May newsletter: ten take-outs from the London Book Fair

 In All About Writing, How to write a book, Newsletters

How the London Book Fair can help you and your writing 

We, at All About Writing, are always on the lookout for ways to help you achieve your dreams. So, here are ten take-outs from the London Book Fair, which we hope will be useful to you. 

  1. If you’re seeking an agent, says James Spackman, himself an agent among other things, you need to convince him or her that you relate to him as a writer, as a businessman and as a colleague. 
  2. In seeking an agent, he says, find out which agents represent writers whose books you admire and whose ranks you’d aspire to join. 
  3. Before you submit an MS to an agent or publisher, says Niamh Mulvey, a writer and editor, be absolutely convinced that it is finished. 
  4. She also made this point: don’t be afraid to classify a novel you’ve written as an “apprentice” novel – whose function was to hone your craft, and not to be published. 
  5. KL Slater, a crime novelist, several of whose novels have been issued as Audible dramatisations, urges crime writers to do whatever research they need to on police procedure, etc, but don’t bury their story beneath a mountain of it. 
  6. Remember, says JD Kirk, author of well over one hundred novels, that readers remember characters, not plot. 
  7. If you plan to publish yourself, he says, remember a fundamental fact: the book can only be written by you. Everything else can be done by someone else – while you get stuck into writing the next one. 
  8. There is no longer any stigma attached to self-publishing. 
  9. Daisy Johnson, author of the Booker Prize listed Everything Under says that writers need to learn to be okay when they take one step forward and ten back. 
  10. And finally, when two writers on a panel were asked to recall the worst piece of advice they’ve ever been given, one said: “Don’t plan.” And the other said: “Plan.” 

How book fairs help us 

It’s important for us to keep up to date with international book events like this because it keeps us sharp. Writing, and the teaching of writing, is a process of constant learning and betterment. 

But one thing that was very clear from all the author and publishing talks that we attended: what we teach in our courses, particularly our comprehensive Creative Writing Course, is still current and in step with international best practice. That’s the way we intend to keep it. 

So, if you haven’t attended this course, and you’re serious about your writing, you can sign up now. We still have a couple of places left for our real-time Creative Writing Course, which starts on 5 May and runs every Monday and Thursday evening for five weeks. 

We take up to eight people, so you can be sure of our undivided attention and a great deal of personal feedback and discussion.  

We like to think that we’ve packed it with all that we wish we’d been taught when we were starting out more than twenty years ago. Our aim was to teach everything you need to write a book – fiction or non-fiction – and get you writing confidently in scenes. 

Here’s a link to more information and to sign up for the course.  

But the proof, of course, is not in the pudding (that’s what we call procrastination), but in the publishing. Over 40 books have been published by past participants in the 14 years we’ve been running this course.  

Here are just three of them, whose work we’d like to highlight this month. 


Community News – how our Creative Writing Course helped them

Marilyn Cohen de Villiers is about to publish her fourth novel, The Heart Warrior’s Mother in May.  

This book started as a non-fiction project. “But there were just too many gaps in the story and, as a journalist, I am somewhat anal about getting my facts right.”  

The novel is now “inspired” by a true story. While the essential story remains completely factual, Marilyn says “other characters have been changed significantly. I suppose you could call the book ‘fictionalised biography’.” 

“Four books in, I still refer to what I learnt in the Creative Writing Course. Because there was so much background required to tell this story, I often found myself drifting into too much ‘telling’. But then I’d remember Richard and Jo-Anne’s   admonishing/encouraging words. And I’d go back and rework the long explanatory passages, making them more dramatic and giving the book more of an immediacy that, I think, not only makes it more interesting, but also delivers more emotional depth. 

“Something else I learned and which has pretty much become second-nature in my novel writing, is ‘point of view’. All my novels are written in a very closely attached third person – and it seems to work for my stories.” 

So, what’s the novel about? Here’s the back cover blurb: 

Kerry-Anne Aarons is over the moon. She and her husband, Imran Patel, are about to become the parents of a baby daughter, and give their son, Leo, an adored little sister. It wasn’t planned, but Kerry knows that Lily’s arrival will complete the perfect little family she has always wanted. She, Imran and their two children are going to live happily ever after… 

Then life intervenes. 

Lily is born with a serious congenital heart defect and Kerry’s battle to save her daughter commences. It’s a battle that takes her from the operating theatres and Intensive Care Units of local hospitals to the High Court of South Africa. It’s a battle that strains her relationships with her friends, her parents, and – ultimately – her husband.  It’s a battle she is determined to win. 

But how much will Kerry have to sacrifice to give Lily the future she deserves?  

A percentage of the proceeds of the novel will be donated to the Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa, an organisation that funds lifesaving heart surgery for children across the continent. 

Lisa-Anne Julien received a five-star review (alongside Stephen King), for her novel, If you Save me, published by Kwela last year.  

“I know it’s probably silly,” says Lisa-Anne, “it’s not like he was ever going to see that Sunday Times review. He wasn’t going to suddenly wake up one day and know who I was. But somewhere, somehow, there was now a universe in which our names collided, a space we both occupied. And, while in and of itself, that review was wonderful and humbling because the reviewer got what I was trying to say about connection, choice and consequence, I felt my five Stars was a Stephen-King-5-Stars. And that’s saying something. 

“I was part of the first wave of converts, when the Creative Writing Course was called the Writers Circle. And, while the comprehensive nature of the course meant we touched on everything from plot and dialogue, it was the sessions on voice that have stayed with me all these years.  

