Talks by Creative Writers

On 23 February, 7 March and 21 March, the Department of English Literature will be hosting three internationally acclaimed writers, who will read from and discuss their work. These talks are an absolute must for anyone interested in literature, particularly budding writers! All events run from 6-7pm in HumSS G27 and are free and open to all – no need to book! We look forward to seeing you there.

Ayisha Malik (23 February) is a British Muslim novelist who also works in publishing. Her debut novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (2016), came from her wish to convey a more authentic characterisation of modern Muslim women. She will be introduced by our Visiting Fellow, Kate Macdonald. 


Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze (7 March) is a Jamaican poet who has performed her poetry worldwide, including tours of Africa, Asia and North America. She will be reading from and discussing her work with our Head of School, Alison Donnell.


Mojisola Adebayo (21 March) is a playwright, actor and theatre director. She explores urgent contemporary issues often from a historical perspective, expressed within a broadly African aesthetic. Nicola Abram, our expert on black British theatre, will introduce her and discuss her work with her.


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I Am No One

Patrick Flanery writes:

On January 28th, I recorded an interview with Mariella Frostrup, for Radio 4’s Open Book, about my new novel I Am No One, which is narrated by an American who, after more than a decade living in Britain, returns to New York only to find that he is being subjected to ever more intrusive forms of surveillance. There have been occasions in the past when I found myself speaking with an interviewer or moderator at a festival who clearly had not taken the time to read my work, but it was obvious in Mariella’s case that she and her producers had read the book very carefully, and with considerable insight. We spoke about surveillance, about cultural dislocation and migration, and literary influences.

Had I been thinking about Henry James, considering that I have written about an American abroad who is given to articulating his experiences and memories in long and digressive sentences? Not consciously, no, although I was reading Portrait of a Lady shortly before I started work on I Am No One, so perhaps that influence was there, below the surface, however different the end result.

I am no one

Such encounters with engaged and knowledgeable readers of one’s work are, I began to think, a benign form of surveillance, of attentive scrutiny, just as the work of a novelist is, in its own way, a process of watching the world and reflecting one’s observations back onto readers.

After half an hour it was over, and a producer led me down to the lobby of Broadcasting House (reputedly the inspiration for The Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984) and out through the revolving doors, past the security guard—my face captured, no doubt, on various cameras, my visitor’s badge collected and returned to the front desk, a photographer following me to take a picture outside on Portland Place, my presence at that particular time and location recorded and preserved in multiple ways


About Professor Patrick Flanery:

Patrick Flanery is the author of the novels Absolution (2012), Fallen Land (2013), and I Am No One (2016). Absolution won the Spear’s/Laurent Perrier Best First Book Award and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and the Prix du Premier Roman Étranger in France; it was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize and has been translated into eleven languages. Patrick has written for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The Guardian, The SpectatorThe Times Literary Supplement, and The Daily Telegraph.
Contact Patrick:

Visit his webpages:

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Early Modern Research Centre – first event of the term – everyone welcome!

The first EMRC research seminar of the Spring term will take place this week, Wednesday February 10th, at 1pm (Whiteknights Campus, HUMSS G25). Alanna Skuse will be discussing her work on “‘The sympathetic snout’: Rhinoplasty and the unstable body in early modern culture”. Do join us if you can. Tea and coffee will be provided.


The next seminar will be on Wednesday March 9th, when we welcome Dr Tim Stretton, St. Mary’s University Halifax, and Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor, Cardiff University.


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Celebrity Antiques Road Trip comes to MERL

Sarah Mills writes:

In this episode of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, Rebecca Wilcox explores the Mills & Boon collection in the University of Reading’s Archives.

She is taken round by her guide, Judith Watts, who is currently undertaking a PHD in the department.

The clip starts at 31 minutes and ends at 35 minutes and I’m sure you’ll find it both enjoyable and informative.

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League Table success

We are delighted to announce that the English & Creative Writing course at University of Reading has secured a top place, coming 13th in The Guardian University guide 2016 league table.

