Memoir and Life Writing (Level II)


  • Learn how to write a memoir
  • 7-9:30 PM GMT
  • Every other Sunday
  • Feb 5/12, Mar 5/12, Apr 2/16/30, May 7
  • Detailed and personal feedback on all writing
  • Limited to 14 people
  • Tea break midway
  • Tuition: £595



In this next level Memoir and Life Writing course, you can expand the breadth and depth of your individual works-in-progress. This course places you with other memoirists who have previous writing experience so that you are all learning how to write memoir together. Your previous experience could be in memoir, nature writing, personal essay or narrative nonfiction.  This level II memoir course builds on those foundations.

At this stage in your writing, you have developed your narrative nonfiction skills to include sense of place, character development, narrative presence, language, and dialogue/monologue. You have curated a steady creative practice and understand your own creative processes. This course will help you to learn how to write memoir and hone your individual voice, define a satisfying narrative arc to your memoir, and locate key moments of transition and change to explore.  Voice is king in memoir: the aim is to help you relax into your own voice through exercises, workshops, and analysis of other voices.

We will also focus on finding the most compelling structure for your memoir, and creating a satisfying narrative arc. You will play with different structures to discover the best way to tell your story. And through reordering and editing events, you will also find the most compelling narrative arc. With this all in mind, our reading includes books and essays with very different voices, structure, and narrative arcs. See below for full list. The aim will be read, study, and discuss the voice, structure, and narrative arcs in each of these with the critical eye of a writer.

The course also provides the same accountability, feedback, and fellowship you have come to expect in Kathryn’s writing courses. You will be able to expand your projects through reading, writing, and workshopping while gaining a new and caring community of writing friends. They will help you grow. You will help them grow, too.

This class provides the knowledge, structure, support, and feedback you need to continue leaning into your memoir.  Bi-weekly classes provides the pace and space to process, reflect, experiment, and grow.  Lectures are focused on particular topics or skills in writing memoir. Discussions are based on assigned readings of books and essays. Workshops provide a warm and supportive place to share your work while giving and receiving vital peer feedback.  In-class exercises are also interspersed throughout each session to help you think about your topics and gain new writing skills. No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this bi-weekly course. All of Kathryn’s courses are characterised by a warm sense of community and accountability, which keep you comfortably supported and focused on your writing goals. Each session you gather with your classmates and new friends, you will learn from each other while gaining a new set of friends who share your writing aspirations and growth mind-set.

If you have questions about the syllabus, experience level, or tuition payments, please e-mail


  • Read, discuss, and analyse diverse memoir
  • Continue expanding your narrative nonfiction skills
  • Experiment with different memoir form and texture
  • Find your distinctive writing voice, experiment with structure, find your arc
  • Enjoy the supportive structure of a global writing community





  • Essentials of Narrative Nonfiction: Harnessing Fictional Techniques to Make Your Nonfiction Come Alive by Kathryn Aalto (available February 1)


How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming : Brown, Mike: BooksMike Brown is the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology where he searches the night skies for distant bodies in our solar system. Named Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2006 and one of Los Angeles magazine’s Most Powerful Angelino, his pioneering research has reshaped our understanding of the solar system. He has discovered dozens of dwarf planets and famously demoted Pluto to dwarf planet as detailed in his award-winning and bestselling memoir How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. He is on a quest to locate Planet Nine, possibly the fifth largest planet in our solar system. He has won numerous awards including the Urey Prize for best young planetary scientist from the American Astronomical Society; a Presidential Early Career Award; a Sloan Fellowship; the 2012 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, and where it all started, an honorable mention in his fifth-grade science fair. He was awarded the Richard P. Feynman Award for Outstanding Teaching at CalTech where he teaches undergraduate and graduate students in courses ranging from introductory geology to the formation and evolution of the solar system. His wife laughs at his mention as one of Wired Online’s Top Ten Sexiest Geeks in 2006.

Feature articles about Mike and his research have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Discover, and his discoveries have received international front page newspaper coverage. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Astronomy magazine, and elsewhere. Mike and Katy met in the UC Berkeley Hiking Club. Students in Memoir II are invited to hear Mike speak on Monday, February 13 at 7:30 PM GMT in the Memoir and Life Writing II class. 



