Interview with Mike Nicol Print
Monday, 08 October 2012 17:39

Photograph by Kelly WalshWritten by Amy Johnson

Readers of KZN Literary Tourism qualify for a R500 discount on the Random House Struik Write a Non-Fiction Story short course, presented entirely online throughout South Africa by well-known author Mike Nicol. Quote “KZN Literary Tourism” as your promo code when registering online by 26 October 2012.

Amy Johnson (AJ): What does your job entail?

Mike Nicol (MN): Right now my focus is on developing and convening the Random House Struik (RHS) Write a Non-Fiction Story short course that is presented online by GetSmarter. This is a full-time activity as there are 12 modules to cover. Other than this, my job is extremely varied as I write crime fiction, works of non-fiction, and occasionally I’m commissioned as an editor of a book. I also act as a supervisor for students at UCT’s Centre for Creative Writing, as a journalist.

AJ: What is your background?

MN: I started in journalism in the 1970s, firstly on a news magazine, and then on newspapers. In the 1980s I worked on the socio-political magazine Leadership, and that was the last time I was employed. Since 1989 I’ve been freelancing and have written a number of novels and works of non-fiction ranging from a history of the Drum Magazine journalists of the 1950s (A Good-Looking Corpse) to memoirs (The Waiting Country, Sea Mountain, Fire City) to biographies (Nelson Mandela, the authorised portrait; The Invisible Line – the life and photography of Ken Oosterbroek) to the recently published, Monkey Business, about the aftermath of the murder of British tourist, Anni Dewani. In the last decade there has been an increasing teaching component in what I do, which has been very rewarding.

AJ: Describe a typical day

MN: My day begins at 6am. The first three hours are mine and I use these for my crime fiction writing. Afterwards my concentration is devoted to the RHS Write a Non-Fiction Story course.  My days include forum discussions with the GetSmarter students and providing feedback on their assignments. Learning online is dynamic and constantly evolving so content needs to meet expectations.

During the months when the course isn’t running, my days are swallowed up with answering emails, writing my blog (Crime Beat), giving some attention to my Facebook page (which is essentially a marketing tool) and working on whatever editing or journalistic projects I have. In the evening I will spend a couple of hours reading manuscripts for publishers.

AJ: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

MN: As previously mentioned, being involved in work that interests you intensely is rewarding and stimulating.  I learnt a huge amount in putting the RHS course together and I continue to learn as the course runs. These sorts of courses are two-way interactions, and the convener benefits as much as the candidates. And then, of course, being able to work at home is without a doubt a major plus.

AJ: What do you need to succeed in online teaching?

MN: The sorts of qualities that all teachers need: an enthusiasm for imparting knowledge, and an empathy with the students. This is a job you really really want to do.  Teaching, I’ve discovered, is either part of your nature or it isn’t.  If it is, then imparting knowledge is what gets you fired up.

The Random House Struik Write a Non-Fiction Story short course starts on 5 November 2012. If you are looking to get your writing career on track, the guidance of a professional writer might be just what you need to get started. The course is presented entirely online, which as Mike Nicol points out, is advantageous: “So much time is saved in not having to commute to an office”. “Also,” he adds, “one is more productive as there can be no water-cooler chats.”

For more information about the course contact Roxy on +27 (0)21 447 7565 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Alternatively visit www.getsmarter.co.za.