This is an upwards move of 14 places since 2015, showing that the English & Creative Writing course is moving from strength to strength.

Andrew Nash, Head of the Department of English, commented that:

‘This rise in the league tables is a reflection of the high quality of teaching and learning that students experience in the Department of English Literature at Reading, and a testament to the enthusiasm and commitment of the academic and administrative staff.’

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Kate Macdonald gives a public talk

Kate Macdonald is a literary historian, and a Visiting Fellow in the English department. She works on different aspects of what and how ordinary people read, from around 1880 up to the 1960s: this encompasses middlebrow studies and publishing history (see, and Her current research is on how disability was written in British popular print culture. She’s spent several years researching archives in London and Oxford to find the printed ephemera – the reading material that wasn’t expected to last – that holds clues and forgotten evidence about how we looked at and thought about impairment during WW1.

Kate Macdonald #3

On Monday 8 February Kate will be giving a public talk on how everyday reading during the First World War distributed messages about bodily impairment. She’ll be using posters, postcards, adverts and magazine fiction from the war to show how the war-impaired serviceman was presented to the public. Tickets for the talk are £4/£3, and it will take place at Reading Central Library at 19.30. You can buy tickets here.

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Archives and Texts research seminar TODAY

Dr Clare Broome Saunders (Oxford)
Monday 25th January (wk 3) 1.10-2.15 URS (lego building) 2s26
‘Through many dreary volumes of archives has she waded': Louisa Stuart Costello and the 19th Century Literary Market
Louisa Stuart Costello (1799-1870) was a popular and critically acclaimed poet, novelist, travel writer, historian, biographer, artist, and medieval scholar. Her wide-ranging choice of genre demonstrates her acute understanding of contemporary reading trends and publishing markets: Costello offered the first original nineteenth-century version of the ‘Lady of Shalott’, preceded FitzGerald with her adaptations of Omar Khayyam’s verses, and was one of the first of the ‘Lady Travellers’ who demonstrated their connoisseurship and scholarship in the rapidly growing travel book market in the 1840s.
    In this seminar, Clare Broome Saunders will share her experience of archival research in piecing together Costello’s life and work, and explore how Costello manipulated contemporary literary markets to make the most out of every piece of archival research she herself undertook, so that she could disseminate her academic medieval scholarship in commercially and critically successful outputs.

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The ABC of our lives…

One of our students, Chloe DeLulington, writes:

The ABC of why studying English Literature at Reading is Awesome



  • Academic Excellence. Perhaps a bit of a boring one to start with, and definitely the sort of thing most university prospectuses will tempt you with- but it begins with A, and it really is important! Unlike your teachers at school, the staff teaching you at the University of Reading will also be researchers in various areas in the department, meaning that not only will they know their stuff but they’ll probably be far more enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with you than you would like them to be in a 9am lecture on a Monday! It means you really benefit from the first-hand experience of people whose passion for their subject area goes beyond a passing general interest and right down into the nitty-gritty (and sometime surreal) aspects of English Literature. It’s the academic equivalent of getting your water direct from the spring, straight from the horse’s mouth, and all those other lovely analogies, and marks a definite step up from the A-Level experience.


  • Books! The obvious one, and presumably a significant part of why you considered an English Literature degree in the first place. The important thing to realise about this course is that you can pretty much study literature of any style or time period, either sticking to what you know you like or launching yourself bravely into a module you’ve never even thought about before. Although all Part 1 students take the same core modules, you still have optional choice modules too, and once you reach Part 2 there are a whole host of topics vying for your attention. The menu expands yet further in Part 3! Part 1 gives everyone the same grounding, a taster of latter parts of the degree, and from there you can work out what you want to pursue later; for example, from the Genre & Context module in my first year, I realised I was keen on Victorian Literature, and threw myself into the corresponding Part 2 module with all the enthusiasm of the Artful Dodger in a room of unfastened purses! Conversely, if you don’t like something in Part 1, you aren’t compelled to go back to it in Parts 2 & 3; there are more than enough other texts for your perusal!