Ed Caesar lives in Manchester, and writes for the New Yorker. He has won eleven major journalism awards – including a British Press Award, PPA Writer of the Year and the 2014 Foreign Press Award for Journalist of the Year. His subjects have included conflict in central Africa, the world’s longest tennis match, stolen art, money-laundering, and the trade in diamonds. His first book, Two Hours, won a Cross Sports Book Award in 2016. Of his second book, The Moth and the Mountain, Dan Jones, author of The Plantagents, called it “One of the best books ever written about the early attempts to conquer Everest. A fine, fine slice of history by a truly special writer who proves time and time again that he is among the best of his generation.”  Students are invited to hear Ed speak about his DJ profile at 7:30 PM GMT on Tuesday, February 28 in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction Level II course.



Nicola Pitchford is a British immigrant who lives in Marin County, California, on land from which the Coast Miwok people were uprooted. She has published poetry and literary criticism and studied at Pomona College, the University of Warwick, the University of Wisconsin, and the 2018 Rural Writing Institute. Her essay, “A Parable of Arable Land,” won the 2022 (inaugural) Nature Chronicles Prize. Her nonfiction work-in-progress explores the relationship of migrants and immigrants to land and nature. You can find Nicola on social media @NJPitchford. Students in Memoir I are invited to hear Nicola speak on Sunday, February 26 at 7:30 PM GMT in The Art of the Personal Essay course.


No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this bi-weekly course and learn how to write memoir. All of Kathryn’s courses are characterised by a warm sense of community and accountability, which keep you comfortably supported and focused on your writing goals. Each session you gather with your classmates and new friends, you will learn from each other while gaining a new set of friends who share your writing aspirations and growth mind-set.


Kathryn Aalto’s teaching philosophy is focused on encouraging a uniquely personal exploration of narrative nonfiction. At its core, she believes teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are an emerging writer or writing beyond the level of content mastery. She cultivates a mindful and supportive learning environment that fosters personal expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth in the literary arts.


Kathryn Aalto is a passionate practitioner and teacher of narrative nonfiction.  For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University and has given guest lectures at Cambridge University, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and more. She has a global mentoring practice, guides students in a vibrant online writing school, and leads in-person retreats, courses, and workshops in the United States and United Kingdom. She is a judge for The Nature Chronicles Prize, an international bi-annual award for nature writing in the English language. She is represented by Peter McGuigan at Ultra Literary in New York City. As a public speaker, she has given hundreds of talks at distinguished speakers’ series and is represented by Chartwell Speakers in New York City. Kathryn endeavours to impart these varied experiences to her students.


Read more testimonials here.

“I have been making my living with journalistic texts for four years now. Tied to my desk due to the pandemic I decided it was time to take my writing to another level and enrolled in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction. Being skeptical of virtual courses at first, I was immediately drawn into the group by her professional and yet entertaining moderation of the weekly online gatherings. With an attractive mix of lecture, discussion, workshop and personal tutoring she enabled us to not only profit from her vast experience as a writer but also to open up our pieces to our peers from various cultural backgrounds. I’ll definitely be back for more.”

Johannes, Cologne, Germany

“Margaret Atwood said ‘If you really want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something.’ Kathryn fixes those nagging fears by showing writers what we have that is already good, and what we can do better tomorrow. It’s win-win, and she remakes a traditional “class” into such an enjoyable, productive journey. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the awe-inspiring surroundings and warm community that form the bedrock of the Rural Writing Institute. It’s not often that you can genuinely say that one long weekend shifted the way you look at the world, but the effects are still with me in my reading and writing years later.”

Caroline, Aberdeen, Scotland

“After six months of working with Kathryn–which is a bit like entering the space of a handwritten letter, what with her sharp aesthetic sense, far-ranging intelligence, wit, and curiosity–I’ve made tangible progress on an unwieldy, long-form project I was struggling to articulate. I came to her Memoir and Life Writing class for accountability, and came away having experienced the kind of support, writing insight, and real feeling of friendship that can be difficult to find in a workshop environment. Kathryn fostered a warm, charming atmosphere in class (a real feat online), allowing for life-long connections to develop among our group of writers. She cares about the arc of her student’s writing lives–a form of attention that encourages artistic growth and positive risk-taking. She not only brought her years of writing and publishing experience to class and to our bi-monthly writing assignments (her personal feedback, often handwritten, is invaluable), she also brought her unique perspective. Writer-gardener-historians are, I think, particularly adept at imagining the possibilities for a piece, no matter your subject. Kathryn pushed me to dig deeper, moving my writing in new directions. No matter where one is in their writing life, working with Kathryn will be an experience of profound joy, insight, and artistic deepening.”

Veronica, Portland, Oregon