Based on a True Story: Writing Compelling Literary Non-Fiction

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Learn how to write compelling true stories, from family memoirs to true crime from the author of a New York Times Bestseller!

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How do writers bring the past alive? Is it all right to guess at a historical character’s motivations or put words into his / her mouth? When does creative non-fiction turn into historical fiction?

In this workshop, participants will learn how to investigate and tell true stories in entertaining ways under the guidance of Paul French, author of a number of acclaimed books including Midnight in Peking and City of Devils. French will also talk about researching family histories in China and using unexpected sources to get at the essence of an era.

Participants will be guided on what they would require; their 'toolkit', when planning for a work based on a true story - be it family history or true crime. The workshop will address considerations such as source materials, choosing an appropriate genre and writing style, plot, voice and tense for creative non-fiction.

The workshop will also touch on the creation of an exciting and compelling opening for the story that both grabs the reader and explains the core elements (period, genre, style, plot arc) of the true story.

This workshop will be conducted via the Zoom platform. Participants do not need a Zoom account to take part in the workshop.

Kinokuniya members can enjoy 10% off the workshop fee for this programme. Please contact programmes@bookcouncil.sg for the discount code before online registration.

For workshop enquiries, please email programmes@bookcouncil.sg


Paul French was born in London and lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, a Mystery Writers’ of America Edgar award winner for Best Fact Crime and a Crime Writers’ Association (UK) Dagger award for non-fiction. His most recent book City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir has received much praise with The Economist writing, ‘…in Mr French the city has its champion storyteller.’ Both Midnight in Peking and City of Devils are currently being developed for television.


The workshop can be cancelled or postponed two weeks before the workshop date if the minimum number of participants is not met. Participants will be fully refunded for workshops cancelled by us.

Participants who are unable to attend a workshop they have registered for are to inform us of the reason two weeks before the workshop date. They will be fully refunded in the event of extenuating and mitigating circumstances (E.g. illness, bereavement, accidents) . Those who inform us up to 5 working days before the workshop date will receive a 50% refund. Those who did not turn up at the workshop will not receive a refund.

Upon registration, you are deemed to have read and understood the cancellation and withdrawal policy and accept the terms contained therein.

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