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Writing Memoir

The course

Unlocking memory and shaping experience

This immersive, deep-dive course provides inspiration and practical advice as you undertake a long-form memoir project. It draws on the resources and expertise of Granta magazine, renowned for nurturing some of the most influential and daring writers of memoir, and the expert guidance of an experienced writer of creative non-fiction.

Over six months you will move from initial ideas towards the first 10,000 words of your memoir, exploring the possibilities the form offers, and your motivations for telling your story. You will examine the boundaries of the self and push at the limitations of the personal. In each session we investigate the debates around truth and reality that make this genre so rich, while interrogating the central questions at the heart of your work. We will look at hands-on techniques to hone your voice, line by line, and encourage you to experiment with both structure and storytelling.

Alongside a small group of likeminded writers, you’ll look at the form of the memoir and stress-test your ideas against the elasticity of the genre: where does your writing sit in the intertwining mix of biography, history, travel writing, cookbook, ideas-led science and philosophy – and when does fact become fiction? Learn how to sensitively negotiate the debate around who owns a story; how to effectively integrate research and archival materials such as images; and how to transform personal memory into relatable and readable scenes.

You’ll be given a free one-year digital subscription to Granta magazine, as well as access to curated extracts from Granta books, and the magazine, podcast and video archive. Throughout the course, there is insight from guest authors and Granta staff.

Finish the course with a stress-tested outline, the first 10,000 words of your memoir, a detailed proposal to take to an agent or publisher, plus the confidence and resilience to maintain momentum with your project after the course ends.

Course completion opens up our Alumni Space, which provides ongoing access to industry professionals, including authors, Granta editors and literary agents.

Entry is by application to ensure you get the most out of the course. Applications close Sunday, 21st April. 

Meet your course director

Midge Gillies

Dr Midge Gillies is the author of Writing Lives: Literary Biography and co-author of Literary Non-Fiction: a Writers’ & Artists’ Companion. She is a highly experienced educator, having taught creative writing for more than 20 years at Cambridge University, as well as biography masterclasses for the University of East Anglia.

In partnership with Granta

Professional Writing Academy works with Granta as education partner, to design and deliver world-class writing courses and nurture new voices and writing talent.

Things to know

We give you the theory in the form of videos, podcasts, written lectures and reading extracts. In the case of our live workshops, this includes a live online seminar.

You put it into practice by completing the writing assignments.

You share your work with the small group of fellow writers on your course, and the teaching team.

Your tutor and fellow learners read your work and give professional-style feedback on your submission. Giving feedback notes helps to build your skills as an editor – a critical part of the writing process.

You reflect on the exercises with the group and share what you’ve learned.

You use what you learned from the feedback and discussions to review your work and improve it.

Things to know

This course is designed for committed writers who are ready to write long-form memoir, life-fiction or autofiction. Over six months, this intensive course is designed to help you write the first 10,000 words of your memoir and leave the course with an action plan for finishing your manuscript, as well as a stress-tested synopsis and pitch, ready for submission.    

Suitable for intermediate to advanced writers.

It’s suitable if you: 

  • Write fiction, creative non-fiction or journalism, and would like to pursue a long-form memoir project 
  • Are a memoir writer and want to kick-start a new project 
  • Have started writing a memoir and would like the guidance and support to keep writing 
  • Would like to explore the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, truth and memory
  • Want to build advanced craft skills, sustain momentum and keep the reader’s (and your own) interest
  • Enjoy the discipline of deadlines and peer feedback
  • Can dedicate 10–12 hours per week for the duration of the course
  • Want to join a friendly and supportive small group of learners.

This course allows you to:

  • Appreciate the many different ways of structuring a memoir and blending it with other genres
  • Grow confidence using key memoir techniques, such as switching tenses and changing points of view, while developing your own voice
  • Experiment with writing techniques often associated with fiction, such as building rich characters, rendering scenes with rich description and dialogue, and using humour and drama to vary the pace of your writing
  • Gain awareness of the ethical dimensions to writing a true story and the impact a memoir can have on the writer and other people mentioned
  • Develop key research skills, including using primary and secondary sources and oral history, while understanding the benefits and pitfalls that can come from research
  • Work on your long-form project intensively over a six-month period, building momentum that will continue after your course ends
  • Practise giving feedback to other writers and receiving responses to your work
  • Build greater independence, autonomy and judgement as you work on a final assignment.

