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True North workshops

True North Writing Workshops

We have been working with True North, a group of writers and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellows Anna Barker, Tina Pepler and Marina Benjamin, who specialise in transposing creative writing techniques into the context of academic writing. 

Thank you for those who registered their interest, dates are now confirmed and and are open for registration.


+ Reading like a writer - FULLY BOOKED

Tuesday 12 February - London, venue TBC

Suitable for first and second year researchers (up to year 4 if part time)

Academic writing the creative way: How can the creative writer’s tool kit make your academic writing engaging, compelling, and narrative-led, while admitting no loss of rigour? This one-day workshop will introduce you to a range of writerly skills through which you can make your presence felt on the page. Crucially, it will help you begin to find your voice as a writer – that is, the quality of distinctiveness that will give your work the stamp of originality and draw the reader in. Using plenty of examples, and a mixture of discussion, pair work, and writing exercises – including free-writing and call-ins – we walk you through how to write irresistible openings to your chapters, and sections within chapters; how to bridge that imaginative high-wire writing within a robust narrative structure; and how to identify and privilege your questions, and keep track of them. In all this, we draw directly and broadly on our own professional ‘toolkit’.

+ Think like an editor - FULLY BOOKED

Tuesday 19 February - London, venue TBC

Suitable for first and second year researchers (up to year 4 if part time)

How do you step outside your own work to view it with a cool editorial eye that lets you lift your writing to a new level?

This workshop addresses the all too common problem of front-loading the writing process, whereby some students spend the bulk of their time researching, leaving their write-up until the end, with too little time for thinking. We instill early on a habit of multiple drafting and polishing. We teach you how to troubleshoot your own work, to use direct, active language, and zoom in on significant details. We cover the link between the particular and universal, and the practice of knowing where the reader is at any given point. The day will be full of red-pen exercises, using examples of both good and weak academic writing.

+ Narrative Craft ‘Stretch Immersive'

Sat 22, Sun 23 & Sat 29 June - London, venue TBC

Suitable for mid to late-stage PhD students

This extended workshop runs over two consecutive weekends, with set ‘homework’ and individual tutorials taking place during the intervening week. It is designed to help you build structural integrity and argumentative coherence into your PhD at a time when you might feel overwhelmed by the many pathways your research opens up to you. This ‘muddled middle’ phase of writing is also a very creative time, and the professional writers leading this workshop will help you harness your best ideas and inspirations so that you can review and refresh your commitment to your thesis.

First Weekend:

Day One: Structure, coherence and flow. You will focus on finding the through-line in your work, plotting your argument, revisiting, revising and ranking your key questions, and identifying the nature of your personal investment in your work – since that is linked both to impetus and to your direction of travel.

Day Two: Voice, openings and ‘connective tissue’. This day is devoted to the business of making yourself present in your work.

Second Weekend:

Day Three: Embracing your obstacles. This final day will embed the shift in self-assurance achieved over the week. We focus on articulating - and sometimes embracing - the obstacles in your way, and showing how metaphor and genre can deepen your research and add nuance, without generating needless complexity.

By the end of the course:

You will have developed a tool kit for navigating your way through the creative chaos that often characterises PhDs at this stage.

You will have learned some of the creative writing techniques that can amplify the most persuasive, compelling and engaging aspects of your research – with no loss of academic rigour.

You will know how to think like a writer, and understand the interplay between investment, structure, and your personal writing practice.

You will better know what you can bring to your research that is distinctive and original.

+ Third year writing retreat: Academic Writing the Creative Way - for third year PhD researchers

9 - 14 December - Shepherds Dene, Northumberland

Suitable for third year PhD researchers (of year 5 & 6 for part time)

This five-day immersive retreat will take you off-campus to focus intensively on your PhD in the company of two professional writers and a group of peers. Each morning there will be taught sessions, largely tailored to the needs of the group to which end you will be invited to submit work in advance of the retreat. The afternoons are reserved for private writing time, except when you have a tutorial. Each participant will be offered two separate tutorials over the course of the retreat. In addition to receiving detailed feedback from both tutors on your work and the specific writing challenges you face, you will be given an entire ‘tool kit’ of creative writing skills that will help you pull your thesis into final shape, so that it possesses a strong argumentative through-line and a distinctive narrative voice.

Sample Content (mornings):

Day One: We meet the students as ‘writers’ and discuss the challenges that all writers face. And we look to focus, pitching and personal investment as essential orienteering: in other words, to discovering your own ‘true north’.

Day Two: This day is all about Voice. We pick apart what this allusive quality actually consists of, and how it can be used to lend your PhD layering, depth and originality.

Day Three: Coherence and Flow – or how you manage and modulate a lengthy piece of writing. A key topic within this module is resonance, which covers how you tease out and manipulate a theme so that its broadest relevance is felt.

Day Four: This morning is all about Questions and Walls - how you keep driving forward your argument when you think you cannot go further. Interrogation leads to revelation. How do you capture your breakthrough thinking?

Day Five: How to see your work anew? We remind students what they’ve learnt during the week and hand out of True North glossary of all the tropes we’ve taught them. The morning is capped with an ‘observational walk’ which is all about making the best use of language.

Note: Our mid-week guest Heather Dyer will deliver an evening session on how to harness your creativity on day four, and kick off the final morning with a mindfulness session.

By the end of the course:

  • You will have strengthened the solid spine of your thesis, and identified all its major points of articulation.
  • You will know exactly what to cut and what to boost to pull your thesis into a coherent work that sings.
  • You will have learnt how and where to place your most far-reaching ideas, so that your work resonates with meaning for your readers.
  • You will better understand the nature and scope of your contribution to your research field.
  • You will have experienced the transformative benefit of immersion in your work - away from all the distractions of your everyday life, and in the company of a peer group of students who are on the same journey.
  • You will have a clearer sense of who you are as a writer, and of how to access your own best creative state.
“This has been the most useful training so far in the PhD. I think this will be a fantastic turning point in my project…”
— 3rd year PhD student retreats (Shepherds Dene 2018)
I anticipated that this retreat would be helpful, but it wholeheartedly exceeded my expectations. My approaches to writing have not simply been improved, but completely shaken up in the best way possible. Thank you!
— from 3rd year PhD student retreats (Shepherds Dene 2018)

Terms and conditions

By registering below you are requesting a place on this training programme or selected sessions that form part of the programme. A member of the CHASE team or the workshop leader will contact you in due course to confirm that a place has been allocated to you. If you no longer require a place, please email enquiries@chase.ac.uk as soon as possible so your name can be removed from the registration list.  

If you are allocated a place but can no longer attend, please email enquiries@chase.ac.uk so that your place can be reallocated. CHASE training is free to attend and events are often oversubscribed with a waiting list. Failure to notify us of non-attendance in good time (ideally 5 days prior to the workshop/programme) means your place cannot be reallocated and may result in your access to future CHASE training being restricted.


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For first and second year students (up to year 4 if part time)
For mid-late stage students
For students in their third year (year 5/6 if part time)
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