C-      Chats about literature! Or, as they’re formally called, seminars. A significant difference between A-Level and degree is that your teaching is split between lectures- where the lecturer talks AT you – and seminars- where you sit and discuss the text from the lecture with a member of staff and other students. It’s a chance to make the most of the knowledge bubbling away in the heads of your lecturers, voice your own opinions, and hopefully pal up with people on your course as well. Seminars can be great fun if you’re bit of a chronic chatterbox, like me, and if you’re not, don’t worry: the seminar leader will start off the discussion, and awkward silences are minimal, especially if you’ve already done some palling-up and are comfortable with others in your group! If there’s something that baffled you in the lecture, say so. If there’s a particularly juicy bit in the text that you liked, say so. Make the most of seminars; they’re actually quite fun.

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Imperial Middlebrow conference

Cross-colonial encounters and expressions of power in middlebrow literature and culture, 1890-1940

University of Reading, 8-10 September 2016

Professor Christoph Ehland, University of Paderborn, and Dr Kate Macdonald, University of Reading



Middlebrow studies are now well established as a literary-historical critical mode by which we can investigate the overlapping research areas of literature in the late Victorian age and the early twentieth century, studying such issues as the role of the publisher, streams of cultural production emerging in parallel to Modernism, reading taste, cultural dissemination, the creation of the canon, the notion of the literary gatekeeper, twentieth-century fashions in criticism, and the feminist importance of middlebrow writing. After Nicola Humble’s seminal study of the feminine middlebrow novel (2001), recent collections of essays have shown how middlebrow authors, publishers, readers and texts established a strong cultural presence (Brown and Grover, eds, 2012), developed a masculine mode of reading (Macdonald, ed., 2011), demonstrated a mediatory function between British literary cultures (Macdonald and Singer, eds, 2015), and supported the testing of gender restrictions (Ehland and Waechter, eds, 2016).

The most recent international interdisciplinary conferences on middlebrow have extended its study outside anglophone literature (European Middlebrow, January 2013, Brussels), beyond gender normativity (Inventing the Middlebrow, St Paul, Minnesota, June 2014), and beyond cultural hierarchies (Cultural Hierarchies and Middlebrow Practices, Amsterdam, January 2016). These are indicators of the strength of the discipline, since in its maturity it is extending and testing its borders, and reassessing how the middlebrow corpus grew under different cultural influences. Middlebrow is no longer solely anglophone, and needs to be reconsidered as a product of international readerly desires and needs, as well as the project of the author.

Middlebrow writing engaged with the realities and fictions of colonial life in a multitude of ways, and middlebrow writers catered for a readership eager to learn about and imagine the Empire. In particular, feminist enquiries into the Anglo-Indian novel (Moore-Gilbert 1996, Kapila 2010, Roye and Mittapalli 2013) have helped to highlight its role for the dissemination of imperial ideology. Their research has revealed not only the large amount of often almost forgotten material available for the study of middlebrow writing on the empire but also the subtle fault-lines that this engagement often exhibits.

Particular attention must be paid to the relationship that exists between middlebrow texts and the modernist rendering of the colonial theme. Symptomatically, the two most famous anti-colonial novels on British India, E M Forster’s A Passage to India and George Orwell’s Burmese Days, are rarely seen by critics in the wider context of popular writing, though both mimic and satirise the well-established Anglo-Indian romance.

Although it generally holds true that typical middlebrow engagement with the imperial theme aimed to familiarise its readers with colonial life and at the same time serve to naturalise colonial rule, we should note that even Joseph Conrad was initially seen as a proponent of the middlebrow. As this shows, aesthetic categorisation is a shifting affair and despite its generic constraints middlebrow writing sometimes directly and often indirectly maps the inherent fissures in the colonial endeavour and its frequently disconcerting realities.

