Writing Lives (Online)


Is there a true story that only you can tell? This course is designed to provide you with the skills you need to turn experiences, recollections and real-life phenomena into literary works that are enjoyable and accessible to a wider audience.

Are there stories, events or circumstances in your own experience, your family's, or those of people known to you, that you've always wanted to investigate, and that you think would make good reading? This course will provide you with all you need to shape your materials into an enjoyable and accessible literary work. 'Life Writing' is prose non-fiction devoted to exploring the events and emotions of real lives. The Life Writing course will enable you to recognise which things are significant, how to characterize them in way that really brings them to life, and how to structure them into a narrative that will keep a reader's interest.

This course emphasises weekly reading and writing exercises, peer feedback, and tutor guidance. Tutors prompt and moderate discussions that centre on group learning rather than workshopping personal pieces of writing. Both assessed assignments receive detailed feedback from the tutor.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit One: Getting Started
Getting acquainted, how to work with the truth, memory, good practices.

Unit Two: Point-of-view
Memory and imagination, using the senses, finding a voice.

Unit Three: Descriptive Writing
Getting the surfaces right, getting below the surfaces.

Unit Four: Characterizing Others
Revealing motivation, psychological depths and habits.

Unit Five: Characterizing Yourself
Re-living your life inside and outside time and experience – making yourself knowable.

Unit Six: Dialogue
Writing the authentic, the important and the plausible simultaneously.

Unit Seven: Structure
Finding the plot in history; realising potential and maximising drama.

Unit Eight: Sequence and Situation
How to form episodes combining characters, dialogue and description.

Unit Nine: Beginnings and Endings
How to start and where to stop.

Unit Ten: Re-writing and Editing
Finishing, polishing, re-making, re-telling, expanding and cutting.

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £635.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Cherry Gilchrist

Cherry Gilchrist is a writer, lecturer and tutor. She is the author of a wide range of books including titles on Russian mythology, life story writing, feminine archetypes, alchemy and family history. Publishers include Piatkus, Weiser, and Penguin. Her blog Cherry’s Cache on diverse topics is regularly enjoyed by several hundred readers. As a writing tutor, she has also taught for the University of Exeter, Marlborough Summer School, Cheltenham Literature Festival, and many other venues including cruise ships. Her interests are history, nature and travel, and she lives in the Devon estuary town of Topsham. She is currently training to be a Exeter Red Coat city guide. Cherry gained her degree from New Hall, Cambridge, and holds a post-graduate diploma from the University of Bath Spa.

Course aims

This course aims to provide students with insight into the major aspects affecting life-writing and to enable them to use these features confidently in writing their own creative non-fiction.

Teaching methods

  • Introductory section, outlining key areas of work within each unit.
  • Description of required reading and recommended reading.
  • Presentation of materials taken from additional (eg. online) sources, relevant to each unit.
  • Online discussion forum.
  • Online personal study diary.
  • Area for short responses to literary extracts from key texts.
  • Tutor responses to forum and exercises.
  • Assessment and feedback.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • Key features (such as perspective, dialogue, etc) in a work of life-writing.
  • The applicability of such characteristics in their own work.
  • How to use at least some of these aspects of technical expertise with increased skill and confidence.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to recognize and name key features in contemporary life-writing.
  • Knowledge of why authors employ these features and what their different effects are.
  • Increased confidence in their own use of such features as enhancements to the development of an individual ‘voice’ in life-writing.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.