By the end of the course you’ll have a submission package made up of the following:

  • Up to 10,000 words of your memoir (consecutive from the start)
  • Synopsis and/or chapter breakdown, including planned word count
  • Author profile (300 words)
  • Blurb or pitch (200 words)
  • Information on why you are the right person to write the book, why the memoir is needed (and why now) and the market for the book
  • List of similar titles.

Each course is divided into sessions. These sessions are released one by one (weekly or fortnightly, depending on the course). 

There’s no need to log on at a set time. You can work through the learning materials whenever suits you, day or night, wherever you are in the world. Just complete the assignments and join forum discussions by the session deadline. 

Our teaching method is based on the science of active learning: you read/listen/watch, try out, share and reflect. It’s a social experience – you become part of a small group, feeding back on each other’s writing to build a supportive bunch of readers you trust. Find out more here.

Session 1: Introductions and Why I Write

In our first session we will discuss your motivations for embarking on the creation of a memoir. Do you want to make sense of a particular issue or moment in time? Do you want to tell your side of a story, or interrogate your own understanding of a particular set of events? Who is your intended audience, and what would success mean for your writing project? We will consider the implications for both you, as the writer, and the people you are writing about, and look at ways to build on your initial ideas and inspirations.  

There will be a group Zoom session with your tutor

Session 2: What Is Non-fiction and Why Write It?

In this session we’ll discuss what falls into the genre of ‘non-fiction’ and how that category becomes even more elastic when you add the word ‘creative’. Where does non-fiction end and fiction begin? Are they so intertwined that it would be more accurate to say that they blend? What do poetry and the lyric essay bring to the table? Start stress-testing your idea by examining how memoir can intersect with countless other forms, such as biography, history, family history, travel writing, the cookbook, ideas-led science or philosophy, and ask how your own story might make use of these distinctive formal avenues.

Session 3: People, Places and Points of View

We’ll start to think about your characters and the world they inhabit. You will experiment with the advantages of hands-on experience and ‘footstepping’ to recreate a landscape, and what part your imagination can play when working with facts. There are practical ways to deploy all your senses and to favour specificity over cliché in your description. We’ll explore point of view and tenses, with a particular focus on the use of the historic present tense. 

One-on-one Zoom call with the tutor, to discuss your work

Session 4: Ways to Structure a Memoir

A memoir is now rarely structured in a solely chronological order. Indeed, the structure is often an intrinsic part of the story or the answer to a question. We’ll look at how subject matter itself can offer the answer to the conundrum of how best to tell your story, and how to use time effectively in your storytelling.

You’ll explore the right structure for your memoir using techniques such as mind mapping, chapter breakdowns and writing in scenes. 

There will be a live Q&A with a guest author.  

Session 5: How Truthful is the Past?

Memory is a slippery commodity, but many writers embrace it as a way to gain a foothold on a version of the truth. This week, we’ll develop a strategy for dealing with contested accounts of the past. Does it matter if two people remember the details of a day differently but agree on the impact of what happened, or vice versa? Perhaps it’s simpler –  and more honest – to fictionalise your story, or is this dodging the issue of who owns a story and its truth?

Is it permissible to concertina several instances into one scene for dramatic effect? We’ll stimulate memories by using photos, objects and talking to other witnesses.

You will receive personalised feedback on your work from your tutor. 

Session 6: Your Voice and the Pact with Your Reader

By now you have a strong sense of your own writing voice, but you may find that your voice is changing. At the midpoint of the course, we’ll take stock of where you are in your memoir and whether other characters are making a case to be heard. Has the focus of the narrative changed and are there other people you need to consult?

Group Zoom session to discuss thoughts, questions or concerns about your work so far

Session 7: Storytelling with Images

In this session we will look at a range of images – photos, line drawings, paintings, maps – and how to use them in your memoir. Discover where to go to find images and potential costs of using them. We’ll look at how images can become part of your story and its structure, as well as unlocking memory and enhancing description. You’ll learn about recent developments in lexi-visual narrative techniques, and how the comic book and graphic novels have enriched memoir.

