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on 12 July 2015
Reviewed for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

There are two distinct schools of thought concerning creative writing courses and 'how to' books: those who consider writing a skill that can be taught, and those who think that the ability to write compellingly is an innate talent that you either have or you don't; yes, your craft can be improved upon, but if you don't have what it takes to keep readers turning the pages, no amount of diligent study will make that much difference. I stand, arms folded, in the latter camp and, thus, approached this review choice with cynicism. I am delighted to report that I now bow to Bridget Whelan's expertise!

Back To Creative Writing School is a charming and inspiring book that encourages the reader to discover the rhythm and beauty of words. At first I thought it was just a basic beginner's guide for the student who has never tried to write so much as a descriptive paragraph; some of the instruction goes right back to the things you learn at school (hence the title, I'm guessing), like the difference between similies and metaphors. Many of the exercises, though, are so clever and unusual that they might help undiscovered talent to bloom—which is, I think, the book's strength.

By the time I was half way through I'd found myself thinking, 'hmm, yes, that's a good point' several times, to the extent that I'd recommend any fellow 'old hands' to give this a read, too. I'll be the first to agree that writing is a constant learning process, and it's good to remind oneself of the basics. I nodded my head in agreement at the examples of the unrealistic, information heavy dialogue often found in debut novels, the explanation about unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, the warning against the dreaded clichés and 'telling not showing', the use of onomatopoeia and alliteration. The only section I was not so keen on was the one about humour—I reckon that writing 'funny' is something for which you really do need to have an in built knack. The ability to analyse why something does or doesn't work doesn't necessarily provide the fine skill necessary for effective comic timing.

A few 'thank yous' to Ms Whelan: 1) for the excerpt of James Joyce's 'The Dead'—I have not read 'The Dubliners' since 'A' Level and had forgotten how much I loved it; 2) for making me laugh: I have about 200 superfluous occurrences of the word 'just' in all my first drafts, too!! And 3) I am one of the 3% of people who have the condition synaesthesia (a sensory mix-up in which you see see letters, words and music as colours), and this was a reminder of what a gift it is to a writer.

In short: the innovative exercises in this book won't teach you how to produce a spellbinding novel, but if you do have the talent they could well unlock the door to a creative new world.
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on 13 December 2013
As Bridget Whelan says in her new e-book, "As soon as a toddler walks she dances. As soon as she can hold a crayon she draws pictures and as soon as she has words she wants stories. Pretty soon she will make her own stories." 'Back to Creative Writing School' is an invaluable guide to getting started with making your own stories.

At some stage we've all experienced a certain inertia to getting started with our writing. In my own field of family history writing there are plenty of excuses to draw upon - the research isn't finished, the story isn't gripping enough, nobody will be interested. And yet how good does it feel when you have some words, however preliminary, on the page? The give-it-a-go activities in Bridget's book will take you there. As Bridget herself says, "Inspiration is more likely to come if you have a pen in your hand or your fingers are already tapping away at the keyboard."

