OOC DTP in-person Writing Retreat

Please note that booking priority will be given to students who started their PhDs in the 2019/20 academic year.

About the OOC DTP Writing Retreat

Led by two tutors from the company ‘True North’, for up to 14 doctoral students in the later stages of their PhD:

This five-day immersive retreat will take you off-campus to focus intensively on your PhD in the company of two professional writers and a group of peers.

Each morning there will be taught sessions, largely tailored to the needs of the group – to which end you will be invited to submit work in advance of the retreat. The afternoons are reserved for private writing time, except when you have a tutorial. Each participant will be offered two separate tutorials over the course of the retreat. In addition to receiving detailed feedback from both tutors on your work and the specific writing challenges you face, you will be given an entire ‘tool kit’ of creative writing skills that will help you pull your thesis into final shape, so that it possesses a strong argumentative through-line and a distinctive narrative voice. Each retreat is designed in response to the writing samples we receive; however, the following will give you a broad outline of what to expect day by day from the group sessions.


Sample Content (mornings):

Day One: We meet the students as ‘writers’ and discuss the challenges that all writers face. And we look to focus, pitching and personal investment as essential orienteering: in other words, to discovering your own ‘true north’.

Day Two: This day is all about Voice. We pick apart what this elusive quality actually consists of, and how it can be used to lend your PhD layering, depth and originality. We also talk about what we call Connective Tissue – structure at the micro level.

Day Three: Story Telling and Structure. Having looked at the weaving and linking that’s part of keeping the reader with you and getting your voice onto the page, we balance this by focusing on the macro level of narrative structure, using various techniques including working on the wall and other kinaesthetic methods.

Day Four:  This morning is all about Questions and Obstacles - how you keep driving forward your argument when you think you cannot go further. We believe that interrogation at exactly this point leads to greater depth and nuance and to new insights: how do you capture your breakthrough thinking?

Day Five: How to take these lessons home and continue to access your best creative state. We remind students what they’ve learnt during the week and hand out a True North glossary of all the tropes we’ve taught them. The morning is capped with an ‘observational walk’ which is all about making the best use of language.

By the end of the course:

•            You will have strengthened the solid spine of your thesis, and identified all its major points of articulation.

•            You will know exactly what to cut and what to boost to pull your thesis into a coherent work that sings.

•            You will have learnt how and where to place your most far-reaching ideas, so that your work resonates with meaning for your readers.

•            You will better understand the nature and scope of your contribution to your research field.

•            You will have experienced the transformative benefit of immersion in your work - away from all the distractions of your everyday life, and in the company of a peer group of students who are on the same journey.

•            You will have a clearer sense of who you are as a writer, and of how to access your own best creative state.

About the tutors

Both tutors are Consultant Fellows of the Royal Literary Fund with considerable experience of helping PhD students to develop their writing skills.

Marina Benjamin is writer and editor. Formerly at the New Statesman and the Evening Standard, she is now a Senior Editor at Aeon magazine. Among her books, Living at the End of the World (1998) was a Sunday Times bestseller, Rocket Dreams (2004) was shortlisted for the Eugene Emme award, and Last Days in Babylon (2007) was long-listed for the Wingate Prize. Her widely acclaimed memoirs The Middlepause (2016) and Insomnia (2018) have been translated into 9 languages. Marina was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the LSE, where she developed a knowledge transfer training programme for researchers and staff. She teaches regularly for The Arvon Foundation as a tutor in life writing and non-fiction. Her latest memoir A Little Give will be published in 2023. 

Tina Pepler is a dramatist who works in radio and television. Much of her work is factually based and involves research that draws on skills learned when she was working on her PhD in Drama at Bristol University. She has written extensively for BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and the World Service – original plays, drama series, and drama-documentaries, and dramatisations. Her television work has been broadcast on BBC1, Channel 4 and ITV, and ranges from historical drama (eg Princes in the Tower, C4), to contemporary single dramas (eg Say Hello to the real Dr Snide, C4), episodes of the drama series A Most Mysterious Murder co-written with Julian Fellowes, and an episode of Downton Abbey. Tina has been a tutor with The Arvon Foundation, has taught new writers in South Africa (sponsored by the SABC, BBC and the British Council), and is a core tutor on the MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford University.  Her work in progress includes a dramatisation for TV of a wartime family saga set in Australia, London, France and Singapore; a new original drama series about Armenia (formerly Cilicia) in the time of the Crusades; and a new original play for radio which will be part of the BBC’s centenary programming.

To book

To secure your place on this writing retreat, please book via Inkpath. 

In signing up for this retreat, you must ensure that you can commit to attending the full residential course, for the five days indicated.

Priority will be given to students who started their PhDs in 2019/20.

Please note, in reserving a place on this writing retreat, you will automatically be booked accommodation at the venue. Travel costs will be covered, and potentially minibuses booked from Oxford and Cambridge if there is interest. Do let us know via the Inkpath form.