I am Director of the Ruppin Agency Writers' Studio, a nationwide literary mentorship scheme, and I co-founded City University's Novel Studio. I completed my undergraduate studies in English at the University of Cambridge, my MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and my PhD at the OU, where my thesis explored literary representations of learning disability.
I was named as both an Amazon Rising Star and a Hive Rising Writer for my debut novel, Owl Song at Dawn (Legend, 2016). Inspired by my sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, it went on to win Nudge Literary Book of the Year.
Stemming from Something Rhymed, the website on female literary friendship that I run with my own friend Emily Midorikawa, we co-wrote our debut non-fiction book, A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf (Aurum 2017). In her foreword, Margaret Atwood described the work as a great 'service to literary history' and The Financial Times called it ‘an exceptional act of literary espionage’.
I have won Society of Authors, Arts Council and Royal Literary Fund Awards, have been Writer in Residence for disability and care organisations such as Mencap, and I have written for the likes of The Paris Review, TIME and The Washington Post.
My research is focused on writing practice – the production of original work, both fiction and creative non-fiction, and I am a member of the Contemporary Cultures of Writing research group.
There are three inter-related strands to my research profile: literary representations of learning disability (the focus of my PhD, and the dominant theme of my novel Owl Song at Dawn); the history of female literary friendship (the subject of my co-written creative non-fiction book A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf); and the life and work of Virginia Woolf.
I welcome applications from PhD candidates proposing to work in my fields of research. Please see our advice pages about creative writing PhD study.
I am a module team member of A363 Advanced Creative Writing, A803 MA Creative Writing Part 2 and short courses.
Learning Disability and Autism Writing Workshops
2019-20 Arts Council-funded Writer in Residence at Mencap – the UK’s leading learning disability charity
2017 Mainspring Arts, Square Peg Stories, ‘Redrafting and Editing Workshop’, led workshop for autistic writers on mentoring programme
2012-13 Arts Council-funded Writer in Residence at Sunnyside Rural Trust – a social enterprise for adults with learning disabilities
2018 ‘The Business of a Woman’s Life’: female authorship, celebrity, and fandom in the long 19th century, University of Reading, ‘A Secret Sisterhood: Female Literary Friendship’, Invited Speaker, along with Emily Midorikawa
2017 46th Annual George Eliot Lecture, ‘George Eliot’s Literary Friendship with Harriet Beecher Stowe’, with Emily Midorikawa, George Eliot Fellowship
2016 Mencap Annual Conference, ‘Representations of Learning Disability’, keynote speech
University public panels and talks
2019 Doris Lessing 100, University of East Anglia, ‘Women Writers Discuss Lessing’s Legacy’, panel with Rachel Cusk and Prof Lara Feigel
2017 Department of English and Friends of English, UCLA, panel chaired by Dr Michelle Carriger
2017 London School of Economics, ‘Viewing Autism Through the Arts Lens’, paper and panel with Ros Blackburn and Jem Lester, chaired by Prof Martin Knapp
2017 Association of Writing Programs, ‘The Special Relationship: Transatlantic Literary Alliances’, Organiser, Moderator and Presenter
2017 City, University of London, co-chaired panel on Writing Friendships
2017 University of Keele, Creative Writing MA programme, reading and talk on Owl Song at Dawn
2015 City, University of London, ‘The Art of Collaboration’, presentation
2015 Writing School Lecture Series, Kingston University, in conversation with Dr Wendy Vaizey
2014 National Association of Writers in Education, ‘Setting: what lies above, what lies below?’, presented paper
Co-founder and co-host of Something Rhymed, a website celebrating female literary friendship
2020 Lyceum Theatre, Talk Show: How Jane Austen Invented the Modern World, in conversation with Dr Helena Kelly and Helen McClory chaired by Mariella Frostrup
2019 Alliance of Literary Societies AGM, hosted by The George Eliot Fellowship, ‘A Secret Sisterhood: Female Literary Friendship’, lecture
2018 Chawton House Library: home to early women’s writing, ‘Jane Austen’s Unlikely Friendship’, lecture with Emily Midorikawa
2017 The Jane Austen Society of North America and the Brontë Society American Chapter, interview with Emily Midorikawa
2017 British Library, ‘How Female Friendship Feeds Creativity, panel with Rachel Holmes, Emily Midorikawa and Kate Mosse chaired by Amanda Craig
2016 Something Rhymed Salon Series on Gender Equality in the Literary Industries, New York University London, Director, Chair and Co-host
2018 BBC Radio Nottingham Afternoon Show Book Club, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn
2017 BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Interview with Emily Midorikawa on female literary friendship and our exploration of it in A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf
2016 BBC Radio London, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn
2016 BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Interview on history of attitudes towards disability and my exploration of it in Owl Song at Dawn
2016 BBC Radio Merseyside, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn
December 14, 2017 The Washington Post, ‘Jane Austen: A role model for the #MeToo generation’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
November 21, 2017 TIME, ‘The Famous ,Women Writers Whose Friendships We've Forgotten’,co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
October 16, 2017 The Paris Review, ‘Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and the Benefits of Jealous Friends’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
August 11, 2017 Smithsonian Magazine VIP, ‘Jane Austen’s BFF: And other overlooked tales of friendship between great women writers’, interview of Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa by
August 11, 2017 Irish Times, ‘The female friendships that sustained four great writers’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
July 16, 2017 Irish Independent, ‘Written out of history - the secret literary sisterhood’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
July 14, 2017 The Financial Times, Review of Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight by Naoki Higashida and The Valentine House by Emma Henderson,
July 12, 2017 BBC History Extra, ‘From Austen & Brontë to Woolf: literature’s forgotten female friendships’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
June 08, 2017 Times Literary Supplement,‘Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Eliot’s long-distance relationship’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
June 07, 2017 i newspaper, ‘The secret sisterhood of women writers, from Austen to Woolf’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
June 02, 2017 Daily Telegraph, ‘The secret sisterhood unmasked’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
July 06, 2014 Independent on Sunday, ‘Feminist Writers’ Friendships: feel the fear and do it anyway’ – a feature about Virginia Woolf’s creative collaborations with other women, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
Fellowships and Residencies
Articulating the Other (2014)
Bullock, Emily; Harlow, Nicky; Richardson, Heather and Sweeney, Emma
Writing in Education, 62 (pp. 52-55)
A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf (2017)
Midorikawa, Emily and Sweeney, Emma Claire
ISBN : 978-1781315941 | Publisher : Aurum Press
Owl Song at Dawn (2016-07-01)
Sweeney, Emma Claire
ISBN : 978-1785079672 | Publisher : Legend Press | Published : London
The waifs and strays of Sea View Lodge, a novel, and If I could read your mind: how fiction can give voice to the unrecorded lives of those with profound learning disabilities [Critical Commentary only] (2015)
PhD thesis The Open University