Life Writing: Memoir and Biography

Writing memoir involves a balance between capturing your own memories on the page and writing biographical accounts of the people, including the ancestors, who have left an imprint on your life

Course outline

Writing memoir involves an intricate interplay between writing down and preserving your own memories and constructing biographical accounts of the people, including the ancestors, who have left an imprint on your life. On this course, you will receive tuition on the fundamentals of writing memoir and biography and its ethical implications along with techniques that will assist you to write with flair and originality about the key figures, both living and from the past, who have influenced and helped shape your life. It is suitable for participants who have not yet completed Life Writing 1.

Session one: Arriving here – the importance of preserving my story and the family history.

  • An introduction to the joys of writing memoir and biography
  • Writing exercise 1: arriving here and establishing intent
  • Writing exercise 2: My life and the ancestors. Who were they? How did I love them?

Session two: Writing biography

  • Establishing intention and audience
  • research skills and how to organise archival material
  • What biographical sources do I have at my fingertips: letters, journals, personal accounts, photographs
  • how much do I write?
  • how do I integrate the family stories into my memoir narrative
  • what are my responsibilities as biographer intent on preserving their truths?
  • An editing workshop.
  • Writing exercise 1: My research aspirations
  • Writing exercise 2: A brief biographical introduction to…

Session three: The gentle art of oral history and life review

  • Where do I begin to tell the story of your life?
  • A workshop on conducting oral history to discover the shape of a person’s life
  • Practical exercise: recording your story
  • Writing exercise: Considering the life story arc.

Session four: The ethical implications of writing about friends, family, lovers and loved ones

  • Writing exercise: How do I balance my need to express my truths with a commitment to writing compassionately about the people who figure in my story: what are the ethical implications of writing a biography?
  • An individual mentoring session with Deborah

Session five: Publication and celebration

  • Preserving the ongoing work: how to maintain focus, enthusiasm and a long-term commitment to the writing project.
  • Writing exercise: Reflecting on my story and their story and how they intertwine.

Who should attend?

  • People who have completed Deborah’s Life Writing or memoir courses.
  • New writers interested in discovering their writing voice through writing about themselves and the people who frame their life.
  • Writers already engaged on a life story project who are wishing to deepen and revive their writing content.


  • 5 X sessions, Monday 2 - Friday 6 November, 9:30am - 1pm
  • $310.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Deborah Shepard


5 X sessions, Monday 7 – Friday 11 September, 9:30am – 1pm
Cost- $310.00 incl. GST


Presented by

Deborah Shepard

Deborah Shepard

Presentations Skills Coach

Deborah Shepard is a biographer, oral historian, journaler and life writing mentor for the New Zealand Society of Authors with many years of experience teaching memoir through Public Porgrammes and the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Her books include: Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film (2000), Between the Lives: Partners in Art (2005), Her Life’s Work (2009) all of which were critically acclaimed for documenting the contribution of women to the arst in New Zealand. Her journal Giving Yourself to Life: A Journal of Pain, Hope and Renewal (2015) was described by poet, journal writer and novelist Elizabeth Smither as, “Humane, delicate and bold as the journals of May Sarton or Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s observation of her snail. Her latest book The Writing Life: Twelve New Zealand Authors (2018) provides an inspirational glimpse into the writing lives of twelve of New Zealand’s most loved and acclaimed elder authors.

In her spare time Deborah enjoys photographing nature and posting her photos with short stories on Instagram.


Over the five sessions I found my “creative writing voice” as an apprentice, in a safe and supportive environment and through a superbly designed course. As a small group of diverse writers, we were expertly guided by the wise and gentle Deborah, who is an outstanding teacher – Maria Kazmierow

I came away with a lot of confidence that I had something to say and that I could say it well -Terry Levenberg

Deborah’s genuine connection with story and people was absolutely crucial to this course’s success – Rachel Brennan

This is a great course for someone contemplating writing their story or in fact, writing anything at all. – Jenny Riviere.

Deborah has a beautiful, compassionate, inclusive approach to teaching – Janet Sergeant.

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