mabey, Nature Cure (Vintage, 2008)
Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways: a journey on foot (Granta 2012)
George Monbiot, Captive State (Pan, 2001)
Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (Flamingo, 2002)
Arundhati Roy, Listening to Grasshoppers: field notes on democracy (Penguin 2010)
David Seabrook, All the Devils are Here (Granta, 2003)
W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn (Vintage, 2002)
Iain Sinclair, London Orbital (Penguin, 2003)
Iain Sinclair, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report (Penguin, 2010)
Nigel Slater, Tender v. 1 A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (Fourth Estate, 2009)
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Canongate, 2006)
Swift, Katherine, The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden (Bloomsbury, 2009)
Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express (Penguin, 2008)
Colin Tudge, So Shall We Reap (Penguin, 2004)
Edward O Wilson, The Diversity of Life (Penguin, 2001)
Granta 94 On the Road Again
Granta 90 Country Life
Granta 73 Necessary Journeys
Granta 65 London: The Lives of the City
Granta 61 The Sea

Practical books and field-guides

Francis Rose and Clare O'Reilly, The Wild Flower Key - How to identify wild plants, trees and shrubs in Britain and Ireland (Warne, 2006)
Richard Mabey, Food for Free (Collins, 2012)
Roger Phillips, Trees in Britain, Europe and North America (Pan, 1978)
Roger Phillips, Wild Flowers of Britain (Pan, 1977)
RSPB Complete Birds of Britain and Europe (Dorling Kindersley 2009)
Collins Bird Guide (Collins, 2010)

You will be encouraged to choose further field guides that suit your own interests.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Students will have:
a) developed their capacity for close reading and critical analysis and applied these skills to their practice
b) identified, critically evaluated and interrogated particular literary techniques and strategies found in contemporary narrative non-fiction (for example the position of the narrator, the use of drama, working with ‘facts’, using framing strategies, conducting research, advanced metaphor construction) and made use of them in their practice
c) reflected on the wide range of stylistic practices open to the contemporary writer and developed an understanding of how these relate to their own practice
d) confidently applied advanced techniques within their work
e) understood through practice the value of versioning, drafting and editing
f) planned and undertaken a portfolio of narrative non-fiction which demonstrates a developed sense of their relationship with landscapes and other forms of ‘the environment’

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