Writing a Novel

w/ Margo Lanagan and Gretchen Shirm

For emerging novelists ready to dive in and make the commitment to complete a full manuscript, this rigorous three-stage course will guide you through the process of planning and beginning your novel, developing essential skills in writing and composition, as well as establishing a dedicated writing practice.

7 March  –  19 September 2023

Allen & Unwin – Sydney

Faber Writing Academy at Allen & Unwin – Sydney
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065

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$6,500 / $5.525 alumni

Presented by Australia’s leading independent publishing house Allen & Unwin, in partnership with the prestigious UK Publishers Faber & Faber, Writing a Novel is a highly practical, craft-focused program designed to help you find the focus you need to stay the distance and finish your manuscript draft.

In the first three-month stage of this course (March – May), you will be given a proven combination of targeted writing exercises, group discussions and carefully selected readings. These introductory lessons will give you an important foundation for writing your novel. You will be taken through essential concepts such as narrative structure, character development, narration, voice, plotting, scene setting and more.

In the second half of the program (July – September) you will continue to develop the craft and technical skills required to turn a rough draft into a work of art. You will finish the course with a deep understanding of the novelist’s craft and how it applies to your own novel. These are lessons you can carry with you throughout your writing life.

After these two stages are complete, Writing a Novel students will be asked to submit work to our highly sought-after Faber Writing Anthology, a professionally edited and printed showcase of student work, sent to leading literary agents and publishers across both Australia and the United Kingdom.

This third stage will take place after your course work is finished, giving you the time and space to work towards completing a submittable draft of your manuscript in time for the anthology to be sent out to agents and publishers. This final stage will include a meeting with Faber’s Editor in Residence, a copy-editing process, and a catch-up session with your tutors to report about your manuscript progress.

During this course, you will be provided with:

  • Regular classes covering everything from the first conception of an idea through to getting words on a page, narrative structure and style.
  • A personalised individual consultation on your project from your Course Director.
  • The ability to connect with fellow committed novelists, joining a selective class curated by your Course Director.
  • The opportunity to make valuable industry connections with key insiders from the Australian publishing industry.
  • The chance to be showcased in the much-anticipated Faber Writing Anthology, sent to publishers and literary agents across Australia and the United Kingdom.

Writers you'll be working with:

Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan has published two dark fantasy novels (Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts), seven short story collections including the breakout Black Juice, ten teenage romance novels, three junior fantasy novels, two young adult novels and a children’s picture book. She collaborated with Scott Westerfeld and Deborah Biancotti on the New York Times bestselling YA superheroes trilogy, Zeroes. Her most recent…

Gretchen Shirm

Gretchen Shirm is the author of a collection of short stories Having Cried Wolf, for which she named a 2011 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. Her first novel Where the Light Falls, was shortlisted for the 2017 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Her short stories have been…

Course outline

This course consists of twenty-two two-hour evening classes, six full-day sessions and three additional evening sessions dedicated to the Faber Writing Anthology. All evening sessions will take place on Tuesdays, 6.30pm – 8.30pm. Full-day sessions will take place on Saturdays from 10.00am –4.00pm.

Session 1: Tuesday 7 March

Introductory Session: Goals, obstacles, desires. Why this story? What are your themes? How will you deliver them?

Session 2: Tuesday 14 March

Beginnings: Research and planning. Establishing your practice. Inspiration, perspiration and joy. Diving in. Using memory and senses.

Session 3: Saturday 18 March

Story structure and the shape of your novel. What is the desire that drives your story? What is the weakness that challenges your protagonist? Controlling pace and escalating tension throughout the story.

Session 4: Tuesday 21 March

Character: Who is at the heart of your novel? Who is the protagonist? Inventing and observing character.

Session 5: Tuesday 28 March

Point of View: Who is telling the story? Where do they stand in relation to the action? What do they care about most? Voice: Finding the voice of your novel. Rhythm and tone. Character voice. Narrative voice.

Session 6: Tuesday 4 April

Satisfying Scenes: How to make things happen. Pacing and escalation within a scene. Moving on to the next scene. Causality between scenes.

Session 7: Saturday 1 April

Guest Author.

Session 8: Tuesday 4 April

Headspace: Placing and shaping a reflective scene. Maintaining story momentum through the quiet spells.


Session 9: Tuesday 2 May

Secondary Characters: Who are your secondary characters, what are their roles? Characterisation on the run.