“Before that, I was a writer straining for big, fancy words to describe my characters. My own ambitious voice (not my writerly voice) would often get in the way and read as though I was outside my characters. Jo-Anne would say (and still does) that I need to inhabit my characters, like really get into their skin. I still tell myself that every time I sit down to write.” 


Mona McAlpine came to us some years ago protesting all the way: she couldn’t write, she’d never finish a book, she was too old … And look at her now. 

Here’s a link to the highly successful launch of her first memoir (yes, there’s a second finished and ready to go), A Fair Isle Nurse. And here’s a word from Mona on publishing her first book at 80 and what it means to her: 

“I joined All About writing in 2017 shortly after my husband died. I needed something to focus on. I always enjoyed writing and felt I did have a story to tell.

“The guidance and continued support I received has been amazing. I am truly blessed to have had All About Writing on my journey. And now, at 80 years of age, I have at last written and published a book and so have accomplished something that I can leave as my legacy.”  

We can’t wait to get our hands on a copy of Mona’s book. Published by 60 North Publishers in Lerwick Shetland, it’s certain to be beautiful, produced with care and to an exemplary publishing standard – if their other publications are anything to go by. 

They’re responsible for producing the Shetland Wool Adventures Journal and the publisher Misa Hay was behind the Shetland Wool Week Annuals which, as an avid knitter, I devour whenever I can lay my hands on them. I’m still hoping we’ll run a retreat there, perhaps around the time of the Shetland Wool Week? (Yell if you’re interested. It might just stir my partners into action.) 

In the meantime, I certainly can’t complain. We do have the most inspiring and stimulating retreats. 

Get away from the drudgery of life to concentrate on your writing 

We only have two places left on our June Writing Safari, a week-long retreat with internationally best-selling author, Tony Park, and me from 9 to 16 June, at Victoria Falls and Nantwich Lodge in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.   

After two nights at the Victoria Falls, you’ll be whisked to Nantwich Lodge, where all your needs will be taken care of. Nantwich’s nine suites each have uninterrupted views of Hwange’s wilderness. Meals, with drinks included, are served on the long, shady veranda of the main building, a renovated retreat from a bygone era overlooking the water hole. It’s also a perfect place to write. A game drive per day is included, to stimulate you.   

You’ll be offered and hour-long workshop each morning, along with the attention of two highly experienced writers, who can offer knowledgeable advice on what works and what can make your writing better.  

Tony Park, who does much of his own writing here, says: ‘Nantwich Lodge is the perfect place for writers and aspiring authors to get away from it all, and find peace and inspiration.’  More information here, or email Trish to book one of the last places. 


And then of course, there’s our now famous Venice Retreat, run over two weeks – from 11 to 18 October and/or 19 to 26 October. (You’re welcome to sign up for one week or two.) 

But this year, we’ve added a surprise twist – a further week’s retreat (26 October to 2 November) in the countryside on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. Join us for a week in Venice and a further week in Istria, just three hours to the north-east. Or go the whole hog, and spend three glorious weeks writing and exploring. 

Here’s a link to a video, which gives you an idea of our new Venetian venue. Each morning begins with a discussion, after which your time is your own. But you can book an hour of one-on-one time every day for feedback, guidance or brainstorming – whatever you need. 

Ca’ della Corte in Venice is a 16th century Venetian palazzo which has retained the essential flavour of Venice, but has been renovated by its passionate owner. Every air-conditioned bedroom either looks out on its own courtyard, or offers a peek into the neighbourhood. Click here to read more. 

We’re thrilled to be able to offer you the added week this year – to consolidate the progress you’ve made with your writing project in Venice. Istria will embed you in a history that stretches back thousands of years, but you’ll be taking up residence in a luxury villa with every mod con. 

After the morning workshop, we’ll invite you to write, or book us for one-on-one sessions. 

In the afternoon, though, we hope you’ll join us on a series of outings: to a castle built during the heyday of Venice’s empire, a visit that’ll culminate with a tasting of local Istrian wines. To Pula, a stone’s throw from our villa, which boasts the most complete Roman amphitheatre in the world – and a very literary memorial commemorating James Joyce’s visit when dreams of Ulysses were swirling in his mind. To the medieval hilltop village of Labin. To a local olive farm, and to the gorgeous seaside town of Rovinj, celebrated for its seafood restaurants and cobbled streets. 

Please come back to Trish if you have any more questions or would like to book: 

I hope to see you on our Creative Writing Course or on one of our retreats. 

And now for the winners of our latest competition 

For our , we asked you to write a scene in which a couple are meeting for a first date. We asked you to give us clues about how the date is going, and how the relationship might proceed from this point on. It’s a good exercise in foreshadowing, in suggesting possibilities without spelling them out – for showing, in other words, and not telling.

And you rose to the challenge. Of course we have to single out a winner and a handful of runners-up – but congratulations to all who entered. It’s always worthwhile flexing those showing muscles.

First prize goes to Tariq Fensham for her chilling scene of a psycho predator at work on an unsuspecting date. We’re delighted to award you your choice of a of 5000 words worth R2750/£150 or a voucher to the same value to use on

Runners up in no particular order:

Katrin Ginley for her portrait of a self-absorbed, intensely self-conscious female manipulator. Well done for capturing what I hope is an outlier of the species!

Bonnie Espie for her rather more transparent date, willing to put up with a great deal out of kindness – or avarice, I’m not sure which.

Andrea Doig for her surprising (and very sad) reveal at the end.

Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her comic take on that oh-so-awkward first date.

Congratulations to you all for some fine writing! And do keep sending your entries in for our – one of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is by entering competitions like ours.

Happy writing 


Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt