Keen to improve your creative non-fiction skills?

Author Ashley Kalagian Blunt with rainbow bookshelves

I know I recently came out as a crime writer – and I love crime fiction! One of my absolute favourite authors is John Sandford.

That said, I think my first love is creative non-fiction. In fact, I love it – eep! – even more than fiction, because of its basis in real-life events and facts. If you check out my list of great reads, you’ll see the majority are non-fiction.

When I started writing my first book at 14, it was a novel. But when I got ‘serious’ about writing, at age 26, I only considered writing creative non-fiction.

And while I write both fiction and non-fiction (my first book combines both), my fiction writing always begins with research into true events. So my love for non-fiction is really at the core of everything I do, artisitcally.

My favourite creative non-fiction authors include Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Tamim Ansary, Elizabeth Gilbert, Helen Garner and Samantha Irby. Even my favourite book by novelist Douglas Coupland is his biography of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

So I feel especially lucky to get to teach Online: Creative Non-fiction, a six-week course with Writing NSW, starting 31 October.

Whether you’re writing essays or working on a memoir or other book-length project – or you’re hoping to but don’t quite know where to start – this course is for you.

I’ve just finished designing the course, and had a lot of fun putting it together. Each of the six weekly lessons includes instruction and advice on that week’s topic, essays and/or book extracts to analyse, discussion questions and generative writing prompts. Weeks 1 to 5 each include a writing assignment with a short peer feedback component.

Week 1. Delving into creative non-fiction
Week 2. Balancing scene, summary and reflective narration
Week 3. Writing the self and others
Week 4. Drawing on research
Week 5. Exploring form and voice
Week 6. Getting published

This course is entirely online, with no Zoom or scheduled meetups, which means you can enrol from anywhere in the world. The course is designed to work with your existing writing practice, or to help you develop one.

Throughout the course, we’re going to read a wide variety of essays and extracts from many of the authors mentioned here, as well as two of the godfathers of creative non-fiction, Lee Gutkind and Dinty Moore.

At the same time, we’ll consider work from award-winning emerging writers, to help you benchmark your developing skills. I think it’s important to read this sort of variety when we’re learning. It can be hard to look at, say, Helen Garner’s work and think ‘how would I improve that?’ It’s a lot easier to do this with emerging authors, whose work provides a pathway between where we are now, and what we might want to achieve.

We’re also going to learn about the fallibility of memory from Malcolm Gladwell, and consider advice from Anwen Crawford, Kate Holden, Sisonke Msimang, Lee Kofman and Ruth Ozeki. We’ll unpack ten aspects of the elusive concept of ‘voice’, and explore a variety of narrative forms.

We’ll also discuss a key question many emerging memoir writers face: What happens when you write about a family memory who really doesn’t want to be written about?

Along the way, I’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes insights and tips from my own writing journey – because a few years ago, I was enrolling in Writing NSW courses and writing, revising and submitting work with the hope of building a career as a creative non-fiction author.

In turn, I’m excited to learn about your writing and help you toward achieving your goals.

Online: Creative Non-fiction runs from 31 October to 9 December 2022. Find out more and enrol at Writing NSW.

On writing and persistence

In 2017, my manuscript was one of five shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. None of the writers on the list had a book published at the time. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement:

I started the creative non-fiction manuscript that became Full of Donkey in 2010. I had my first essay, an extract from that work, published in a literary journal in 2015, and was awarded a Varuna Fellowship the same year.

In short, I’d been chipping away at the project for a while by the time of the KYD shortlisting.

SJ Norman ended up winning the Unpublished Manuscript Award that year. Which was disappointing for me, of course.

After, a publisher did ask to read my full manuscript. She ended up rejecting it, but did give me some useful feedback.

My Name Is Revenge book cover cake

In 2018, Full of Donkey was also shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers. Once again, it didn’t win.

I kept working. I changed the manuscript’s scope, and it eventually morphed into My Name Is Revenge, my first published book, which came out in 2019.

Author speaks to crowd at My Name Is Revenge book launch

In sum, I started that project in 2010, and the book came out – in a very different format – ten years later.

Author Ashley Kalagian Blunt signs stacks of My Name Is Revenge book

And even though SJ Norman won the award in 2017, it still took a while for the book to find a publisher. Permafrost came out in 2021, and went on to be longlisted for the Stella Award.

In 2017, I didn’t know any of the other shortlisted writers. They were just random names on a list.

I’ve since gotten to know Susan White through a writing alumni group, and so I’ve heard how hard she’s worked to revise Cut and get it to publication.

Cover of Cut a novel by Susan White

Cut is coming out from Affirm Press this month. (Sue had her first book, a YA novel, published in 2019.)

I’ve also gotten to know Amy Lovat, founder of Secret Book Stuff. We interviewed her for ep 34 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, and she was so fantastic (incisive, generous, well read, enthusiastic – I could go on), I convinced her to join my writers’ group at the end of 2021.

And not long after that, Amy signed a contract with Pan Macmillan for the release of Halfway to Nowhere. After working on the novel for ten years, it’s coming out in July 2023.

That leaves Sevana Ohandjanian. I don’t know her, and there’s no book news on her website, but who knows. She might have a publication deal for Black Grass in the works right now. (Sevana, if you’re reading this and that’s not the case, keep going!)

I think you can see my point.

If you’re working on a book that feels like it’s going nowhere, don’t give up. Take a new approach, maybe start a new manuscript, whatever you need to do. But keep going.


And if you’re working on creative non-fiction and keen to develop your skills, whether you’re writing essays or a full manuscript, join me this my six-week online course with Writing NSW starting 31 October.

Online: Creative Non-Fiction Workshop with author ashley kalagian blunt, information about this course on the Writing NSW courses website and a copy of her book cover, How to Be Australian, a memoir

Online: Creative Non-Fiction course
Monday 31 October to Friday 9 December 2022, online
Writing NSW

This six-week online course with author Ashley Kalagian Blunt is an opportunity for you to delve into the dynamic world of creative non-fiction. You’ll try new techniques to stretch your writing muscles, and receive feedback in a supportive and encouraging setting.

Each lesson will include writing exercises designed to help you practise a wide range of skills, and weekly deadlines for short assignments will provide motivation. You can work toward the completion of a short-form piece for submission at the end of the course, or develop your skills for a longer project. For full details and to enrol, visit Writing NSW >>