How to write and publish a recipe book – a course with Xanthe Clay

I wonder how many people out there dream of writing a cookery book?

Xanthe Clay Juniper & Rose (2 of 25)

Yesterday, I spent the day at Vanessa Kimbell’s Kitchen Garden School, Juniper and Rose, with Xanthe Clay, a guest tutor who had come to share her knowledge and advice with eight aspiring writers. The course, ‘How to write and publish a recipe book’  was a chance to learn and to absorb, to put our ideas out there. Sometimes, even saying something out loud or talking through an idea helps. A gentle push in the direction of where to start or what to do next can be the difference between dreaming and doing.

Juniper and Rose

The day began with chocolate brownies (made by Rachel at Sugar Moon Brownies – a fellow attendee on the course) and tea or coffee. I arrived a little late, since I seem to have a perpetual problem with finding Vanessa’s house, although this seems to only ever happen to me. It’s always lovely to see Vanessa and to have now taken part in a class at her flourishing Kitchen Garden School, on a topic that is particularity close to her heart. Vanessa knows only too well of the trials and tribulations of writing a recipe book, which she documented on her blog whilst writing her debut book, Prepped. With her Kitchen Garden School and a new B&B now in full swing, Vanessa is moving onto her second book – a little wiser to the process, yet no less enthusiastic. In the fourth blog post I ever wrote here, back in November 2010, I shared my excitement at joining Team Prepped and being asked to test some of the recipes in Vanessa’s first book. It’s quite surreal (yet exciting) to fast-forward three years and to think that I might be ready to embark on a cookery book project myself.

Cookery Books

The Contented Cook herself, Xanthe Clay, led the day with poise and grace. Before becoming a food writer, Xanthe worked as a book seller (in the cookery section) and later went onto train at Leiths School of Food of Wine, which led to a career as a chef. Xanthe’s big break came in 1999, when a friend encouraged her to approach The Telegraph. Xanthe secured a ‘Reader’s Recipe’ column and since that time, has been a solid Telegraph food contributor, with three published books under her belt, too.

Kitchen Garden
Xanthe Clay at Juniper and Rose

Xanthe talked about where to start and how to get started in food. The general advice being that any aspiring writer should start a food blog. A blog can act as a portfolio, helping you showcase your skills and build a platform. It can also help to find established publications to write for and to get published away from your own blog. Vanessa recounted how she contacted her local newspaper and asked to be their food writer. Beyond that, she also gained experience in broadcasting at her local BBC radio station.

Rachel Lucas of Sugar Moon Brownies

Some additional advice on the subject of blogging, which I have to say I agree with more and more, is that if your ultimate ambition is to write a cookery book, steer clear from taking part in too many brand-led adventures. Although receiving samples and writing reviews can make it seem as though you are gaining something, in reality, you are giving away your time, in most cases, for very little in return. You have to be focused – use your blog as a professional portfolio of what you can do and what your have to offer the world of publishing.

We moved onto discuss what makes a good cookery book and how to come up with a good idea. Xanthe explained it’s really important to research the market to understand what sort of cookery books sell and what sort of trends are starting to emerge. Xanthe also talked about the varying structures of cookery books, looking at very old books with few photographs to modern, glossy examples, including her own most recent book published by Kyle Books.

There was further advice on how to go about finding an agent and a publisher, how to write a cookery book proposal and how to stand out from the crowd. And beyond the ground work, once an idea is successful, we heard more about the process of writing a book, planning, timing, testing recipes and launching the final product.

Xanthe and Vanessa in the kitchen

There was time to chat throughout the day and to ask plenty of questions. Xanthe and Vanessa prepared lunch – a stunning and incredibly tasty recipe for Chicken with Walnut Pesto and Pomegranate from Xanthe’s book The Contented Cook, as well as additional treats from Vanessa’s ever-productive kitchen, including a Panettone bread pudding for dessert.

Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnut Pesto from The Contented Cook

My personal view is that investing some time and funds to take a course or a class with a known and established food writer is a very good way forward. You’ll come away with knowledge you didn’t have before and it can be an opportunity to gain some advice on your particular ideas or circumstances. Xanthe was very interested to hear all about our individual ideas and was genuinely supportive of our aspirations. She was incredibly generous with her advice and the day itself was well structured.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs and my experiences of the day at Juniper & Rose. I’m off to refine my proposal…

The cost of this course was £165, including coffee, tea and lunch with wine – I found it to be a particularly enjoyable and encouraging day. 

As far as I know, there are no future recipe book writing courses scheduled at Juniper and Rose – but you can email Vanessa@JuniperandRose.co.uk if you would like to express an interest.

Other posts you might like to read –

Words of Wisom: Meeting Diana Henry

Writing a Cookery Book: By Vanessa Kimbell

An Interview with Sarah Cook, BBC Food Magazine

Food Styling Course at Leiths School of Food and Wine

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  2. Such a thought provoking post Ren. It’s such a personal thing to blog and to even venture into the world of cookbooks. It’s all about timing I think. I’m not ready yet. My ideas are mulling and merging. Perhaps I need this course to set them straight!

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Yes it’s worth looking out for the next course as I did find it really helpful – for lots of reasons. I think you’d also really enjoy getting feedback from Xanthe and it’s always a treat to visit Juniper and Rose x

  3. What great photos – I bet it was a great day. I am very jealous and when next in the UK intend to head up to Vanessa’s

    1. Ren Behan says:

      I’m sure Juniper and Rose will be on your hit list, Denise, the next time you are in the UK. I would love to meet you, too. Ren x

  4. Your images are gorgeous Ren and a window into a lovely day. I attended a workshop recently where US cook book writer and ex magazine editor Martha Holmberg participated. I learned a huge amount from this generous and wise lady. Saw Xanthe at the foodies festival at Bristol this summer and really enjoyed her demo. Good luck with your next big venture.

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Thank you Sally. Wow, I’m sure Martha Holmberg was a big inspiration. Just as Diane Jacobs always is, and other superb writers such as Xanthe and Diana Henry. Yes, Xanthe mentioned the food festivals to us and said we should all try and get to Abergavenny – perhaps next year?

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Hopefully Vanessa will organise another day, Xanthe was a really great guest tutor. Good luck in your GG adventures, too!

  5. It was a truly inspiring day and so beautifully described here, well done! What amazing photos too. Lovely meeting everyone x

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Great to meet you Petrina, wishing you lots of look in your writing adventures!

  6. Super interesting! Thanks for writing it up for us all to read. Tis an ambition of mine, and I hope one day to actually get round to doing something about it rather than just sitting and thinking about it! You never know… Good luck with your adventures in book writing proposals…

    1. Ren Behan says:

      There are always small steps you can take to inch closer towards a big dream. Start putting all your recipe ideas on paper, you’ll need around 100 for a book. Think about themes and chapters and what will make you book stand out! Go Ceri, I’m sure there is a book in you! Strike while the iron is ‘paleo’ hot!

  7. Such a beautiful blog post. i have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming when I see such lovely photos. Xanthe is simply amazing. I was really very lucky and privileged to have Xanthe here. I watched everyone as her words inspired and informed and have no doubt whatsoever that there will be some truly fabulous recipe books to come from such a great day.

    Thank you.

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Dear Vanessa, thank you so much for such an inspiring day. As I said, it’s always a pleasure coming to see you and now it’s so wonderful to see you Kitchen Garden School in full swing. I really hope that there will be some cookery books as a result of the day!

  8. Lovely post, Ren, summing up beautifully a very enjoyable day. It was so good to see you again & I found the course to be as useful as you did…it was also wonderful to be around like-minded people, which I always find inspiring. Wishing I was as photogenic as Xanthe right now….! Have a great weekend xx

    1. Ren Behan says:

      Lovely to see you, too Rachel and I can’t wait for your future projects to all come to fruition. You are gorgeous! I loved your pink and blue colours, so pretty and bright, I’m always wearing black and purple! Have a lovely weekend, too x

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