Session 10: Saturday 6 May

Place and Setting: Locating your story geographically (why here?) and temporally (why now?); setting the scene; using the scenery.

Session 11: Tuesday 9 May

Lush Language: Metaphor, language and style. Paring back your prose, or going for all the pretties!

Session 12: Tuesday 16 May

Guest Agent.

Session 13: Tuesday 23 May

Dialogue: Observing and inventing conversation. Giving your conversations a point.

Session 14: Tuesday 30 May

Description: When to describe, when not to. Shaping description. Keeping it interesting.

Session 15: Tuesday 6 June

What Now? How to carry on and how to make the most of the break.


Session 16: Tuesday 18 July

Taking stock: What you know about your novel, what you still don’t know. Telling the story that wants to be told.

Session 17: Tuesday 25 July

Explaining on the move: Exposition and back story. Pacing and time transitions.

Session 18: Tuesday 1 August

Guest tutor.

Session 19: Saturday 5 August

Characters in depth: Three ways to reveal and deepen character.

Session 20: Tuesday 8 August

Elephants in the room: The power of secrets. What characters leave unsaid; what writers withhold.

Session 21: Tuesday 15 August

Dialogue in-depth: Mixed messages, slip-ups and speech under stress.

Session 22: Saturday 19 August

Place and setting in-depth: Making the setting do narrative and emotive work. Bringing place to life. Infusing place with mood.

Session 23: Tuesday 22 August

Guest author: The business of being a writer.

Session 24: Tuesday 29 August

The big rewrite: Structural editing—revisioning, reordering, orchestrating, rewriting the beginning.

Session 25: Saturday 2 September

Guest tutor: Presentation and pitching. In this special session students are coached by a skilled actor/director in using performance skills for presentations and readings, and also for pitching.

Session 26: Tuesday 5 September

The close edit: Working on sentences for clarity, sense and precision. Demonstration and practice.

Session 27: Tuesday 12 September

Guest publisher.

Session 28: Tuesday 19 September

Final session: Moving on, maintaining momentum. Celebratory dinner.

Faber Writing Anthology sessions:

  •         Session 29: Meet the Editor in Residence
  •         Session 30: Meet the Faber UK Team
  •         Session 31: Manuscript progress report and catch up with tutors

All Saturday sessions are held in person at the Allen & Unwin offices at 83 Alexander Street, Crows Nest, and are fully catered. Evening sessions are hosted on Zoom, except for the first and final evening sessions, which will take place in person in Crows Nest.

The exact course content could be adjusted according to the experience and concerns of the group and availability of guest writers. The detail of the course is at the discretion of the Course Director and Faber Writing Academy at Allen & Unwin.

Praise for this course

‘Having a weekly lesson that included both direction and writing exercises was an ideal balance and I found it very generative.’ 2022

‘Having undertaken several similar courses, I can confidently say that this course offers the best delivery and value for money.’ 2022

‘I have really enjoyed all aspects of this course. Both Gretchen and Margo are excellent teachers and group facilitators.’ 2022

‘Fabulous teaching. Fantastic tutors and guest lecturers. Wonderful, supportive, encouraging atmosphere. I can’t even think of anything to suggest to make it better.’ 2021

‘The lessons were awesome – totally eye opening and taught in a really logical and accessible way. I really felt like we were putting the building blocks in place for a solid foundation of understanding.’  2021

How to Apply

In the first instance we encourage all applicants to consider applying for a Faber Writing Scholarship which allows the recipient to undertake the Writing a Novel program for free. Your scholarship application can also act as your general course application – just check the option to be considered for a paid place.

To apply, you will need to submit:

  • An online application answering several questions asked by our Writing A Novel tutors
  • An attachment with a sample of up to 1,000 words of prose

Applications can be submitted here. This selective process ensures that all applicants are applying for the course best suited to their needs and allows the tutor to determine your readiness for the course.

Payment information:

The total cost of the course is $6,500 / $5,525 alumni.

Once you have been offered a place in Writing a Novel you will be asked to pay the first monthly instalment as a deposit by the end of February 2023.

Any student who chooses to pay the full course fee by the end of February 2023, will be offered the alumni rate of $5,525.

Students who choose to pay monthly instalments will commit to 10 monthly payments of $650 / $552.50 to be made at the end of each month from February – November.

Please contact us if you wish to discuss further payment plan options via email or phone (02) 8425 0171.