Creative writing in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside
If you think about it, great literature, storytelling and poetry are simply the right combination of words, all thrown together in the right way. Similarly, the foundation for a great Arvon week comprises the right combination of people, all thrown together in the right way.
The Arvon Foundation
With four centres in remote locations – Lumb Bank in West Yorkshire, Totleigh Barton in Devon, The Hurst in Shropshire and Moniack Mhor in the Highlands of Scotland – the Arvon Foundation welcomes writers all year round for week-long courses. These range from fiction to food writing and from crime fiction to comedy.
I intentionally use the word writers rather than aspiring writers, because although the majority of the delegates on the course I attended this September were as yet unpublished, all had already put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.
As with other creative pursuits, writing involves a fair amount of soul-baring. While authors usually recommend that you write something that you yourself would like to read, the hope is always that it will resonate with others and the expectation is that you will, at some point, put your work up there to be applauded or booed off stage.
Why book on a creative writing course?
So why were we all there? Although I wouldn’t want to speak for others on the course, the obvious reasons seemed to be a) to learn something, b) to progress our writing and c) to find out if we were any good.
Although I had wanted to go on an Arvon course for 10 years, since a friend had raved about her experience, I hadn’t really known what to expect. By the end of the week, the phrase that kept going through my head was Vinnie Jones’s parting shot in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: “It’s been emotional.”
Ted Hughes and Lumb Bank
Part of the reason for this was adapting to living in close quarters with 14 other delegates and two tutors. Staying in the same location (Ted Hughes’s former home, Lumb Bank); cooking and eating together; attending workshops and carrying out exercises together; and, of course, chatting and socialising with the other members of the group.
Whatever chance brought this particular group together in this particular place at this particular time, something just seemed to click. People were fun, friendly and interesting, despite the potentially pressure cooker environment. On the night we read our work out to the group – the part of the week feared by most – the atmosphere was welcoming and supportive.
The tutors, novelist Morag Joss and novelist and poet Kei Miller (with Roopa Farooki as the visiting speaker), helped create the supportive and encouraging environment needed and the workshops provided both inspiration and genuinely helpful tools for the elements of creative writing, from character and dialogue to structure.
More than that, the tutors felt very much part of the group and, on the final night, when we sat up drinking wine and telling stories, I don’t believe I was the only one thinking: couldn’t we please have just one more day?
Progressing your writing abilities
If you ask me did Arvon help me progress my writing abilities, then the answer is without doubt, yes. It also helped me regain confidence in my work, through feedback from the tutors, and gave me renewed energy to complete a project I’ve been working on.
The fact that I also struggled at times – with my work, with the workshops (especially writing to order in front of other people), with where I fitted into the group – was, in the end, what made the week so rewarding.
As any good storyteller will know, without struggle, without conflict, there is probably no story to tell.
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