Allen & Unwin » Faber Writing Academy

Sophie CunninghamWriting Memoir

with Sophie Cunningham

and guest Drusilla Modjeska


'There exists a developed awareness of something honourable to offer in (the novel's) place - I mean the dangerous and exciting breakdown of the old boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, and the ethical and technical problems that are exploding out of the resulting gap.'
Helen Garner, The Feel of Steel

This intensive three-day workshop with author and editor Sophie Cunningham, as well as Drusilla Modjeska, is not just concerned with the craft of writing memoir, but with the way that memoir enters fiction and other forms of nonfiction.

The course discusses and explores the inevitability of memoir entering a writer's work and how to use it effectively. Topics covered will include:

• the fine line between self-indulgence and truthfulness
• judging when to use personal material in general nonfiction - when is it useful and when is it not
• turning the self into a character
• memoir as history
• using personal narrative to provide structure in your writing
• how to protect yourself
• ethical issues surrounding the use of real events in your work.

As well as being discursive, the workshop will analyse and discuss examples of memoir writing, good and bad - or, as journalist Neil Genzlinger put it bluntly, 'A moment of silence, please, for the lost art of shutting up.'

Participants will also be expected to write a personal piece during the workshop and then hand it over to others to read and critique, in order to better understand what it's like for private material to cross over into the public realm.

Participants can expect to emerge from Writing Memoir with a clearer sense of the complicated issues involved in working with the self, and with others' real lives. They should also have a stronger understanding of the difference between the (sometime) therapeutic motivations for writing story, and the expectations created by, and demands of, having a broader audience for personal work. They will - to return to Genzlinger's plea for silence - have a better idea of when to shut up, and when to use the power of language and intimacy of sharing as a legitimate tool for engaging with readers.

Additionally, there will be chance to discuss students' individual projects in the course, and to address any specific areas of difficulty participants might be facing in their own work with focus on practical, realistic, honest answers to commonly and not-so-commonly asked questions.

The course includes:

• three full days of intensive tuition from Sophie Cunningham from 10am to 5pm
• a talk from guest writer
• lunch and regular tea and coffee breaks
• a special discount on all books purchased at Constant Reader, Crows Nest - the official bookseller for Faber Writing Academy

About the Course Director


Sophie Cunningham has worked in publishing for twenty-five years, at McPhee Gribble, Penguin, Allen & Unwin, Lonely Planet and most recently as the editor of the literary journal Meanjin. She has also worked as a teacher of writing and editing at RMIT and the University of Melbourne. Her journalism has been published by a range of papers, most recently in Crikey, The Drum and The Age. She is the author of the novels Geography (2004) and Bird (2008), both of which were set in America, India, and Sri Lanka. Her nonfiction book Melbourne will be released in August. Her third novel (in progress), This Devastating Fever, is about Leonard Woolf's years in Sri Lanka. She is also writing a nonfiction book, Warning, on Cyclone Tracy and other extreme weather events.

Please note in the event of unforeseen circumstances, courses - including tutors and venues - may be subject to cancellation or change.