The 30 week-by-week activities provide a structured framework to get your ideas flowing; go with the flow and see where it takes you. Or you might prefer to dip in here and there, trying out the activities that grab you. Either way, I reckon you'll enjoy it. Bridget's warm tone and witty asides run throughout, and her first-hand experience of running writing classes shines through.
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on 21 July 2015
So this was my moment. My time to leave mundane paid employment and become an International Best Seller. I would stop selling toilet brushes and join the exulted ranks of J K Rowling, Stephen King, and Clive Cussler as a giant of modern literature. It was clear in my mind’s eye - my first novel would be received with critical acclaim. They would say I had the grace of the Bronte Sisters, the flair of Mark Twain and the sheer scale of Tolstoy. People would even whisper 'a new literary classic', 'the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the 21st Century’! My idea for a novel and untold riches was simple and unique. A boy who would find out he was a wizard and go to a Wizard School during which bad stuff would happen. A dead cert of a best seller that I am sure would take the literary world by storm!
So with the grandeur of my second career already emblazoned on my memory I purchased 'Back to Creative Wiring School' by Bridget Whelan. It arrived quickly from Amazon and I eagerly opened the front cover and devoured the first few pages. By the end of the third page I realized I had made a good choice having read the praise from other authors written on these pages. I also learnt the word 'insightful', 'revitalised' and 'writer' which I fully intended to use more often. Now driven by pure delight and the dream of untold riches from being on the future New York Times Best Selling List I carried on into the books outer hinterland. Unfortunately I met my first set back on page 9. In a major setback Bridget announced that this book would not tell me how to 'write a bestseller in a weekend' or 'win competitions'. Oh come on Bridget? You cannot be serious? How hard can this writing thing be? But I soon realized this was code - clever clever Bridget. Obviously a disguised verbal irony invented by a group of Bridget’s writing friends over a Starbuck coffee intended to separate the professional from the amateur. But I broke the code. I beat the first test. Victory! The hidden message was you obviously needed the weekend to read this book and do the exercises. You could then write the novel and win competitions the following week. Obvious! Clever clever Bridget!
So with Bridget’s pearls of initial wisdom such as “This book is about writing” and the praise of the literary community from the first few pages ingrained in my memory it was straight on to the first exercise. The book itself is broken down in to separate 'Terms' which contain various exercises to get the creative juices flowing. Though clever clever Bridget says you can jump in anywhere my male instinct was to start at the beginning and that is what I did. I’m more a hunter than a gatherer you see. Important in getting the big toilet brush sales you see.
When I say the first exercise, I really mean the first experience of writers block. But 4 weeks later this was overcome and I was off. Sentence 1 done, sentence 2 done, plenty use of ‘insightful’, revitalised’ and ‘writer’ (in both sentences) consolidating my earlier learning
4 months on with many exercises complete I have to say this is an excellent book written by a very ‘insightful writer’ which has “revitalised’ my creative writing skills (see what I did there ;-)) . Some of the exercises were harder than others. The exercise relating to putting people in a house was something I don’t want to talk about. Just don’t write about cellars after watching horror movies okay… Though the exercise about writing about what you know was pretty easy thanks to my detailed knowledge of Toilet Brush ergonomics.

My first novel is also coming on well though someone explained my Wizard Boy idea may have already been done. But that doesn’t matter as I have an excellent idea about this little friendly creature who befriends some Elves and Dwarves and beats a big dragon to get a big pile of gold and a strange ring from under a mountain. An instant classic it will be thanks to “Back to Creative Writing School’ and that clever clever Bridget…
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on 21 December 2013
I have to say "wow!" Over the last five years or so, I have bought several books on how to write good short stories and this one has surpassed them all. The exercises to compete were very different from those in other guidance books and, so interesting, that I couldn't wait to do them. At the same time, I was learning so much 'new' information, that I couldn't wait to get to the end of the information, so I made my own notes, read to the end, and then went back and did the exercises.

Instead of filling me with hook and plot etc., this book taught me about associating colours and sounds with everyday objects, how to evoke sensation, describe a smell and how a story doesn't have to be realistic but must be believable. It also talked about how to write reviews, so I hope I am doing well with this one. This author set out to enhance the ability of novice and even seasoned story writers by making them 'see into' the thoughts and processes of writing good stories. For me, she definitely did that, so I award a 5 rating. I'm off to see what other unique help she has on offer.
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on 29 March 2015
The best ‘how to’ writing book I’ve ever bought – and I’ve bought a few. Down to earth and written in a non-preachy sort of way, her advice is easily digested but with enough zest and sparkle that it doesn’t sound like you’ve heard it all before. Nothing like the dry martini of some other instructionals but more the literary equivalent of a smooth mango daiquiri with lychee twist. Particuarly enjoyed the chapter entitled “THE HORROR! THE HORROR! on writing ghost stories.

The author describes herself as a “slow writer by inclination” (p 129) and for that we should be thankful because this book is very well thought out not to mention comforting and inspriring. Thanks to Bridget I also now know what litotes are!
Includes many references to interesting websites eg.
as well as other recommended guides.

