Mosman will soon become the official home of a new writing school established by two internationally published authors and Mosman residents.
Based on teaching methods developed and fine-tuned in New York and London, The Sydney Writers Project, the brain child of prolific British author Michael White and American novelist and non-fiction author Jonathan Englert, will offer aspiring writers the chance to rapidly improve their writing in an environment that the founders say will be supportive and practical.
“Our belief is that many aspiring writers struggle needlessly because they haven’t been equipped with the tools to turn their ideas into something that will work on the page,” Englert said. “Many writing programs stress the wrong things or are taught by people who haven’t been commercially published themselves. I think Michael and I know of what we speak, because we live by what we write.”
Both men, who have recently relocated to Mosman, became friends after being put in touch by a literary agent. Englert, who is married to an Australian, had arrived from Manhattan and White from England via a brief hiatus in Perth where he was made an honorary fellow of Curtin University.
Englert is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, The Collar, which The New York Times praised for conveying “the courage and selflessness of [its] characters.” As a journalist, he has written for The New York Times and other publications on issues ranging from technology to adventure sports. Under the pen name, J.F. Englert, he is the author of a literary mystery series from Random House published worldwide and featuring Randolph, a mute but endearing detective. A movie of the first book for which he also won the 2007 Maxwell Award for best novel is currently in development.
White, who has lived in Australia for many years first traveling here on distinguished talent visa, is an internationally bestselling author of thirty-four books. These include six novels. His biography of Isaac Newton, The Last Sorcerer won the Bookman Prize in the US in 1997 and his book Rivals was short-listed for the Aventis Prize in 2002. His work is published in 32 languages. He also writes under the pseudonym, Sam Fisher. Before becoming a writer, Michael taught at d’Overbroeck’s College, Oxford and was a Consultant for the Discovery Channel in the UK.
The idea for the school was born when the two men realised that they both wanted to teach writing in a small group environment in Australia.
“Australia is one of the most literate and book loving places on the planet,” said Englert.
The men believed that there was room for the kind of writing program they envisioned.
“Both of us had a great deal of experience teaching and were struck by a significant gap in the Australian market for writing students,” White said. “Our aim is to fill this gap by offering students the chance to closely work with commercially published authors on a wide-range of genres built around a teaching methodology that as authors we know will deliver genuine results.”
“Exactly,” Englert added. “Aspiring writers do best when they have someone who not only gives them the essentials but can also guide them personally in applying these essentials to their own writing. For example, many people are interested in memoir and there are very specific tools they need to do memoir. The same is true for all genres. The good news is that those tools can be taught and in a short period of time you can witness substantial improvement.”
The pair insists that the core of The Sydney Writers Project will be the fact that for a reasonable price and time commitment, students will have the attention and exclusive guidance of the authors themselves – not writing adjuncts or assistants.
“We both believe that instruction should never be done at arms-length,” White said.
The project begins with a course they call The Gateway. The Gateway, four three-hour sessions held weekly and strictly limited to fifteen students, will deliver the cornerstones of multi-genre writing, permit students to have their own writing read and edited by the authors themselves and offer concrete takeaways that they can continue to apply to their writing when the course ends.
“We call the course The Gateway because our intent is to establish a place from which our students, armed with the fundamentals of our methods, can venture forth either into their own projects for which we will offer close development instruction or into our specific genre seminars like memoir, fiction and non-fiction,” Englert said.
The Gateway, which begins in the first week of February, will be followed by the more advanced Seminar and, finally, the selective, Masterclass. The Australian Literature Review has guaranteed online publication of an excerpt of the exit work judged best from The Masterclass. While the pair plan to bring in figures from the publishing world including top agents and editors to address the advanced seminars, they insist that the project will remain open to all people committed to improving their writing.
“Most people have a story to tell. We want everyone who cares about their writing to be welcome here,” White said.
Prospective students are invited to learn more and register at www.thesydneywritersproject.org or call 0422 231256.
The Australian Literature Review