Do you want to tell your own story? Life stories have resonance for others and are a gift to be shared. In this online creative writing course led by Monique Roffey, winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2020 for The Mermaid of Black Conch, you will develop an understanding of the how to write a memoir and the ways shame and taboo might hold you back from writing.
You’ll be exposed to a wide variety of memoirs told through a range of forms – from memoirs written in first person, or even second person point of view, to memoirs told in snapshots, experimental montage, and even graphic memoirs. A substantial portion of the texts used in this course will be written by non-professional writers, so, whether you’ve got previous writing experience or not, you’ll find work written by people easily relatable.
What the course covers
Module 1 – What a memoir is and isn’t
In this first module, you’ll define exactly what a memoir is and what makes it different from other forms of life writing, such as biography or auto-fiction. You’ll also begin to answer the question ‘why write your story?’ and you’ll start your memoir journey. Your assignment will be up to 900 words looking back on a memorable event from your own life.
Module 2 – Reflection
The second module tackles one of the most important aspects of memoir – reflection and perspective. You’ll be examining the idea of looking back and what that means in the context of memoir writing. You’ll also meet for a group zoom in this session, to discuss a reading or video as a group. For your assignment, you’ll write a short, self-contained memoir in up to 1,000 words.
Module 3 – Shame and vulnerability
This module aims to help you feel confident and comfortable with the notion of shame and the experience of feeling vulnerable. Memoirs are inherently vulnerable pieces of writing and they are writing about the self. You’ll read examples from memoirs about shame and you’ll learn how writing your memoir can help you move through shame. For your assignment, you will take ownership of a vulnerable or painful event from your past.
Module 4 – Point of View
In this module, you’ll look at the different points of view and the way they can be used in memoir writing. You’ll look at memoirs that use unconventional perspectives, such as the second-person voice, and you’ll also look at memoirs that inhabit a borderland between fact and fiction. Your assignment will ask you to write out of your first-person comfort zone.
Module 5 – When are you ready?
There will be a group Zoom in this module to discuss a piece of reading and you’ll begin the difficult topic of knowing when to start writing your memoir. You might have felt ready to start writing before you took the course or you might not feel ready to embark on that journey yet. You’ll read examples from writers who penned memoirs from a range of life stages, from those who wrote whilst they were experiencing it to those who waited years before they put pen to paper. Your assignment this week will be to play with tone, and explore how distance from the event of your memoir can allow you to explore different modes of telling your story.
Module 6 – Composition
This module will look at the different ways you can tell your memoir. You’ll explore scrap-book style memoirs, essay-memoirs, memoirs in the form of blog posts, and experimental memoirs. For your final assignment, you’ll pull together everything you’ve learned along the course to write either a whole or part of a memoir of up to 900 words.
Designed in partnership with the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA
Format: How the course works
Our Creative Writing Online courses take place entirely over the internet. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.
The majority of the course is delivered in text form, making it easy to progress through the course chapter-by-chapter.
Your knowledge will be developed through writing exercises and the analysis of samples of writing.
The course is divided into fortnightly modules, each of which introduces an aspect of the craft of writing.
Every two weeks you will submit an assignment to your tutor, who will then respond with constructive feedback and advice. Outside of those assignment deadlines you can progress through the lessons and exercises at your own pace.
You will have 1-2-1 feedback from your tutor and fellow students.
Forum-based student discussions are included throughout the course, providing an opportunity for students to interact with each other and the course tutor. To get the most out of the course, we recommend taking part in as many discussions as possible.
If you have any questions, you can get in touch by emailing Vicki at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This course runs for 12 weeks and is split into several modules, which each last two weeks. Modules consist of multiple chapters and your progress is tracked throughout, making it easy to pick up where you left off.
Although a module is open for two weeks, you are not expected to dedicate that entire time to the course! Our online courses are designed to fit around a busy lifestyle and each chapter is conveniently bite-sized so that you can always be making progress. On average we expect most students to spend between 3-5 hours per week on a course (this time will be a mixture of reading, community discussions, exercises and assignments). This will vary from student-to-student and some modules may be more intensive than others.
Each module includes smaller exercises and a main assignment. How much time you spend on these is flexible and will depend on your own writing style and process.
September 2022 term schedule
Module 1: Monday 19th September – Sunday 2nd October
Module 2: Monday 3rd October – Sunday 16th October
Module 3: Monday 17th October – Sunday 30th October
Module 4: Monday 31st October – Sunday 13th November
Module 5: Monday 14th November – Sunday 27th November
Module 6: Monday 28th November – Sunday 11th December.
Zoom sessions TBC.
September 2022 term
Equipment and software: What you need
You will need access to a computer and you will need access to the internet.
You can view the study materials on a mobile device but we recommend using a desktop or laptop computer for working on assignments and taking part in community discussions.
Important: Your web browser must be up-to-date to access the courses. We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
We use two platforms to deliver our tutored online courses:
This online course platform hosts our study materials and community interactions. You will be provided with a login for a Teachable account at the beginning of your course.
We use zoom to host any live tutored elements of the course. Please see the course-specific pages for full details
What people think of our courses
“I’ve taken away a much greater confidence in my creative work, an ability to be much more flexible but also decisive with my writing ideas and have learned many new writing techniques and ways of working.”
“I have learned a huge amount on this course. I feel I have leaped ahead in my knowledge of writing and what I am capable of writing at the moment.”
“My output has improved a thousand-fold in both content and quality.”
“The course had a therapeutic effect. I gained a sense of freedom from getting lost in the characterisations and dramas of my stories.”
