Session 1: Introductions and Why I Write
In our first session we will explore why you want to write a memoir. Is your aim to write solely for your own satisfaction, or for a close circle of family and friends, for publication, to put the record straight, or to make sense of the world or of the past? 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 motivation.
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? We’ll discuss whether the two are so intertwined that it would be more accurate to say that they blend. Where does poetry and the lyric or personal essay fit into the mix? Start stress-testing your memoir idea by examining where memoir belongs in this heady mix, and how it can intersect with countless other forms such as biography, history, family history, travel writing, the cookbook, and ideas-led science or philosophy.
Session 3: People, Places and Points of View
We’ll start to think about your characters and the world they inhabit. 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, and in particular look at when and how to use 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 one many writers embrace 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? 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 trigger 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. More 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. Also 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. Practise telling your friends and family about your memoir to build confidence and take yourself more seriously as a writer. 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 look at 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 confidence and resilience as your memoir reaches a wider audience. You’ll develop ways of turning procrastination to your advantage and tackling writer’s block (if such a thing even exists).
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 learn about the Granta submission process.
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.