Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book

w/ Deborah Robertson

This two stage course will assist you in completing a finished manuscript draft, looking critically at a wide range of forms and subject, designed to accommodate any type of nonfiction project: memoir, history, essay collection, investigative study, immersive explorations of other lives and situations, and experimental work.

20 July 2024 – 21 May 2025
22 x Wednesday evenings and 6 x Saturdays

Faber Writing Academy at Kathleen Syme Library

Kathleen Syme Library
251 Faraday St,
Carlton VIC 3053


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$6,300 / $5,355 alumni.

Working with your own project, you will be guided through the stages of putting together a compelling narrative nonfiction book. This approach, directed by leading nonfiction tutor Deborah Robertson, will ensure you develop essentials skills in writing and establish a dedicated practice.

Designed and delivered by Australia’s leading independent publishing house, and exclusively offered in Melbourne, Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book, will help you develop your personal style and writing voice, as well as providing you with an understanding of structure and editing so that you can revise your work to the highest standard.

In the second half of the course, you will hear from essential industry players: an editor, agent and publisher will walk you through the particulars of finishing a draft ready for submission. Based inside Australia’s leading independent publishing house, this course gives you invaluable access to the literary community.

Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book is a program specifically designed to help you develop a deep understanding of your genre, find the focus and be offered the support you need to stay the distance.

This course will provide you with:

  • Engaging classes and workshops 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 chance to be showcased in the much-anticipated Faber Writing Anthology, sent to publishers and literary agents.
  • Complimentary book titles relating to the course.

Students who complete the Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book will also have their work featured in 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.

Writers you'll be working with:

Deborah Robertson

Deborah Robertson is a West-Australian born writer and teacher, now based in Melbourne. Her first book, Proudflesh, won The Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award, and her first novel, Careless, received the Nita B. Kibble Award for Women Writers and the Colin Roderick Award. It was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, The Age…

Course outline

This course consists of 22 x Wednesday evening sessions, 6.30pm – 8.30pm and 6 x Saturday sessions, 10am – 4pm. An additional evening session dedicated to the Faber Writing Anthology will be run in 2025

2024 dates

Session 1: Saturday 20 July
This session will provide an overview of the world of narrative nonfiction writing, its myriad forms and subjects, while at the same time identifying the features that are common to all of them.

Session 2: Wednesday 24 July
Drafting. A close study of the drafting process – the different stages involved in drafting – helps us understand the intimate relationship and ever-changing dynamic that exists in writing between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Session 3: Wednesday 31 July
Committing. It is not unusual for writers to discover that the project they really want to write, the subject that is most uniquely theirs, the subject most urgent for them, is hiding behind a safer but less original one. In Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book, you will not be expected to commit to a specific project until Session 3, but you must then stay with that project for the rest of the course.

Session 4:  Wednesday 7 August 
Internal design. In this session we will examine how and why the full realisation of a book’s potential is closely connected to its design. Every book has design elements that the writer needs to consider, and every design element has profound implications for the way a reader will receive the book’s story, its themes and deeper meanings.

Session 5:  Wednesday 14 August 
Who is the storyteller? This session will be a wide-ranging exploration of narration and your particular book’s narrator. While we’ll focus on the technical aspects of narration – point of view, reliability/unreliability of narrator, authorial presence, voice (which includes questions of tone, vocabulary, pitch – high or low, formal or colloquial).

Session 6:  Wednesday 21 August
Experimental nonfiction. In this session we will look at nonfiction works that span several generations, yet all share the same feature of resisting convention and complacency, finding new ways of responding to changes in society and culture.

Session 7:  Wednesday 28 August 
Character. How do we think and write about character in the context of nonfiction? What constitutes ‘attention’ when speaking about character? What are the characteristics of ‘transparent’ and ‘opaque’ characters; when might our project need one but not the other?

Session 8:  Wednesday 4 September
Character continues. We will focus on questions of empathy in the context of ‘truth-telling’ as an exploration of the difficulties non-fiction writers face in their encounters with human complexity, and some strategies for dealing with these difficulties.


Session 9:  Saturday 5 October 
Memoir. What does ‘truth’ mean in the context of memoir/autobiography? We will explore the ethics and responsibilities that come into play when our stories involve life experiences and memories that are shared with others.