“The course exceeded my expectations in every aspect with how well-structured it was, the exercises and the feedback. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Motivation and focus
Motivation and focus
“Having someone read and feedback on my writing gave me focus and motivation.”
Who is this course for?
This course is ideal for people who have done no formal training or courses who want to:
Learn the basic skills of structuring and writing a memoir
Notable works: Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer. The Mermaid of Black Conch, her most recent novel, won the Costa Book of the Year, 2020 and was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, 2020, the Rathbones/Folio Award, 2021 and the Republic of Consciousness Prize, 2021. It was also long listed for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature.
Monique is a Senior Lecturer at The Writing School, at MMU, and a tutor online for the National Centre for Writing. The Tryst, (Dodo Ink), 2017, was widely reviewed, and in 2014, House of Ashes, was shortlisted for both the Costa Novel Award, 2015, and the OCM Bocas Award for Fiction, 2015. Archipelago, published in 2012, a New World odyssey which examines loss, grief and climate change, won the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, first published in 2009, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2010 and the Encore prize 2011. It was heralded as a major contribution to the New Generation of Caribbean fiction coming out of the region. Her erotic memoir, With the Kisses of his Mouth was published to much praise and controversy in the summer of 2011.
What’s great about the course? “There’s nothing like it in short-course-form in the UK. An introduction to the ethics and ideas of writing from your life. Tons of content from contemporary and classic memoir, LGBTQ and BAME inclusive. Modules organised around themes. E.g. shame.”
“I enjoy enabling and encouraging emerging writers. I’m passionate about getting others to write about their lives as there are so many holes in culture. Shame is a killer and this course directly addresses shame.
“Several people from my fiction course have gone on to do MAS and I have written references for them. One of my students from an early memoir course, Fiona Gell, is publishing er book Spring Tides on 26th May.”
About the tutors
Core areas of expertise: I read English at London University, then entered the Vogue Talent Contest, won a prize and got a job on the magazine. I was at Vogue, writing features, for five years and won the Catherine Pakenham Award for Young Female Journalists for a profile of Roald Dahl.
In my thirties I became the television critic of the Evening Standard. My daily deadline was 8 am, which meant I had the rest of the day free to work on my first book, Cleopatra. My twin daughters were born two weeks before it was published, which partly explains why it took me a while to finish my second book.
Throughout my working life I have written book reviews. I currently review for The Guardian, the New Statesman and the TLS. I have also written introductions to new editions of classic novels – Jane Eyre, Villette, Dombey and Son and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for Everyman Books; the Mayor of Casterbridge for Vintage. I have judged a dozen literary prizes. In 2021 I was Chair of the Judges of the International Booker Prize. Over the years I have spoken at numerous literary festivals, in this country and in India, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
In 2018 I curated Metamorphoses, a festival in Greenwich bringing together architects, artists and writers who take their inspiration from the classical past.
As well as teaching courses for NCW, I teach a creative writing course to American undergraduates at the London Centre of Arcadia University (Philadelphia). I have taught courses in Life-Writing and Fiction for the Arvon Foundation. I am an accredited lecturer with the Arts Society, lecturing to branches around the country on topics arising from my books. I am a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society and Associate Fellow of the Historical Association.
Notable works: I am the author of five books – two works of fiction and three of non-fiction.
My book The Pike, a biography of Gabriel d’Annunzio, won all three of the UK’s most prestigious awards for non-fiction – the Duff Cooper Prize, the Samuel Johnson Prize (now renamed the Baillie Gifford Prize) and the Costa Biography Award. It was chosen in The Observer as ‘the biography of the year’ and in The Sunday Times as “the biography of the decade”.
My other non-fiction books are Cleopatra (winner of the Emily Toth Award and the Fawcett Prize) and Heroes. I am currently writing a book on George Villiers, the 17th century Duke of Buckingham, known as ‘the handsomest man in Europe’. He was the adored favourite and first minister of King James I, who addressed him as ‘my sweet child and wife’. Cleopatra was published by Bloomsbury. The rest of my books have been published by Fourth Estate.
My historical novel Peculiar Ground was set in a big house in Oxfordshire, partly in the 1660s, partly during the Cold War. The Guardian’s reviewer described it as “Tolstoyan in its sly wit and descriptive brilliance”. Roddy Doyle wrote “It gripped me from start to end. I abandoned work and family to finish it.”
My short stories, collected in Fabulous, are versions of stories from the bible, or from Graeco-Roman myth, relocated to modern Britain. St Joseph is a window cleaner. Actaeon is an estate agent. King Minos is a people trafficker.
Teaching creative writing gets me thinking about the techniques I use in my own work. It’s a useful exercise for me to define what I am doing, and to find ways of passing on what I’ve learned from many years experience of historical writing, both fictional and non-fiction.
What’s great about the courses you run?This is a course for anyone who enjoys entering the past imaginatively and wants to develop the skills and confidence to write about it in fiction.
The core of the course is your writing. You will be doing plenty of writing exercises, and at the end of each module, you will submit a substantial piece of original writing. My appraisal and feedback is central to your learning process. I will be suggesting detailed revisions and improvements, as well as advising you on the overall direction of your work.
For me the most exciting part of the teaching process is observing how writers acquire the craft and seeing their writing become more fluent and powerful as the weeks pass.
We learn to write by reading. These courses contain a large number of brief readings, most of them extracts from brilliant works of historical fiction, with my commentary, and questions guiding you to think about how the authors get their effects.
You can learn from those authors’ strategies. You will also, if you decide to read the whole book, be giving yourself many, many hours of pleasure.