Writing True Stories: Crafting Memoir and Narrative Non-Fiction

w/ Patti Miller and guests

This intensive course is for writers, or intending writers, who wish to concentrate on crafting memoir or narrative non-fiction.

A practical craft-based course, featuring readings, discussion and exercises, ‘Writing True Stories’ offers the opportunity to develop several chapters, while working towards a full manuscript, under expert guidance. This course will help develop skills and explore the richness of the genre along with the joys, challenges and possibilities for the writer of ‘true stories’.

5 February –  4 June 2021, Fridays.

Allen & Unwin – Sydney

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

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$ 3,400 / $ 2890 alumni

The course will investigate how to access memory, how to create the lived texture of experience on the page, how to find a narrating position, where to find a voice, how to structure your story, how to avoid self-indulgence, how much research to include, how far to go in the borderlands between memoir and fiction—indeed all the myriad arts and skills of writing true stories.

In addition, each person will also have two 30-minute individual sessions with Patti Miller to discuss their own particular writing issues. During the course, participants will write two whole chapters at least and have them workshopped in detail, with the opportunity to discuss structural issues under Patti Miller’s expert guidance. In addition, there will be the invaluable opportunity to intimately discuss the challenges of writing with inspiring authors and experts in the publishing world. Guest writers will share the benefit of their experience. Participants will also learn how to pitch their work and the opportunity to talk to a publisher and/or agent will be offered near the end of the course.

Writing True Stories is a practical and inspiring course for writers who are ready to commit to the process of producing a full-length work of memoir or narrative non-fiction. Apart from the writing classes and writing exercises, students will be expected to dedicate as much time as possible to writing during the week. The course is open to all levels of experience, including those starting out and those wishing to change genres, but, in all cases, a level of competence with English expression is expected and assumed. It will extend and challenge writers at every level of experience.

Please note that pending the latest COVID-19 advice this course may be delivered online.

Graduates of Writing True Stories  will have the opportunity to be published in the annual Faber Writing anthology.

Writers you'll be working with:

Patti Miller

Patti Miller is an award-winning memoirist and nonfiction writer, whose 2012 book, The Mind of a Thief, was longlisted for the Stella Prize and the Nita Kibble Prize, shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Prize for Non-Fiction, winner of the NSW Premier’s Prize for History and on the syllabus for English for the VCE in Victoria. She is…

Course outline

16 classes on a Friday
The content listed below is comprehensive but is still a guide only. 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.

Set Text: Writing True Stories, Patti Miller, A&U 2017


Session 1:
Mapping the Territory + Beginnings: Overview of the course. What is memoir? And narrative non-fiction? What do you want to write? Leaping the hurdles before you start – facing the difficulties Beginnings – desire and curiosity

Session 2:
Memory and Research: How to access memories. Introduction to research and interview.

Session 3:
Going to the Well – Observation: Being Awake. Knowing what you noticed, detail. Making a Scene: The 3D world of writing. Dialogue, action, scene.

Session 4:
The Narrator: Narrating position/voice/point of view. Distance / time of telling.

Session 5:
Opening Out the Genre: Narrative non-fiction, travel memoir

Session 6:
Opening Out the Genre:Biography, personal essay,integrating research

Session 7:
How Do They Do It? Inspiration – guest writer.

Session 8:
Publication – Intro to Pitching: How to write a winning pitch.


Session 9:
Structure at Last: What’s it for? Organic structure, ways to structure.

Session 10:
Narrative Structure: What is narrative? Desire and curiosity – how to create narrative pull.

Session 11:
The Difficulties of Truth Telling + Avoiding Self-indulgence: How to write memoir and survive your family and friends. What is self-indulgence in memoir?

Session 12:
True Stories – or Lies?: The borderlands between memoir and fiction. How far do you go?

Session 13:
Publication – Agents: Guest Agents – what does an agent do? What are they looking for?

Session 14:
Publication – Publishers and Editors: Guest publisher – what is a publisher looking for? What does an editor do?

Session 15:
Structural Trouble-shooting: What is wrong with it and how to fix it .

Session 16:
Continuing On: How to keep going. Writing timetable, finishing a draft. Celebration!

Praise for this course

‘Patti provides a brilliant mix of knowledge, skill and deep listening as part of her teaching structure. Her humour and reality based communication style only compliment her professionalism and sense of authenticity as a person.” Chandu, 2019

‘Patti is the writing whisperer! She taught me how to stop daydreaming and to get writing. I couldn’t have written my memoir without her.’ Jessica Rowe

‘Patti has improved my writing immeasurably.’ Rebecca Poulson, author of Killing Love

‘I’ve been writing for decades but this course has given me a whole different approach, which I totally didn’t expect… I did think “life-changing” at some point during the course and I think it has been for me.’ Anne, (2017)