I purchased this book simply for its title and am so glad I did.Prized and helpful to the extreme, BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL deserves it’s reputation as the creative writing bible. Cherishable.
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on 24 July 2015
The advent of self-publishing means that everyone can be a writer. Everyone can publish a book. But does that mean that everyone should? And is writing a skill that can be taught?
I don’t think it can. I think that an ability to write is a bit like an ability to paint. Or to sing. Anyone can (and probably should) have a go, but it doesn’t mean that, by following rules and conventions and going to classes, you can learn to do it well.
So if writing is a talent rather than a skill that can be learned, then is there a place for a book like this?
I think that there is. If writing is a talent, it can still be honed. And it should be honed. And the exercises in this upbeat, entertaining and easy to read book will certainly help to do that. There is so much wonderful advice here on aspects like planning, characterisation, plot, writing humour, writing horror, point of view; the list goes on. And the exercises are easy to follow and interesting and fun to do.
If you’re someone who thinks they can write and wants to have a go, then this book is a great place to start. And if you’re a writer who wants to brush up on their skills, or if you are having trouble with a particular aspect of your writing, then there are plenty of exercises in this book to help you.
There are a few things that I don’t necessarily subscribe to - for example, I’ve never felt the need or the inclination to go into my characters' back stories, likes and dislikes etc. to the extent that is recommended here. But I know that a lot of writers find that helpful. That aside, this book is a great buy for aspiring and established writers alike.
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on 23 June 2015
I wish I'd discovered `Back to Creative Writing School' prior to ascending a steep learning curve towards my recently published debut novel. If some of Bridget Whelan's lessons had been learned sooner, I may have published much earlier. However, all is not lost. The structure of the three `school' terms and friendly tone made the `lessons' enjoyable and inspirational. In particular, the Wikipedia activity (take three random pages and develop) prompted creativity to run riot! My resulting flash fiction tale of an aged female tag wrestler who was distracted from playing Star Trek Online to admire Howard Tomlinson's architecture at Cambridge airport is worth developing further - honestly! I intend to use many more of the exercises as daily writing tasks around developing my next novel.
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on 25 June 2014
I found this book really useful. There are loads of exercises that you can dip into and whilst I didn't try them all, the ones I did were extremely practical and certainly got the creative juices flowing. For any writer who needs a kick start, this book is invaluable. I really enjoyed the exercises on choosing character names and agree wholeheartedly that unless your aim is to deliberately confuse, then you shouldn't choose two characters whose names begin with the same letter. Many times I have had to go back and reread a chapter because of confusing identities in a writer's work.

The book is well set out and the activities easy to pick and choose from. My only regret is that I didn't read this book sooner as now I may just have to go back and check my own novel for all kinds of literary devices that hadn't occurred to me before. A great aid to writers that should be compulsory reading - Bridget's book that is - not mine!
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on 2 October 2015
I have read scores of books and blogs about writing, and every one of them has something worthwhile to say to the aspiring writer.

This one, to me more than any other book, is filled with excellent advice and I recommend it, without the least hesitation, to anyone 'bitten by the writing bug', as so many of us are these days.

If you have the itch to write -- AND you have the right kind of creative imagination -- this is the book for you. Even if you don't have both of these prerequisites, the book recommendations and the short story by Cathy Dreyer are well worth the moderate cost of the book.

I have to admit to completing only one of the thirty exercises, and I was completely daunted by the things many of them were asking of me, but, as with everything else, YMMV. Even the best of teachers cannot teach the unteachable, and I am convinced that writing is more a part of who you are than something which can be taught and learned.

Try this book -- I'm sure you will love it. If you have the spark, this is the book that can fan it into flames.

Just one thing puzzles me: what IS 'the worst thing that can happen to me as a writer'?
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on 28 July 2015
Tired of theory and want more application and practice? Back to Creative Writing School helps you to develop and use intrapersonal skills to build stories. This book pours out prompts and exercises which not only motivate you to start writing but inspire you to continue writing. A few of the exercises could use more explanation and instructions but you definitely won't be bogged down with too much information.

True to its title, Back to Creative Writing School explains how to use music, dictionaries, nicknames, animals, and more to fuel original writing. This book even shows you how to use simple board games to write adventure stories. You'll learn how to take dog-eared clichés and turn them into memorable and blossoming descriptors. Rather than picking character names, you'll learn how to invent them. Finally, there are over thirty sources for endless writing ideas not commonly found in other books on writing. Without hesitation, I highly recommend this book.

My favorite quote: "The only limit is your imagination and the more you exercise it the more it will stretch." --Bridget Whelan
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