The Art of Narrative Nonfiction (Level I)

Learn how to write creative nonfiction

  • 7-9:30 PM every other Tuesday
  • Sept 6/20, Oct 4/18, Nov 1/25/29, Dec 13
  • Eight sessions with a 15-min tea break midway in each class
  • Detailed and personal feedback on all writing
  • Limited to 14 people
  • Tuition: £500

“Kathryn’s workshops are absolute troves of clear, thoughtfully presented material. She seamlessly blends engaging and foundational readings, compelling lecture, and meaningful workshopping. What I was most blown away by, though, was her fierce dedication to each participant’s journey – meeting each one of us where we were and guiding us further along in our writing path. From handwritten feedback to answering questions after hours, Kathryn really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.”

Kimberley, Atlanta, Georgia


You may enjoy reading creative or narrative nonfiction, but are not sure how it actually gets written.

Think of the heart-pumping ascents of Mount Everest in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Think of Maya Angelou’s vivid recollections of her Southern childhood in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Think of the humorous personal essays of David Sedaris in The New Yorker. Narrative nonfiction can read like an adventure novel and feel cinematic like a film. How is it done?

Writers of creative nonfiction harness fictional devices to make their writing spring off the page. In this class, learn how to write creative nonfiction with lectures, discussion, writing exercises, writing workshops, and more.  In The Art of Narrative Nonfiction, we will study the personal essay and then embark on a journey into inspiring memoir, memorable food writing, classic nature writing, and brilliant profile writing. You will have the opportunity to write seven essays between 3-6 pages in length to share with a supportive community of new writing friends. If you are an academic or scientist, you will gain valuable skills to expand your work to a general reading audience.

Kathryn’s teaching style is warm, welcoming, and good-humoured. Classes are structured yet responsive to any changing group needs (i.e., longer time in any particular lesson, discussion, workshop, or writing prompt). As a full-time and professional writer of narrative nonfiction, she provides students with original insights into the practices, mindsets, and experiences that will most benefit them.

Guest author

We are fortunate to have Annabel Abbs join us as a guest speaker to talk about how writing creative nonfiction is informed fictional techniques.

“Annabel Abbs is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She grew up in Wales and Sussex, with stints in Dorset, Bristol and Hereford. Daughter of academic and poet, Peter Abbs, she has a degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia and a Masters from the University of Kingston. She lives with her family in London and Sussex, and is a Fellow of the Brown Foundation.


Annabel’s debut novel, The Joyce Girl, won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, and was longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award, the 2015 Bath Novel Award and the 2016 Waverton Good Read Award. It was a Reader Pick in The Guardian 2016 and was one of ten books selected for presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. In 2022 it was shortlisted for the Grand Prix de Lecteurs. Published across the world, Annabel discussed The Joyce Girl on BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music. It is currently being adapted for the stage.


Her second novel, Frieda: The Originial Lady Chatterley, was a Times Book of the Month, then a Times Book of the Year 2018 and one of five novels selected for presentation to film directors at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair. Frieda has been translated into six languages. Annabel spoke about Frieda on BBC Woman’s Hour.


Annabel’s third novel, the story of Eliza Acton, Britain’s first domestic goddess, and a best-selling cookery book writer (and a poet) was published in the US in October 2021, by William Morrow as Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen. It was selected for Good Housekeeping’s Book Club Pick, Country Living Magazine’s Autumn Pick, the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice and the New York Times Books‘ Best Historical Fiction for Winter. In the UK, the novel was acquired at auction by Simon & Schuster, and published in February 2022 as The Language of Food. It is currently being translated into sixteen languages. In 2021 it was optioned by Stampede Ventures and CBS.”


From: About Annabel Abbs – Annabel Abbs


  • Practice the terms and techniques used by writers of narrative nonfiction
  • Discover and develop your own writing voice
  • Cultivate the mindset and practices of a working writer
  • Craft vivid scenes that put readers into key storytelling moments
  • Write into your own area of interest and in response to weekly topics
  • Capture peoples’ character with the ‘Iceberg Principle’
  • Craft dialogue and understand its importance in advancing action
  • Become comfortable writing in a first-person narrative
  • Practice dialogue and internal monologue




No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this small, bi-weekly creative nonfiction writing course. All of Kathryn’s courses are characterised by a warm sense of fellowship and accountability, which will keep you focused on your writing goals.


  • Brief social time (10-15 min)
  • A reading or a writing prompt (5-10 min)
  • Review of previous lessons (2-10 min)
  • Lecture (25-30 min)
  • Writing prompt (10 min)
  • Break (15 min)
  • Discussion (30 min)
  • Writing workshop* (40 min)
  • Q&A and review for next class (5 min)

*Papers are shared in a Google Drive two days before class. Students are assigned small groups of 4-5. Writing workshops are excellent opportunities to hear how your writings lands on others. While this can feel scary at first — most people are not used to hearing live and immediate feedback on their work — initial discomfort wanes. Students find this component of class exceptionally valuable.


  • Payment plans for tuition are available. Just drop a line to
  • Upon payment, you will receive two emails:1)  an automatic payment confirmation 2) a personal email with a Zoom link and course syllabus.


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


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 and thriving online writing courses, 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.