Writing Your Non-Fiction Book – The Complete Guide To becoming An Author By Trish Nicholson
Reviewed by Anne Stormont, Words with JAM
An author who practises what she preaches.
Claiming to be the complete guide to anything is a bold claim indeed. The author promises in her introduction that she will lead you ‘a step at a time’ through the whole process of producing and selling your non-fiction book.
In my opinion, the author’s claim is valid and her promise holds true.
This guide book would work just as well for as fiction writing as it does for non-fiction. It is aimed at the complete beginner but there’s plenty that could be useful to the more experienced writer, most especially indie author-publishers.
The book is divided into three main sections – Planning, Writing and Editing, and Publishing and Marketing. At the end there is a comprehensive list of useful websites, books and a glossary.
The advice offered is both general and specific and, indeed, as you read the book you see the author putting her that into practice.
There is genre-specific guidance – for everything from travelogues to blogs. As Nicholson herself says there’s, ‘enough scope here whether you intend to write on particle physics or brewing parsnip wine’. And there is more general advice on editing, routes to publishing and how to sell and market your work.
The book takes you through planning, plotting, point of view – yes these three are just as important in non-fiction as in fiction. There’s advice on workspace and finding time to write. The author also covers how to carry out research, how to avoid plagiarism and explains about copyright. Again, all relevant to creators of fiction as well.
Personally speaking, I found the sections on blogging, having a website and the use of social media to be particularly useful, as was the section on routes to publishing. I also especially liked the sections on how to write blurbs of various lengths depending on their purpose, and on how to pitch your work both to publishers and readers.
Nicholson recommends that you read the book straight through and then re-read as you write. And she says that ‘If you have followed each step with me so far you have achieved by now a thoroughly prepared manuscript, a decision as to how you will pursue its publication and the beginnings of an author platform’.
As I said at the start of this review, whether you’re a novice or an old-hand, drawn to writing fact or made-up stuff, a prospective or actual traditionally or independently published author, you’re sure to find something of use here.
I hope to have shown that this book goes beyond the mission of its title. This is an essential ‘How To’ manual for writers of every sort.
Successful events in the UK and Netherlands in 2014:
Trish's tour of author talks and workshops - on creative writing, and starting a non-fiction book - held during September/October 2014 received an enthusiastic response from participants. She offered 8 presentations in bookshops and with writers' groups in Amsterdam, Nottingham, Manchester, Bolton, Bath and Worthing. You can read her blog posts about the workshops, and how to design your own, on her website.
This account of Dr Trish Nicholson's five and a half years in Papua New Guinea in the late eighties and early nineties is absolutely fascinating. Using her extensive diaries as the basis of her narrative, she takes us from a chilly wind-blown Scotland to her arrival and consequent culture shock in tropical, humid Papua New Guinea. Nothing daunted, however, she uses her great people skills plus the help and friendship of fellow expats such as Jim, PNG colleagues like the marvellous Clarkson, Vero and Martha, and Frisbee the Hound Dog to find her way in the maze of PNG life and bureaucracy. Her job was to reorganise, restructure and give training to the Department of Personnel Management in Sandaun as part of a project financed by the World Bank. However, this was not a challenge for the faint hearted. So many personnel lived in remote areas, and the records were such a mess, it even involved paying staff who were already dead!
In her task, I was often amazed at her ability to survive the mind-numbing procedural complexities combined with the sometimes petty and anarchic disregard for truth and transparency of those entrenched in the system. Fighting ongoing Malaria, dramas such as pay-back killings, vengeful jealousies and corrupt practices, it took more than Trish's strength to cope. Towards the end of her stay, she became dangerously ill with Malaria. Nevertheless, she builds wonderful friendships with her PNG colleagues and earns immense respect for her courage and pluck in tackling almost anything that comes her way. This includes a three day hike through dense and inhospitable bush that would have sent me scurrying for home about one hour into it, particularly the idea of crossing bridges made of rotting rope or vine over deep river gorges.
There are delightful side characters, such as Sebby, who gate-crashed seminars and scribbled on blackboards intended for training notes. Frisbee the fly-everywhere dog also adds a special canine touch to the story.
The book is quite long and very detailed, but this serves to underscore the chaotic situations Dr Nicholson, or rather 'Tris' had to unravel. I found it completely absorbing and was easily able to transport myself there into the time, period and place. I was also glad she provided a glossary of Pidgin terms at the end and enjoyed the photos that gave visual reality to some of the characters and situations. All in all, this is a wonderful journal, a great memoir and a riveting read.
by Valerie Poore
‘A thoroughly fascinating story. I have never visited that part of the world but now I’d love to. The writing style was perfect for a book of this nature: light with an excellent balance of pace and descriptive prose.’
by Female reader, aged 45
‘By far the best book in this year’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards. An intriguing look at life in Papua New Guinea from the POV of a development worker. The author’s love of the cultures and the characters she meets shows in her writing. I’d recommend this to anybody interested in travel and understanding life in a different and often difficult country.’
by Male reader. Aged 38
‘The book starts so well with the crocodile and talks of sorcery. And, from there on, it keeps getting better. I was sad at the end when she left but the last line of the book made me smile. A lovely read, warm and packed full of cultural richness.’
by Female reader, aged 57
About the author:
Trish Nicholson is a writer of narrative (creative) non-fiction and prize-winning short stories. Her writing career spans thirty years as columnist, feature writer for national media in the UK and Australia, and author. She is also a social anthropologist and keen photographer who has worked or travelled in over 20 countries, including extensive treks in Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. She achieved an MA degree in anthropology at Durham University in the UK, and in 1991, while working in Papua New Guinea, she gained an MSc in rural development through the University of London. In 1997 she was awarded a PhD from the University of the Philippines for her research on culture and tourism.
Writing has always been an important part of her life. Her published work includes books on management, applied anthropology, responsible tourism, travelogues, popular science, and writing craft. Trish also has a passion for storytelling. Several of her short stories have won prizes in international competitions and been published in anthologies.
Starting with a career in regional government in the UK and Europe, where she was also a tutor for the Open University and, later, the Open Business School, Trish moved into management development and consultancy before taking her skills overseas. After 5 years working in the West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea on a World Bank Development project, she spent 3 years as the Director of Voluntary Service Overseas in the Philippines. For a further 4 years she researched indigenous communities in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Australia with a grant from the UK Department for International Development.
Now settled in New Zealand and writing full-time, Trish combines her passions for anthropology, stories, travel and photography by writing creative non-fiction. What she describes as: “professional research and experience narrated by a storyteller, whispering in the reader’s ear as they walk beside me.”
She enjoys encouraging others to write their stories and share their experience and skills, which is the reason she wrote Writing Your Nonfiction Book. Her motto is: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ (Attributed to Goethe).
You can follow her on Twitter as @trishanicholson and visit her website – and her Treehouse – at Trish Nicholson’s Words in the Treehouse: