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Styles of Writing, Styles of Thought: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Style?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 17:30
Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Spring 2015

All sessions are 17:30 – 19:30 at Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. 
Venue map for Senate House.

This series will set out from the fundamental question “What is writing style?” – is it the basic practical choices a writer makes about how to write, or is it something more intimate, or even philosophical, than that?   Through lively discussions with a mixture of practitioners and critics from different genres, we will go on to consider what it means to have style or be a stylist, where style comes from, what style can be said to do, and how closely it might be wed to notions like perception, personality, morality, and possibility.

Each session will include two speakers, with a mixture of presentations and interviews, chaired by Ben Masters (Open University). The sessions are free of charge and open to all, and will end with a discussion and Q & A.  No booking is necessary, but arrive early to avoid disappointment.

Session 1: Style and Personality (Tuesday March 10th 2015) – Adam Thirlwell and Zachary Leader

Room 349 (3rd floor) 

Is style intuitive, or is it an effect of carefully selected writerly choices? What are the possible nuances of the relationship between a writer and his or her style?  Can we distinguish between the writing and the life?

Adam Thirlwell photo by Peter MarlowAdam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. He is the author of three novels, Politics, The Escape, and Lurid & Cute; a novella, Kapow!; and a project with international novels that includes an essay-book and a compendium of translations edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British novelists, in 2003 and 2013. In 2008 he received a Somerset Maugham Award. His work has been translated into thirty languages.

Photo credit: Peter Marlow


Zachary Leader - photoZachary Leader is Professor of English Literature at the University of Roehampton and the author of Reading Blake's Songs, Writer's Block, Revision and Romantic Authorship, and The Life of Kingsley Amis, a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer prize in Biography. Among the books he has edited are Percy Pysshe Shelley: The Major Works, The Letters of Kingsley Amis, and On Modern British Fiction. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Listen to an audio recording of this seminar (duration 1 hour 39 minutes).

Session 2: Style as Perception (Wednesday March 25th 2015) – Adam Phillips and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

 Room G37 (Ground Floor)

Adam Thirlwell and Zachary Leader, introduced by Ben Masters

Does a writer’s style tell us something about how that writer thinks or feels?  Or, from the writer’s perspective, do particular styles offer particular kinds of knowledge?  Is style emblematic of ways of engaging with or being in the world?

Adam Thirlwell

Adam Phillips - photo by Toby GlanvilleAdam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and writer.  His books include On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored, Going Sane, Side Effects, On Kindness (co-written with Barbara Taylor), On Balance, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, One Way and Another: New and Selected Essays, and Becoming Freud.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst - photoRobert Douglas-Fairhurst is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Magdalen College. His books include Becoming Dickens (2011), which won the 2011 Duff Cooper Prize, and The Story of Alice (2015), and he has also produced editions of Dickens's Christmas stories, Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, and Kingsley's The Water-Babies for Oxford World's Classics. He writes regularly for publications including the Daily Telegraph and Guardian, while radio and television appearances include Start the Week and The Culture Show. He lives in Oxford.



Robert Fairhurst-DouglasAdam Phillips and Ben Masters

Session 3: Creative-Critical Style (Tuesday April 14th 2015) – Ros Barber and Simon Palfrey

Room 349 (3rd floor)


Are there distinctions to be made between academic style and creative style, or can the two be linked?  How might different forms of writing open up or embody different kinds of possibility?


Ros Barber - photo by Derek AdamsRos Barber is author of verse novel The Marlowe Papers, winner in 2013 of the Desmond Elliott Prize, joint-winner of the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize (formerly Orange Prize) for fiction. Devotion, her second novel, will be published in June. Twice winner of the Calvin & Rose G Hoffman Prize for a distinguished essay on Christopher Marlowe (2011, 2015), she is a lecturer in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Sussex and Director of Research at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust.

Photo credit: Derek Adams


Simon Palfrey - photoSimon Palfrey is Professor of English Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford University. His recent books include Poor Time: Living King Lear  and Shakespeare's Possible Worlds. Doing Shakespeare was a TLS International Book of the Year and Shakespeare in Parts (written with Tiffany Stern) won the David Bevington prize for best new book on Medieval & Renaissance drama. He is a founding editor of two innovative Bloomsbury series, Shakespeare Now! and Beyond Criticism. He is currently working on a playbook and film, Demons Land, inspired by Spenser's Faerie Queene, and a novel Birnam Wood (written with Ewan Fernie) that is a sequel and repetition of Macbeth.


Organized by the OU’s Contemporary Cultures of Writing Research Group in collaboration with the Institute of English Studies, UL. 

If you have any queries, please contact series convenor Ben Masters, (, Department of English, The Open University. 




Contact Us

Contact Derek Neale or Ed Hogan by email: 

The Postal Address is:

Department of English and Creative Writing
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Tel +44-1908-652092