And now for something completely different.



As my last post noted, the AQA English Literature A exam has changed. The  poems from Jon Stallworthy’s Oxford Book of War Poetry are still examined, of course, and I hope my notes for those poems will continue to be useful for you in revising for their exams. The links to wider reading that you find here will continue to be relevant to your studies. But in the new exam, these poems will be read in tandem with another text– a novel or drama. Clearly, then, for this site to remain fully relevant to the exam, we need to engage with the new element, a post-2000 novel or drama, and find the ways in which Stallworthy’s selection of poems might be found to be relevant to such a text.

Here, then, is the beginning of what I hope will be a study project that allows us to explore some of the key texts in the 2016 AQA English Literature A-level examination.

Over the next few months my students and I will be reading and writing about Sebastian Barry’s novel, ‘A Long Long Way’. This is the text we have chosen at Southfields Academy to study in combination with the Oxford Book of War Poetry.

For revision purposes I will post onto the blog at the end of every chapter a brief summary of the events that occurred in that chapter, and pose some of the questions that I feel that the chapter opens up for the reader. My students will respond, giving their own commentaries on the text, and supplying resources to the project for their peers to read and consider.

You can respond to those commentaries, answer those questions and proffer an opinion on points of interest on the Barry’s novel as we go. Join us as we read, and help us to broaden our understanding of this newly examined text.

Moreover, because ‘A Long Long Way’ is examined by comparing what we find in the novel to what we find in the poems in Stallworthy’s anthology, we will consider exactly what poems from that anthology engage with or influence the text.

As we go, I will also offer links, resources and analysis for you to explore crucial parts of the text. What kind of novel is ‘A Long Long Way’? What social or historical contexts inform the text? What have been other readers’ responses to the text? These questions and others will allow us to take a critical stance on the text, and allow us to participate in ongoing literary debates.

Do read along with us.


2 thoughts on “And now for something completely different.”

  1. Hello there, as a fellow teacher I’m always interested to read your notes on the poems and see if they fit with mine. I’m just reading the Sebastian Barry book at the moment and will possibly use it next year. Last year and this, we have used Ben Elton’s The First Casualty. Have you read it? I picked it because it seemed fairly straightforward but the more I teach it, the more the pupils and I think it is appallingly badly written! Any thoughts?

    1. I haven’t I’m afraid. Like the rest of the Western World I loved ‘Blackadder’, but every Ben Elton book I’ve ever read has been dreadful. Yet, as you say, his novel is now an AQA approved and recommended text. I love Barry’s novel- it’s rich and it’s wise and it’s great fun to teach. Ultimately, however, blame Michael Gove for thinking it was a bright idea to force boards like AQA to *have* to include post-2000 texts in their specifications, so that students *have* to read them, even when they’re a completely unnecessary burden on courses focused on, say, World War One. It’s not as if ‘Her Privates We’, ‘Goodbye to All That’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘Memoirs of An Infantry Officer’ or ‘Parade’s End’ are a load of old rubbish, is it? What a grim irony that that prim, lecturing little boil (who loudly pronounced that he was doing so much to make A-level more rigorous) was in the very centenary of the conflict ensuring we’d teach *less* of the classic first-hand literature of the Great War. And don’t get me started on his brilliant idea of phasing out coursework!

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