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Granta: Literary Long-form Journalism

The course

Writing long-read reportage and narrative non-fiction

An intermediate-level course for non-fiction writers and journalists. Spend six months working on an immersive, long-form story that transcends straight news reporting to explore and analyse an issue in depth and from different angles, while exploring the narrative techniques of the fiction writer.

Session by session we will explore what it takes to find, pitch, research, structure and sustain an idea in long-form. We will consider the complicated relationship of facts (and photographic images) to the truth, different modes of narration, the boundaries with fiction, ways to incorporate visual imagery and multimedia storytelling, and how to maintain reader engagement in long-form. We encourage experimentation and voice-driven writing alongside assiduous reporting, with the aim of producing long-reads that can change the conversation and affect public perception of institutions and society.

Over the six months, you will develop a piece of literary long-form – this could be an extended feature, reportage, investigative or state-of-the-nation piece, travel narrative, photo essay or interactive digital story. You might produce a core portfolio piece, the beginning of a collection of essays, the seed of a book-length work of non-fiction, or a podcast or documentary idea.

Finish the course with a story of up to 8–10,000 words, a pitch to take to an agent or editor, plus the confidence and resilience to maintain momentum with your project after the course ends.

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.

Entry is by application to ensure you get the most out of the experience.

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

This course requires up to 10 hours of study per week. 

Applications are currently closed. Register your interest to be notified when applications open.

Meet your course director

Samira Shackle

Samira Shackle is a multi-award-winning freelance journalist, author and editor. She is a regular contributor to the Guardian’s Long Read, and also writes for Guardian Saturday magazine, Al-Jazeera English, Prospect and GQ. She has broadcast on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Al-Jazeera English.

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.

How it works

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 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

Suitable for intermediate non-fiction writers and journalists well versed in core craft skills, but looking to become an innovative and confident practitioner with a more distinct voice.

It’s suitable if you: 

  • Write non-fiction or journalism and would like a deep-dive immersion into the extended form
  • Have a specialist subject you would like to take to a wider audience (you may be a historian, scientist, travel writer, biographer, or specialise in politics, the environment, health, medicine, finance, tech, sport or the arts)
  • Would like to learn the narrative skills of a fiction writer, and how to apply them to non-fiction
  • Need to find ways to sustain momentum and keep the reader’s (and your own) interest while working in the long form
  • Enjoy the discipline of deadlines and peer feedback
  • Can dedicate 10 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:

  • Immerse yourself in a single story over six months
  • Identify a story that has legs in the long-form, and develop your journalistic eye
  • Learn how commissioning works and work up an effective pitch 
  • Understand your audience, and consider appropriate delivery models and funding opportunities
  • Negotiate access, cultivate sources and master valuable interviewing techniques
  • Learn effective desk-research and data-analysis skills
  • Bring facts to life on the page using the skills of the novelist
  • Refresh your knowledge of the law, copyright and permissions, and think about the ethics of representing real people on the page
  • Learn to structure, shape and edit a story
  • Hone your authorial voice and gain in confidence
  • Explore ways to get your work noticed, and understand what Granta looks for in submissions
  • 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

Session 1: Finding Your Story

In our first session, you will learn how to identify a story you can build on, thinking about what has legs and developing your journalistic eye. We’ll have a brief look at the history of long-form journalism, and ask how long is long-form, and what formats you might work in, focusing on reported and investigative pieces and other options including the personal essay, polemic and travel narrative, as well as long-form audio and book-length narrative non-fiction. You’ll ask, ‘Why do I want to develop a piece in long-form?’.

There will be a group Zoom session with your tutor.

Session 2: What’s Your Big Idea?

Session two focuses on what question you are setting out to answer. Why this, why now? And what makes a story worth telling long and deep? You will review your motives for telling this story – is it to be seen, to make sense, to shine a light, to mediate between past and present or conflicting perspectives? Learn to argue your ‘so what’: why others should care about this story. Make a case, challenge and champion, and craft a call to action.

You will receive feedback on an outline of your story idea.

Session 3: Pitching Your Idea

Learn the art of the pitch and how commissioning really works. Thinking about your portfolio, find out what makes an effective calling-card piece, and how to make decisions on length, approach and research methodology based on who you are pitching to. Who are you writing for and how well do you know your audience? We’ll look at how they read, and whether you are already talking to your reader. We’ll think also about delivery models, funding and what lies beyond publication. 

