So far I have been focusing on formal and academic writing courses, both online and in red-brick establishments. However, there are other ways students can access this information, learn new techniques and improve their writing and this is through books, such as ‘Back to Creative Writing School’ by Bridget Whelan. https://t.co/BX5dtG7Vju
Why did you write Back to Creative Writing School? What kind of readers/writers did you have in mind?
I have taught creative writing everywhere, from chilly church halls and inspirational community centres to art galleries and university lecture theatres. The result is that I have a huge body of material, tried and tested on a wide range of students, and I thought I should do something with it.
Probably my ideal reader is someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to write creatively for some time, who may not yet know what they want to write, but who has a need to express themselves with words. Beginner doesn’t seem the right label for a reader like that which is why the book is called Back to Creative Writing School. Our apprenticeship begins when we first jump into the imaginative world of picture books, fairy tales and TV cartoons – not when we enrol in a class or pick up a writing guide. .
The format is based on creative writing exercises and this is in contrast with texts that concentrate more on theory. Why did you feel this practical focus was important?
Theory is for people who want to study writing. My book – and my classes – are for people who want to write.
Writing is a craft and literary techniques are our tools. The best way of learning what you can achieve is with a pen in your hand, trying out those tools. Writing exercises also pump the imagination. Being thrown an idea, writing against the clock or imposing some other restriction on yourself, can produce unexpected results. The poet Ted Hughes felt that exercises trampled on the writer’s instinct to be too careful, too self-censoring :
“Barriers break down, prisoners come out of their cells.”
A more theoretical approach will add to your knowledge and probably increase your pleasure in language and story-telling, but it won’t necessarily make you a better writer or even encourage you to dive in and write. The only way to become a writer is to write as much as you can and read as much as you can. Full stop. That’s non-negotiable. Writing classes aren’t essential, but they can motivate you to write and help you to become a more discerning reader of your own work and other people’s.
You also run Creative Writing Courses, at The Beach Hut Writing Academy. Can you tell me more about this and your role at the academy?
The Beach Hut Writers are a group of professional writers in Brighton and I’m a founder member of the Academy, our educational wing. I currently run a programme of general and specialist courses at an art gallery on Brighton seafront. It’s got a wonderful atmosphere and the classes are accessible and affordable.
The Academy also runs a highly successful writing conference every spring called Write by the Beach. Last year everyone who attended was able to a pitch a book idea to a literary agent or publishing house in addition to attending craft sessions and attending talks from bestselling authors. We are going to carry that forward to the 2018 conference which we are planning right now.
If someone reading this post is interested in applying for a place, what do they need to do?
Visit our website at https://www.beachhutwritingacademy.com/ and join the mailing list. We won’t bombard you with messages – we are working writers we don’t have time for that! However, it will mean you are the first to hear about events and very often we run early bird promotions.
I also have a website at https://bridgetwhelan.com/ and you will find out about lots of other writerly things as well as what is happening at the BHW Academy.
The Beach Hut Writing Academy stresses its affordability. In general, do you feel enough is being done to ensure new writers are not over-burdened with paying out large amounts for fees, etc?
I’m not going to pretend attending any writing conference is cheap. It’s takes an incredible amount of time to organise and at Write by the Beach we also believe in paying writers who run a workshop or headlines a session. Everyone expects, quite rightly, to get paid: the venue owners, the cooks, the cleaners but sometimes – in fact, quite often – writers are supposed to do it for free because ‘the exposure’ will help sell books. We support The Society of Author’s campaign to put a proper value on the contribution that writers make.
However, we know that most people have to make very considered decisions about the cost of courses and conferences. If they think of it as an investment in themselves as writer, which I think they should, they need to examine what they will get out of it.
We are determined that Write by the Beach continues to be excellent value for money and that is a point raised again and again by writers who attend. We also want to offer opportunities that aren’t easy to access on your own such as the chance to network with industry professionals.
If someone is looking for books and/or courses that will help them progress as a writer, what should they be looking for?
If it’s a book, look at the reviews and read the first page or the excerpt that Amazon allows you. You’re not going to learn a lot if you’re bored, there’s a presumption you already know more than you do, or it doesn’t address the issues that interest you. If the actual writing doesn’t grab you, the advice probably won’t either. And walk away at the first hint of waffle.
If it is a course find out as much as can about the content and how it is going to be delivered. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But it is a bit like finding a plumber, nothing beats a personal recommendation.
What is the best creative writing advice you’ve received?
If you do something, something happens.
To finish, can you give a creative writing exercise that readers of this post can try in their coffee/lunch breaks?
The author Kate Mosse says we should practice writing like a violinist practices scales…I like to start each class with a very short exercise that the student can adapt and use again and again in their own time.
Here’s two, the first is for a coffee break, the second is for lunch time:
Describe the weather right now. Make it vivid and detailed…but no sentence can be longer than six words.
Go to page 101 of a novel. Find the first sentence that doesn’t contain a character’s name, a place name or something else that is too restrictive such as Ahoy! My hearties! That sentence will become your opening (to what? A poem perhaps or a short story. Allow yourself to write and see what turns up.)
Haven’t got a novel handy? Here’s a sentence from page 101 of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Pinch my cheek, don’t mind if you bruise it.
I wonder where that will lead you.
Thank you so much Bridget, I found your book, Back to Creative Writing School very useful – it’s one of those books that helps so much with inspiration, and developing ideas.