Session 8: Making Research Work for You

Practical advice on carrying out research online, and in libraries and archives. We will discuss the use of oral history, and the moral and legal obligations when interviewing someone as well as copyright issues with sources such as diaries and letters. 

What to do if you come away from your research empty-handed? How do you fill in gaps or should they be left bare? Is there such a thing as too much research and how do you know when to stop researching? 

Session 9: You as Author

In this session, we’ll revisit your work so far and adapt it to fit the ways your story has evolved. You will reflect on your role as a writer, and answer the following questions: why are you uniquely positioned to tell this story, and where does your memoir sits in the current landscape of published books?

You will receive tutor feedback on your first 5,000 words

Session 10: Rewriting and Editing

Editing can be a uniquely satisfying and creative process. You’ve already written several thousand words of good prose; now is the time to make it even better. In this session we’ll practise different types of editing – from line edits to structural changes and editing for accuracy. You’ll draw up a list of editing tips for yourself, and think about who to share your work with, why and when. 

Group Zoom session to ask final questions before we head into quiet writing time.

Session 11: Four-week Quiet Writing Session

The focus of this final session is to concentrate on writing and on applying the lessons learnt over the previous months. Use our Pomodoro timer to write in companionable silence, and plan ways to boost your resilience as your memoir reaches a wider audience. You’ll develop ways of turning procrastination to your advantage and tackling writer’s block: what that often-used term might mean, and how it might be addressed. 

By the end of this session, you’ll have 10,000 words and a finalised submissions package you can send to agents, and you’ll also understand what Granta looks for in submissions. 

Live Q&A with a Granta guest

You will be invited to a one-to-one exit tutorial with your tutor to discuss your work and where to go next.

Join the Granta alumni community 

After finishing your course, you can join our online alumni community – a friendly group of writers supporting each other as they continue to explore and develop their writing. There’s no cost for this.

It’s easy to access via the online classroom, where you can:

  • Pitch book-length manuscripts to guest agents: Agents are invited to access an exclusive online pitching forum for our alumni, where you can upload a book proposal and query letter for review. New agents are invited quarterly.
  • Join monthly live alumni events with expert tutors and industry guests, including agents, editors, publishers, competition and festival organisers, and prizewinning writers. Previous guests include authors Emmanuel Iduma, Jennifer Kabat, John Connell and Tom Bullough, alongside editors and literary agents.
  • Revisit all your course materials, including tutor notes, feedback, videos, podcasts and forum posts
  • Rejoin your classmates, and continue working together in a private space
  • Meet alumni from other courses to find beta-readers and share work on our critiquing forum
  • Network with other writers working in your genre or area of interest
  • Take part in regular ‘sit and write’ Zoom sessions, to push forward with your work in progress

Taking things further
If you’d like to continue to another course, please get in touch for advice and more information.

The team

Meet your course team

Midge Gillies

Course Director

Dr Midge Gillies is the author of Writing Lives: Literary Biography and co-author of Literary Non-Fiction: a Writers’ & Artists’ Companion. She is a highly experienced educator, having taught creative writing for more than 20 years at Cambridge University, as well as biography masterclasses for the University of East Anglia.

More about Midge Gillies

Miranda France

Tutor

Miranda France is the prize-winning author of five books, encompassing memoir, fiction, non-fiction and reportage, as well as a translator from Spanish and a consultant editor at the Times Literary Supplement. Her work has won the Shiva Naipaul award for travel writing in The Spectator and been shortlisted for the Thomas Cook award.

More about Miranda France

Marina Benjamin

Tutor

Marina Benjamin is a writer of personal essays, family memoir, creative non-fiction and, most recently, a trilogy of books exploring midlife experience in real time.

More about Marina Benjamin

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Tutor

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is the author of Harmless Like YouStarling Days and The Sleep Watcher, and editor of the anthologies Go Home! and Dog Hearted.

More about Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

John Connell

Tutor

John Connell is a multi-award winning author, journalist and documentary producer.

More about John Connell