You will pitch a story idea at a live session with a guest editor.

Session 4: Interviewing and People Management

Who do you need to tell this story, and how do you get to them? This session will help you use search engines and social media to find contacts, and think about effective ways to approach people and build trust. You’ll develop salient interviewing techniques and conduct first-person reporting on site, while looking at using lived experience, observational and immersive techniques. We will render speech into dialogue, consider the role of anecdote, and explore other ways to use people to power a story. 

Session 5: Research and the Detail

In this session we dive into desk and archive research, working out how to keep tabs on your information and answering the question, ‘What’s the point of all this detail?’ There’s a focus on court and public records, visual research and artifacts, and interpreting data. When is it useful to use AI? We’ll talk about this and organising systems while developing skills for keeping on top of everything. You will submit a research plan for your story idea.

There will be a group Zoom session with your tutor.

Session 6: Sources and Ethics

Dive into accessing and cultivating sources. How do you negotiate access and manage relationships in a way that’s ethical? How do you maintain good boundaries if you are talking to a source over a period of time? Whose story is this? Session six will discuss representation, objectification and a sensitivity framework. What are the ethics of seeing? How do you work with the law? You’ll consider who you are responsible to – subject, witness, reader, publisher, the law, ‘truth’ – and ask, when does responsibility get in the way of good writing?

You will have a one-to-one Zoom tutorial.

RESEARCH BREAK

There will be a two-week research break to carry out practical research for the piece you will hand in at the end of the course.

Session 7: Structure and Shaping

Begin to organise your story, considering chronological options, causal connection, braided stories and chapter formats. Select your research to feed this story. We will also consider non-linear and boundary-defying shapes, lists and fractured content, exploring questions, absences and repetition. Too, you will analyse visual storytelling, including using maps, graphics and interactive digital modes. You will pin down your structure and begin visual planning as we think about ways to keep readers engaged in long-form. Study techniques including establishing empathy with a protagonist, delayed gratification, and allowing the reader to do some of the legwork.

You will receive feedback on a map of your story.

Session 8: Facts and the Truth

Session eight delves into the complicated relationship of facts (and photographic images) to the truth. What are ‘real’ facts versus remembered facts? What are the issues of memory and remembrance on the page? Whose versions of a story are you telling? When there are no facts, where do the techniques of the fiction writer and interiority become useful? We’ll consider speculative journalism and ways of rendering emotional truth as well as the ethics of representing real people on the page. What about composite characters, conflating events, and putting words in mouths? You will receive feedback on the first pages of your work in progress.

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

Session 9: Where Are You in the Story?

Who is narrating this story? Session nine considers points of view and different modes of narrating past events. Who or what is at the centre of this narrative, and what is your role in relation to the subject and research? Learn about being present and narrative credibility. Engage with works that help you understand your voice on the page, thinking about ‘newsvoice’ versus personal voice versus literary voice. What about impartiality? What are the risks of being part of the story you’re telling?

You will receive feedback on the first 3,000 words of your work in progress.

Session 10: Drafting and Editing

The penultimate session will be spent drafting your final piece for submission and thinking like an editor. Learn to hook your reader in paragraph one. Set guideposts for your structure and techniques that help you steer an argument, make connections and transition from fact to opinion and conjecture. Will you admit gaps in your knowledge or showcase your process? We’ll think about the techniques of the film-editor and develop skills to help you stay succinct in the long-form and keep readers on-side till the (satisfying) end. 

There will be a group Zoom session with your tutor.

Session 11: Quiet Writing Time 

During this final month, there will be no formal exercises or extracts. The whole focus is on getting down to write and applying lessons studied over the course as you work on your final submission: 8-10,000 words of your long-form story plus a pitch document.

There will be a group Zoom with a Granta staff guest on editing and the submissions process.

At the end of the course, you will have a one-to-one exit tutorial to discuss your progress and where to take your work next, plus a tutor mark-up-of your final submission.

Publishing and Author Guests

Throughout the course, enjoy exclusive video interviews, podcasts and transcripts of conversations between editors and authors. 

You will also be able to attend live Zoom Q&As with publishing industry guests.

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

Samira Shackle

Course Director

Samira Shackle is a multi-award-winning freelance journalist, author and editor. She is a regular contributor to the Guardian’s Long Read, and also writes for Guardian Saturday magazine, Al-Jazeera English, Prospect and GQ. She has broadcast on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Al-Jazeera English.

More about Samira Shackle