With regard to such aspects as interracial contact or colonial legitimisation middlebrow writing can be seen as a form of anxiety management which allows unsettling issues to be raised while maintaining at least a superficial impression of narrative stability and security. In line with this development of the discipline we invite scholars working on middlebrow in an Imperial and / or colonial context to submit papers on Imperial Middlebrow texts, authors and readerships.


Call for papers

This conference is organised by the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading, in collaboration with Professor Ehland of the University of Paderborn, with the intention of enabling a wide-ranging reappraisal of the position of middlebrow writing on the British Empire in its literary and historical contexts. We invite papers that explore the literary as well as the socio-political role middlebrow writing and its markets and audiences played in the propagation and naturalisation, but also in the critique of the British Empire between 1890 and 1940. We will also be interested in the discussion of the generic proliferation of the imperial discourse in the middlebrow from children’s literature to romance and the adventure novel.

We invite abstracts of no more than 250 words for 20-minute papers. We welcome panel proposals for linked papers, and we welcome abstracts from independent scholars with existing publications on any of the conference topics.

Please send your abstract(s), which should include your institutional affiliation, past or present, and details of any relevant publications or papers given on the conference subject, to Kate Macdonald at, by Monday 29 February 2016. All authors will be contacted about their paper’s inclusion in the programme by mid-April, but if you need an earlier decision for funding application purposes, please let us know, with the deadline.



The conference will be held at the Whiteknights campus of the University of Reading. Local accommodation suggestions will be given when conference registration opens. The conference will open at around 16.30 on Thursday 8 September, and end in mid-afternoon on Saturday 10 September. After the opening session there will be a drinks reception and an exhibition at the university’s Museum of Rural Life, from the university library’s Special Collections, of editions of Robinson Crusoe covering the conference period. There will be a conference dinner on Friday 9 September, and the registration fee will include all lunches and teas.


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Award winning Bonnie McGill

Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein writes:

At Graduation last Friday, our former BA and M(Res) in Children’s Literature student (and present PhD student) Bonnie McGill was awarded the ‘Most Outstanding PGT Studentship Prize (M A Ward Prize Fund)’.

At the Graduation ceremony, the Dean announced that:

‘Once again, the University is recognising the most outstanding Postgraduate Taught student with a prize of £1,000.

This year the winner is Bonnie McGill, who is graduating with an MA Children’s Literature.  The prize is awarded to the student who has most consistently been able to demonstrate outstanding academic achievement throughout their programme of study.  To be eligible for the award students must achieve marks in the distinction category for each of their modules.  The winning student is then the one who scores the highest mark for their dissertation or project.

Bonnie came out top both in terms of her dissertation, achieving 95% and her overall weighted average, achieving 90%.  Her MA results are the highest ever awarded in the thirty-year history of the MA in Children’s Literature.

This is a quite outstanding achievement and we are therefore delighted to congratulate Bonnie.

We are also delighted that Bonnie has been awarded a University of Reading Studentship to continue her PhD studies here on Literary Theory and Quantum Theory.’

Warmest congratulations to Bonnie!


About Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein:

Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein is a transdisciplinary critical theorist, which means she asks questions about ideas in many disciplines that are not usually regarded as questions that can possibly be asked at all. Most of her work has done this in relation to childhood, considering how researchers make claims about what children are like and then base their research on such claims. Researchers (and anyone) frequently make claims about characteristics of childhood based on what they remember, or what they hear others remembering, about themselves as children, or based on what they observe about children. But both memory and observation are subject to interpretation and lead to a wide variety of claims about what children are ‘really’ like. Karín has also analysed similar claims around gender, for instance in her (edited) volume The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair (2007; paperback reprint 2011) and Disability in her recent (edited) volume Rethinking Disability Theory and Practice: Challenging Essentialism (2015). Karín is currently researching ideas about childhood and transsexuality/ transgender.

Contact Karín:

Visit her webpages:

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