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Writing the Memoir Short Course

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Covid-19 update: The learning doesn’t have to stop, join our online community. We will be delivering courses remotely until further notice. Live tutor support and virtual lessons will take place during advertised teaching hours. The classes are taught in small groups, so you’ll get lots of support from your tutor. Book now.

Our Writing the Memoir one-day workshop provides students with a firm grounding in key aspects of writing a memoir.

Why choose this course?

The workshop is most suitable for those new to memoir writing. More experienced writers are also welcome, though should be aware this is an introductory course.

Bring paper and pen and expect to take notes and bring ideas and questions too.

Course overview

If you have a true story to tell and have been wondering how to start writing about it, this introduction to memoir writing workshop is for you.

You will be introduced to a few essential ideas and questions you must consider before starting to write a memoir.

Topics covered

The day will take the form of two workshops. In this time there will be presentations, some theory to discuss, handouts, discussions and some writing exercises. We will be examining one or two key ideas on how to tackle writing about the truth. You will have the chance to read from your work and discuss your ideas in a safe peer group.

Morning writing workshop

  • What is a memoir? The difference between autobiography, autobiographical fiction and memoir
  • Planning a memoir: the picture or the journey?
  • Getting started: structure and style
  • Finding your voice
  • A chance to write some memoir sketches

Afternoon writing workshop

  • What is “truth” in memoir? Narrative and ownership
  • The “chip of ice in the writer’s heart”: memory, subjectivity and the writer’s responsibilities when tackling problematic material
  • Becoming a writer: the practice of writing
  • “ Jane not only knew her stuff but also talked from a perspective of a person who has published. Good stuff as she walked the walk and talked the talk ”

    Solomon Njie

    Former student

  • “ Engaging and kept my interest ”

    Lynda Gannon

    Former student

  • “ Excellent overview…Huge amount of relevant experience, knowledge and advice ”

    Nicola Maddox

    Former student

  • “ Wish I had taken this course sooner! ”

    Marie Noel

    Former student

  • “ A comprehensive introduction to what it takes to write a truthful, interesting memoir. ”

    Donal Cox

    Former student

  • “ Clear and concise, knowledgeable and encouraging. ”

    Lee Chester

    Former student

  • “ Thorough, comprehensive and clearly presented ”

    Ann David

    Former student

What will I learn?

What will I learn?

You will leave with a firm grounding in key aspects of writing a memoir and what you will need to consider before embarking on a memoir of your own.

Areas covered will include:

  • Aspects of memoir-writing - what makes a
    good memoir?
  • How to get started: ideas about structure and style
  • Finding your voice: the importance of reading to writing
  • What is “truth” in memoir-writing? Dealing with subjectivity and
    problematic material
  • How to begin: the writer’s notebook



Prerequisite knowledge

The workshop is most suitable for those new to memoir writing. More experienced writers are also welcome, though should be aware this is an introductory course.

Bring paper and pen and expect to take notes and bring ideas and questions too.

English requirements

The course would best suit writers fluent in English.

Teaching & assessment

Teaching & assessment

A one-day, seminar-style workshop. Written exercises in class. Q&As with the tutor throughout.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading

Writing on Writing:
- Write to the Point, Sam Leith, Profile Books
- The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr, Harper Perennial
- On Writing, Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton

General Reminiscence:
- Period Piece, Gwen Raverat, Faber
- Blood Knots, Luke Jennings, Atlantic Books
- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson, Jonathan Cape

Dealing with difficult or contentious subject matter:
- Give Me Everything You Have, James Lasdun, Vintage
- The Lost Child, Julie Myerson, Bloomsbury

Writing about personal involvement in historical events:
- The Return, Hisham Matar, Viking Penguin
- War in the Val D’Orcia, Iris Origo, Pushkin Press
- The Places In Between, Rory Stewart, Picador

Memoir based around a specific experience or event:
- On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming, Chatto & Windus
- H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald, Jonathan Cape
- A Boy in the Water, Tom Gregory, Penguin Books
- The Light in the Dark, Horatio Clare, Elliott & Thompson

Tutor information

  • Jane Shilling

    Jane Shilling is the author of two memoirs, The Fox in the Cupboard (Viking, 2004), about horses and single motherhood, and The Stranger in the Mirror (Chatto & Windus, 2011) about the experience of middle age, which was a Radio 4 Book of the Week and has been translated into Italian, Swedish and Chinese.

    After reading English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, she worked for the publishers Viking Penguin, the literary agency Anthony Sheil Associates, as a sub-editor on the Daily Telegraph arts pages and weekly magazine, and as deputy features editor of the Times. She became a freelance writer in 1998 and has written on books and the arts for publications including the New Statesman, Prospect magazine, the Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph, for which she writes a weekly column. She has appeared at literary festivals and on television and radio. In 2015 she was a judge for the Costa Biography Award.

    She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Greenwich University, and is working on a novel based on the life of a nineteenth-century Russian artist.

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