Session 10:  Wednesday 9 October
Engaging the reader. From the micro to the macro level, we will look at the techniques that help to compel readers, as well as those habits of writing that push readers away.

Session 11:  Wednesday 16 October 
Writing about others. This session will help in developing the technical skills required when writing other people’s stories. We will explore the immersion technique, the recording and recreation of dialogue, research and interviewing skills.

Session 12:  Wednesday 23 October
Visit by industry guest.

Session 13: Saturday 26 October
What is at stake? 
What is important to a reader of narrative nonfiction? When a work of nonfiction provides a reader with a powerful, lasting experience, an experience different from that of reading fiction, what has the writer done? And why?Wednesday 23 October

Session 14:  Wednesday 30 October
Visit by industry guest.

Session 15: Wednesday 6 November
Where we’ve been and where we’re going.
In this last session before the major course break we will review your projects and writing processes. As we move toward a new phase of manuscript development in Stage 2, we’ll explore ways of building writing stamina, endurance, self-mastery and resilience.


2025 dates

Session 1: Saturday February 22
Review of projects. Looking at the way forward and reporting on your writing over the break.

Session 2:  Wednesday February 26
Sculpting Time, Shaping Space. This session will explore the primary structural components of narrative – scene, summary, and reflection.

Session 3:  Wednesday March 5
Narrative Music.
This session will focus on the ways in which the beat, rhythm, and music in a book’s structure can help to convey aspects of the narrative’s meaning.

Session 4:  Wednesday March 12
Prose Style. In this session we will explore the features of different prose styles, seeking to answer these questions: is your prose style the right one for your project? And if not, how might your style be changed?

Session 5:  Wednesday March 19
Small Details. This session will explore the power and potential of the small detail – the censored, overlooked, intimate, dismissed detail – to throw fresh, revelatory light on the ‘big’ stories of history, society, of our own lives.

Session 6:  Wednesday March 26
Big Picture. As the course moves toward an intensive focus on editing, we will need to step back and begin to think about your manuscripts as a whole. Working closely with the material you have produced to date, we will revisit beginnings and contemplate endings, while applying the magnifying glass to everything in between.

Session 7:  Saturday March 29
Structure in Editing.
In this session we will have the opportunity to meet and explore the subject of editing with our guest editor, including a particular focus on ‘structural editing’.

Session 8:  Wednesday April 2
Continued workshopping of projects with structural edit in mind.

Session 9:  Wednesday April 9
This session will walk you through the concept of the line or copy edit.


Session 10:  Wednesday April 30
Blurb, Synopsis, Pitch. How do we persuasively and entertainingly describe our work to other people, particularly industry professionals? This session will discuss the different features and functions of the blurb, the synopsis, and the pitch – how to approach each of them without losing what is important to you about your work.

Session 11: Wednesday May 7
Literary Agents.
This session we will host a literary agent who will speak to you about the publishing industry and their role in it, and their relationships with their clients.

Session 12: Saturday May 10
Voicing Your Project.
In this session, you will meet a skilled acting coach, who will teach you performance skills for presentations, readings, and pitching. We will also discuss approaches to being interviewed, as well as how to contribute meaningfully to panel discussions in public settings.

Session 13:  Wednesday May 14
Publishers. At this session we will be joined by a guest publisher. Having refined and practiced your pitches, each student will formally present theirs to the publisher, who will then offer constructive feedback. You may also take this opportunity to ask other questions of the publisher.

Session 14: Wednesday May 21
Endings. We will review your achievements and discuss the distances you have travelled in your work, as well as discussing ways of maintaining your writing practice and remaining part of a supportive group of fellow writers. The session will be followed by a dinner in celebration of our time together.

All sessions are held in person at Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre, 251 Faraday Street Carlton VIC 3053. Classes are not recorded or available to attend online.

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.

How to Apply

To apply you will need to submit:

  • An online application answering several questions asked by your tutor
  • An attachment with a sample of up to 1,000 words of prose

 The 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. Submit your application here

What happens if I am accepted?

If you are accepted into Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book, you will be sent an email inviting you to take your place in the course from the Faber Writing Academy at Allen & Unwin team. In order to secure your spot, you will be asked to pay a deposit of $630/ $535.50 (alumni). The deposit will count as your first monthly instalment, with another 9 monthly payments to be made at the end of each month from August 2024 – April 2025. Students may choose to pay the full course fee or settle their remainder at any point.

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