Man learning how to write biographies on a creative writing short course at West Dean

Creative Writing and Publishing

Certificate in Life Writing

Applications closed
College Award
Duration: one year, part-time course
School: Arts
Location: West Dean

The West Dean College Certificate in Life Writing is awarded in recognition of the successful completion of all three weekend course units spread across each academic term, self-directed study and the submission of a 5000 word piece of work.  It is delivered by experienced educators and authors, Joanna Moorhead and Hannah Vincent.

The course aims to draw together a clearer understanding of the skills, knowledge and qualities that lend themselves to good life writing and is underpinned by a clear understanding of some of the forms and craft that enable the writer to produce high standard work. 

Each weekend unit will be based in the inspirational environment of West Dean College’s historic rooms. It is aimed at writers who wish to commit to an extended programme of study without having to make a significant time commitment and who will benefit from a cohesive course that offers focus on the key elements of successful life writing over the course of an academic year.

Course structure

This Certificate is designed for writers who want a thorough and cohesive course on Life Writing. It offers a deeper and broader raft of teaching designed to enable the student to take on a piece of longer writing. The focus is primarily on the development of the craft of writing in the context of Life Writing. At the end of the third unit students will be expected to submit the first 5000 words of a Work in Progress for feedback from the tutors.

On successful completion students will be offered an interview for the MA in Writing and Publishing should they want to continue their studies and project. The MA is set up to facilitate the production of a completed novel but is exploring expanding its remit to facilitate Life Writing.

What to expect


To introduce you to the key areas of Life Writing including: memoir, biography, autobiography, and explore the similarities and differences. The course will also offer a brief overview of the history of life writing: from Plutarch and Vasari to Johnson, Woolf, Holroyd and Hermione Lee to present day.

It will encourage you to consider various aspects of being a life writer, including: 

  • What right do I have to be a life writer? Whose life am I telling? Who ‘owns’ the story? Issues around invading others’ lives. Sensitivities and how to deal with them
  • Introduce the skills of research and shaping your story
  • Introduce you to the idea of transformational writing; how we change and are changed by what we write and how we write it

Skills Development

The course will offer a stimulating and varied learning environment to enable writers to develop their skills around voice, style, tone, pacing and prose. Writing exercises will be used along with discussion, textual analysis, and a subject overview.

It will facilitate constructive critical thinking/reflection, editing and rewriting skills, contextual and critical studies.

Course units

Unit 1: What Is Life Writing: Tutor: Joanna Moorhead
13–15 November 2023 | 2 day | Course code: S2D13171

The first unit will include: 

  • An introduction to Life Writing (history and possibility)
  • Form, style and voice
  • Whose Life am I writing: Who ‘owns’ the story? Issues around invading others’ lives. Sensitivities and how to deal with them.
  • Research
  • Writing exercises

Unit 2: Writing and Transformation Tutor: Hannah Vincent
5–7 February 2024 | 2 day | Course code: S2D13392

This second unit will include:

  • Working with memory, ideas of ‘truth’ in writing 
  • Using writing to ‘find out’ our story: sketching, journaling, morning pages
  • How are we changed by what we write?
  • Exploring what stories we want to tell
  • Writing exercises

Unit 3: Your Story: Joanna Moorhead
22–24 April 2024 | 2 day | Course code: S2D13528

  • Where does your project sit in the market: Who is this for, and who is it trying to reach?
  • Shaping your story: the fundamentals of good storytelling
  • How to find an agent and a publisher
  • Editing: how to make your prose sing
  • Writing exercises

Essay/final writing

At the completion of the course students will submit the first 5000 words of a piece they have developed on the programme for feedback from the programme tutors two months after the final Unit.


The Certificate in Life Writing while not nationally validated nevertheless aims to provide students with the ability to identify themes within their practice and to identify the kind of work they are looking to produce and be able to communicate this confidently.

Equipment required

Please bring your usual writing equipment, notebook and pen and/or laptop.

School of Art Credit Thom Atkinson.jpg

School of Arts

Explore and expand your work in a uniquely immersive environment with its own connections to art history. Our School of Arts students enjoy specialist studio spaces dedicated to painting and drawing, sculpture and tapestry and textile-based work as well as exceptional exhibition space.

School of Arts


The course fees are payable in advance of study.

Course fee: £940 (non-residential, payable in one instalment covering all three units – payable by 3 October 2023). 

Accommodation for a weekend course, including dinner and breakfast, is currently available from £213 per weekend (single occupancy). Please see accommodation costs on our website – or in the printed brochure, specific to the timing of each unit.

We may routinely increase our course fees from year to year for one-year courses and may review and change such course fees without notice.

Entry requirements

  • A commitment to attending all three units
  • Some experience of writing or attending a short writing programme
  • An ability to work respectfully and thoughtfully in a small group of fellow writers
  • An interest in and awareness of the life writing genre

Specific Terms and Conditions include a commitment to attend all three weekend course dates listed as no alternative course date can be offered for any that you are unable to attend. Therefore, no refund can be made for the course fee for any weekend you are unable to attend.

How to apply

To book a place or ask your questions about the course, please email [email protected] or call us on (01243) 818 300 and select option 2.

Course information, including course codes, can be found in the Course structure.


Joanna Moorhead

Joanna Moorhead is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes regularly for The Guardian, The Times, YOU magazine, Good Housekeeping, Easy Living, Mumsnet and BBC websites. She has been part of the BBC news team covering Papal elections and has edited The Guardian's women and health pages.

Hannah Vincent

Hannah Vincent is a novelist, short story writer and award-winning playwright. Her first novel Alarm Girl was published in 2014. She wrote her second while carrying out PhD research at the University of Sussex in autobiographic practice. The Weaning was published in 2018. Hannah’s debut collection of short stories She-Clown and Other Stories was published in 2020. Hannah teaches creative writing on The Open University’s MA programme and she has taught life writing for New Writing South and Charleston. She is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Brighton.