Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book Stage 2

w/ Deborah Robertson

This exciting new two stage course will assist aspiring writers to complete a manuscript draft, looking critically at a wide range of forms and subjects in narrative nonfiction, designed to accommodate any type of project: memoir, history, essay collection, investigative study, immersive explorations of other lives and situations, and experimental work.

18 February  – 24 May 2023

Faber Writing Academy at Kathleen Syme Library

Kathleen Syme Library
251 Faraday St,
Carlton VIC 3053


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$3,250 / $2,762.50 alumni

Working with your own projects and specifically chosen narrative nonfiction readings, the techniques and artistry unique to narrative non-fiction writing will be explored. Through these lessons you will be guided through the stages of putting together a compelling narrative nonfiction book. This approach, curated by leading nonfiction tutor Deborah Robertson, will ensure you develop essentials skills in writing and establish a dedicated writing practice.

Using a proven combination of craft-focused tuition, targeted writing exercises, the workshopping of your work-in-progress, group discussions and carefully selected readings, the focus of this course will be on your own manuscript, with the aim of ending the course with a complete first draft of your narrative nonfiction work.

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.

For three months, this course will provide you with:

Regular classes covering everything from the first conception of an idea through to getting words down on the page, narrative structure and style.
Dedicated guidance from your experienced Course Director, as well as guest tutors drawn from a community of highly respected authors.
• A personalised individual consultation on your project with your Course Director.
• The chance to workshop your work-in-progress in a supportive small-group setting with limited participant numbers.
• The ability to connect with fellow committed writers, building a close-knit community of trusted readers. The connections made during this course will support and foster your work for years to come.

In addition to course work, students who complete both stages of Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book will be invited to contribute to a dedicated nonfiction edition of the Faber Writing Anthology, a professionally edited and printed showcase of student work.

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

Session 1: Saturday February 18  (in class)
‘A word after a word after a word is power.’  Margaret Atwood

Introduction to the course, review of projects, the way forward. Intensive workshopping of extracts from projects, along with discussion and exercises in ‘materialising’ your project – a computer-free method of placing the writing at a necessary distance, allowing you to ‘move’ the manuscript components without consequences, and encouraging the serendipities and creative breakthroughs that can happen in play.

Session 2:  Wednesday February 22  (in class)
‘Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.’  Joan Didion

Sculpting time and space. This session will explore the primary structural components of narrative – scene, summary, and reflection – necessary to the ‘sculpting’ we find in Didion’s quote.

Session 3:  Wednesday March 1 (online)
‘I’m very much aware in the writing of narrative, of a rhythm. There has to be a rhythm with it … Interviewers have said, you like jazz, don’t you? Because we can hear it in your writing. And I thought that was a compliment.’  Elmore Leonard

The music of narrative. 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, while also affecting the reader’s emotional experience of the work. The session will look at backstory, riffing, and foreshadowing, along with an exploration of the many ways in which the relationship between the text and blank space enhance content and feeling.

Session 4:  Wednesday March 8  (online)
‘A sentence is not emotional a paragraph is.’  Gertrude Stein

Prose: art and style. Can you describe your prose style? And how it has developed? Is it linked to your temperament, personal history, perhaps even to aspects of your own body? 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 15  (online)
‘The most important things to say are those which often I did not think it necessary for me to say – because they were too obvious.’  Andre Gide

The small key. 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: stories that over time consensus has silenced, congealed, closed, but that might still be prised open with the use of the small detail as a key.

Session 6:  Wednesday March 22  (in class)
‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant––‘  Emily Dickinson

The big picture, part 1. 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 in the course to date, we will revisit beginnings and contemplate endings, while applying the magnifying glass to everything in between. The skills, techniques and questions that we have explored so far may well be taking on different meanings and significances now that you have an expanded sense of your project, and as preparation for next week’s structural edit, we will examine any problems or obstructions that you have encountered in examining your manuscript in its entirety.

Session 7:  Wednesday March 29  (in class)
‘This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.’  James Baldwin

The Big Picture, part 2. Continued workshopping of projects with structural edit in mind.

Session 8:  Saturday April 1  (in class)
‘If a writer of prose knows enough about what they are writing about they may omit things that they know and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because they do not know them only makes hollow places in their writing.’  Ernest Hemingway

Editing, part 1. The structural edit. In this session we will have the opportunity to meet and explore the subject of editing with our guest editor. Because this editor will also be the person you will work with when the time comes to focus on the Faber Anthology, the Anthology will also be discussed.

Session 9:  Wednesday April 5  (online)
‘A good editor is someone who cares a little less about the author’s needs than the reader’s.’  Dene October

Editing, part 2. The line or copy edit.


Session 10:  Wednesday May 3  (in class)
‘If I waited until I felt like writing I’d never write at all.’  Anne Tyler

Finding your work’s place in the world. 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:  Saturday May 6  (in class)
‘The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first.’  Pascal

Guest acting coach and articulating your project
In this session. students will be coached by a skilled actor/voice coach, using 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. The writing of speeches, panel papers and the public address will also be covered. There will be time for the refining and practicing of pitches, and we will also return to the subject of endings – how best to resolve your manuscript.

Session 12:  Wednesday May 10  (in class)
‘Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.’  Virginia Woolf

Guest literary agent. 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. You will have the chance to ask questions about how you might go about finding the right agent for your work. You will also be free to ask for the agent’s view about successful/unsuccessful pitching, but you will not formally pitch until next week.

Session 13:  Wednesday May 17 (in class)
‘When I’m writing I’m far away and when I come back I’ve gone.’  Pablo Neruda

Guest publisher and pitches. 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 24  (in class)
‘Reading maketh a full man; writing an exact man.’  Francis Bacon

Final session and dinner. The quote above is dated from around 1610, hence its ancient notions of gender. In this session we will spend some time in a final scan of your projects, checking for unanswered questions, potential still unrealised, changes insisting that they be made. The aim is to have you finish the course with the essential knowledge and confidence to be your own problem-solver in your future writing. We’ll also 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: time spent becoming both fuller and more exact human beings.

How to Apply

To apply you will need to use our application form to:

  • Answer a series of questions relating to your project and approach to writing nonfiction
  • Submit a 1000-word sample of prose, with your name saved as the title of the document

This process ensures that all applicants are applying for the course best suited to their needs and allows the tutor to familiarise themselves with your work.

Enter your application for Writing the Narrative Nonfiction Book by submitting here. Applications close two weeks prior to the commencement of the course.