How to Write a Life Story – a Four-Part Course | How To Academy


Fri, 6 November 2020

10:00 am - 11:00 am GMT

How to Write a Life Story – a Four-Part Course

Frances Wilson

Led by acclaimed biographer and critic Frances Wilson, this four-week course for aspiring life-writers will help you to clarify your ideas, find your voice and shape your narrative.

This immersive digital masterclass is designed for anyone who has a true story to tell, either about themselves or someone else – a grandparent perhaps, or the ancestor whose picture is hanging in the hall.

It might be about an ordinary or an extraordinary life, a public or a private life, or even a transformative experience that made no sense at all at the time and would benefit from deep exploration. You might be half-way through a project already or wondering how to begin; you might have a mountain of letters and diaries to work with or nothing at all.

Taught online over successive mornings in November by Frances Wilson, the award-winning author of biographies of Dorothy Wordsworth and Thomas de Quincey, this series will give you the guidance, motivation and instruction needed to complete your project.

This course takes place over four weeks. Each session comes with a summary. After each session we will be dividing participants into small breakout sessions to share ideas.

6th Nov, Session One – What Form Does Your Story Take 
Memoirs and biographies can appear in many guises, and this first session will help you find the right shape for your story. It might be told best as a novel or a poem, arranged as a scrapbook, a collection of letters (real or imagined), or through recollections of food, films, friends or family cars.

13th Nov, Session Two – Finding Your Voice
Finding the right voice can be the most difficult part of life-writing. The appeal of your voice is what will compel the reader to stay with you on the page, but the voice in which you write is not necessarily the voice with which you speak. Loud people can have quiet writing voices, and quiet people can make garrulous writers. Should you write with an accent? Should you write in the present tense? These and other issues will be explored.

20th Nov, Session Three – Sense of Place
Now that you have decided on the form your life-story will take and the voice best suited to your style, you need to think about reconstructing place. How do you describe the houses, rooms, schools, or landscapes you or your subject have known so that the reader feels that they too have been there?

27th Nov, Session Four – Age
Writing about yourself or your subject as a child and as an adult are two completely different skills. How do you access your childhood or adolescent self? How can you remember what it was like to be six, or sixteen? How can you write about being a parent for the first time without falsifying the memory? This session will suggest ways of bringing your past selves to life on the page.

Frances Wilson

Biographer, critic and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Frances Wilson is a biographer and critic. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, her books include The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, How to Survive the Titanic: Or, the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay, and Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey. Her most recent book, Burning Man: The Ascent of D.H. Lawrence was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize, longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize and picked as ‘Book of the Year’ by The Times, Guardian, Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, Mail on Sunday and The TLS. She was a judge for the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, 2019, and was chair of the judges for the Goldsmiths Prize, 2020.