Allen & Unwin » Faber Academy

Patti Miller

True Stories: Writing Memoir and Narrative Non-Fiction

with Patti Miller

and guests including Sarah Turnbull and Mandy Sayer

21 February - 6 June 2014

Allen & Unwin - Sydney
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Get directions
(Please note access is via stairs)

Course fee: $2,975 (inc. GST)


This three month intensive course is for writers, or intending writers, who want to concentrate on memoir or narrative non-fiction. A practical course, based on readings, discussion and exercises, it offers the opportunity to develop several chapters under expert guidance. It will develop skills and explore the richness of the genre along with the joys, challenges and possibilities for the writer of 'true stories'.

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.

Beginning in February 2014, students will attend weekly classes on Friday mornings for two intensive terms of writing, the first eight weeks in length and the second, six weeks. The three-hour sessions (except the first two classes which are two hours) are in the morning for creative alertness and focus. During the course, participants will write whole chapters 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. Up to four guest writers and/or industry professionals will undertake the roles of guest tutors to 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.

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.


Patti Miller discussing her Faber Academy True Stories course

Patti Miller on why her three-month True Stories course with Faber Academy is so valuable to students over shorter courses

Praise for True Stories:

'Working with Patti Miller was a joy - her experience and her skills as a teacher are invaluable. All group participants show improved writing no matter what their starting points.' —Penelope Kearney (True Stories, Sydney 2013)
'Patti Miller's course introduced me to the vital elements, techniques and approaches needed to learn the craft of writing a book. The input from other writers, editors, publishers, literary critics, agents and publicists was invaluable.' — Therese Spruhan (True Stories, Sydney 2013)

Stop press!

Allen & Unwin will publish Jayne Newling's deeply moving memoir in June 2014. Jayne completed Patti Miller's True Stories course this year. Her Publisher, Elizabeth Weiss, says the manuscript is 'wonderfully well written' and a 'powerful story'. Congratulations Jayne!

About the Course Director

Patti Miller is the author of Australia's best-selling life writing texts; Writing Your Life and The Memoir Book, as well a novel, Child, and three memoirs; The Last One Who Remembers, Whatever the Gods Do and the critically acclaimed The Mind of a Thief. She has also had numerous articles and personal essays published in magazines, literary journals and newspapers, including The SMH, The Age, The Australian and The Guardian. Patti has been teaching life writing for more than twenty years at universities and writers' centres around Australia and takes a memoir-writing group to Paris and to Ubud, Bali each year. She also works on manuscript development and more than twenty-five of her writers have been successfully published.

Sarah TurnbullAbout the guest tutors

Sarah Turnbull is the author of the international bestseller Almost French. Formerly a television journalist with SBS in Sydney, she began working as a freelance writer following her move to Paris in 1994. After nearly a decade in France, Sarah spent several years on an island near Tahiti. She now lives in Sydney and has just published a second memoir All Good Things.



Mandy SayerMandy Sayer won the Vogel Award at 26, with her first novel, Mood Indigo. Since then she has been named one of Australia's Best Young Novelists by the Sydney Morning Herald and has published the novels Blind Luck, The Cross, and The Night has a Thousand Eyes, which won the 2008 Davitt Award for Young Adult Fiction, Love in the Years of Lunacy, and the short story collection Fifteen Kinds of Desire. Sayer's first memoir, Dreamtime Alice, about the years she spent tap dancing on the streets with her jazz drummer father in New York and New Orleans, won the 2000 National Biography Award, Australian Audio Book of the Year Award, and New England Booksellers' Award in the U.S. It was published to critical acclaim in the U.S. and U.K. and was translated into several European languages. Her second memoir, Velocity, a prequel about her childhood, won the 2006 South Australian Premier's Award for Non-Fiction and the 2006 Age Book of the Year (Non-Fiction).
Sayer has also edited the anthology (with Louis Nowra), In the Gutter, Looking at the Stars, a collection of literature set in Sydney's red-light district, Kings Cross, and The Australian Long Story, published in 2009. With the publication of her third memoir, The Poet's Wife, this year, Sayer has completed the first trilogy of literary memoir ever to be published in Australia.

Please note in the event of unforeseen circumstances, courses - including tutors and venues - may be subject to cancellation or change.

Course Program

— 14 classes (14 x 3 hour sessions: 10.00am to 1.00pm)

— Term 1: 21st Feb – 11th April
(Note: There is a two-week break at the end of Term 1 for Easter and Anzac Day)

— Term 2: 2nd May – 7th June

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 Academy at Allen & Unwin.


Session 1: Friday 21st Feb
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: Friday 28th Feb
Memory and Other Sources:
How to access memories
Introduction to research and interview

Session 3: Friday 7th March
Going to the Well – Observation:
Being Awake
Knowing what you noticed, detail

Session 4: Friday 14th March
Making a Scene:
The 3D world of writing
Dialogue, action, scene

Session 5: Friday 21st March
The Narrator:
Narrating position/voice/point of view
Distance/ time of telling

Session 6: Friday 28th March
Opening out the Genre:
Types of memoir and narrative non-fiction

Session 7: Friday 4th April
True Stories – or Lies:
The borderlands between memoir and fiction
How far do you go?
Guest writer: Sarah Turnbull

Session 8: Friday 11th April
How Do They Do It?:
In-depth discussion of chosen memoir and/or narrative non-fiction text
Inspiration – guest writer



Session 9: Friday 2nd May
Back to the Well - Writing the Senses+ Avoiding Self-indulgence:
Creating the texture of lived experience
Using the senses
What is self-indulgence in memoir?

Session 10: Friday 9th May
Structure at Last:
What's it for?
Organic structure, ways to structure

Session 11: Friday 16th May
Narrative Structure:
What is narrative?
Desire and curiosity - how to create narrative pull

Session 12: Friday 23rd May
Structural Trouble-shooting:
What is wrong with it and how to fix it

Session 13: Friday 30th May
Publication – Pitching, Agents and Publishers:
Writing a successful pitch
Guest agent and publisher

Session 14: Friday 6th June
Continuing On:
How to keep going
Writing timetable, finishing a draft

How to Make a Booking


To secure your booking, please email your application material to:

or send by post to:
Faber Academy Manager
Allen & Unwin
PO Box 8500
St Leonards NSW 1590

For further information, contact us: or (02) 8425 0171

Please note in the event of unforeseen circumstances, courses - including tutors and venues - may be subject to cancellation or change.


Patti Miller discussing her Faber Academy True Stories course:


Patti Miller on why her three-month True Stories course with Faber Academy is so valuable to students over shorter courses:


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