Writing Lives Writing Lives Writing Lives

Writing Lives

Life writing is thriving, becoming perhaps the broadest and most exciting literary genre of our times. Spend a week discovering how you can work within the form to tell your story of a life.



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1-5 days
  • Start Date
  • Time
  • Monday–Friday, 10.00–16.00

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How do we write about a life?

From bestsellers by doctors and lawyers to Norwegian experiments in autofiction, the genre of life writing is bigger and broader than ever. This course will look at the many and diverse ways you can write about your life or other people's. For example, how truthful can/should you be in presenting yourself in your writing? Should you treat yourself or others as a fictional construct? To what extent can you yourself enter into the telling of another person's life?

These questions are formal as well as ethical and wide open to interpretation. Drawing on a comprehensive reading list, and putting these ideas into practice in a series of writing exercises, we will spend the week discussing and deciding on the most suitable way for you to write into this newly re-energised and vibrant form of literature.

Is this the right course for me?

Whether you're looking to write about your own life or someone else's, this course will explore the many possibilities the genre has to offer. You don't need to have taken any courses before but the course is also not designed for complete beginners and is best suited to students who have experimented with some form of writing before.

    This course runs for five days, from 10.00–16.00. Each day will be divided into two sessions: in the morning, the day’s theme will be introduced and then discussed as a group, followed by a writing exercise. There will be an hour’s lunch break at 13.00, followed by a second, related writing exercise and a final group discussion to end.

Course Programme

Session 1

Monday 12 August, 10.00–16.00

Non-fiction: Writing about the sel...

Session 2

Tuesday 13 August, 10.00–16.00

Non-fiction: Writing about others...

Session 3

Wednesday 14 August, 10.00–16.00

Guest Tutor: Lyndall Gordon...

See remaining sessions

Course Programme

Writing Lives

Session 1

Monday 12 August, 10.00–16.00

Non-fiction: Writing about the self

This session looks at how a person can write about their own life as a ‘confessional’ memoir or autobiography, diary or journal, including a member of their family, or expanding the book to include cultural history/myth/fables/dreams.

Key texts include The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster, Notes to Self by Emilie Pine, Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming and The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugrešić.

Session 2

Tuesday 13 August, 10.00–16.00

Non-fiction: Writing about others

In this session, we’ll look at how a person can write about another person’s life or many other peoples’ lives as biography or monograph, perhaps including their own persona in the writing, or by expanding the book as a piece of narrativised social history about science, sport, nature or culture.

Key texts include Dickinson by Rebecca Swift, Proust by Edmund White, The Lives of Elsa Triolet by Lachlan Mackinnon, The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère, Written Lives by Javier Marias and The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

Session 3

Wednesday 14 August, 10.00–16.00

Guest Tutor: Lyndall Gordon

In the morning, we'll be joined by guest tutor Lyndall Gordon.

Lyndall Gordon left South Africa for New York where she was a student at Columbia at the time Women’s Liberation took off there in 1970. Afterwards she moved to Oxford through the Rhodes Trust. She is a Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and the Royal Society of Literature.

Virago has published her eight biographies and two memoirs, including The Imperfect Life of TS Eliot, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds, Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World and Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and Daughter. In the U.S. she is published by Norton and Johns Hopkins Press; in China largely by Shanghai Literature & Art.

Awards: The British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize; Cheltenham Prize for Literature; Southern Arts Prize; James Tait Black prize for biography.

Shortlisted: Duff Cooper Prize and Italy’s Comisso Prize for biography

The Hyacinth Girl: T S Eliot’s Hidden Muse, Virago (UK) and Norton (NY). 2022.
"He loves me - but not in the way usual to men less gifted..."

Session 4

Thursday 15 August, 10.00–16.00

Editor(s) as ‘life curators’

We’ll look at how to ‘curate’ a life as a series of interviews between one artist and one interviewer, or more than one interviewer, as oral autobiography, as oral history, or as a festschrift/anthology/compendium, in which many people write about one person’s life/work.

Key texts include Conversations with Iannis Xenakis by Bálint András Varga, Conversations with Paul Bowles (ed. Gena Dagel Caponi), David Bowie: A Life (ed. Dylan Jones), Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected (eds. Carlo Hintermann & Daniele Villa), Raymond Roussell: Life, Death & Works (eds. Alastair Brotchie, Malcolm Green & Anthony Melville) and A Working Model of the Fall from Grace: Essays & Poems for David Harsent (eds. Patrick Davidson Roberts & Martha Sprackland).

Session 5

Friday 16 August, 10.00–16.00

Autofiction / Biofiction

In this final session, we’ll discuss how a person can write fictionally about their own life, as a roman à clef, or fictionally about another real person’s life or many peoples’ lives based closely, or loosely, on the facts of that life/lives, perhaps as literary-biographical essays about both real people & the self.

Key texts include Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi, Threshold by Rob Doyle, I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, Clara by Janice Galloway, But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer and Vertigo by WG Sebald.



Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner is a novelist, poet and critic. His most recent book, The Mirror, was described as ‘beautifully written...

More About This Tutor
Richard Skinner

I would recommend this course to anyone, a wonderful overview of the options available to you as a life writer.

Student, 2023

Writing Lives

There are so many layers to life writing, my eyes have been opened. After a week, I've explored so many possibilities and acquired new ideas!

Student, 2023

Writing Lives

An absolutely brilliant experience, would highly recommend to anyone interested in writing fiction or non-fiction. Richard is the best!


The Bindery

51 Hatton Garden

London EC1N 8HN

How to get here

Faber’s office, The Bindery, is well connected by public transport, with Farringdon Station just five minutes’ walk away, and stops for several bus routes in the area too. If you’re coming from outside of London, the office is a short bus or taxi journey from Kings Cross, Euston and St Pancras stations.

Browse the Reading Room

From author interviews and writing tips to creative writing exercises and reading lists, we've got everything you need to get started – and to keep going.

For more information, message us or call 0207 927 3827