In March, I read The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall, which is, undoubtedly, one of the best novels I’ve read this year. I was so enthralled with the book that I asked Emylia if I could interview her on my blog, and she subsequently recommended The Arvon Foundation for aspiring writers. Having toyed with the idea of completing one of their writing courses since I graduated in 2009, I decided that time was of the essence and booked myself on a fiction writing course that was to take place in deepest, darkest Shropshire, beginning on October 15th.
Inevitably, I was late. I almost missed my train at Clapham Junction, but thankfully it was delayed so I arrived on the platform, sweating and panting, just as the train did. Unfortunately, while I was graced with one near miss, the second connection was a definite no-hoper, meaning I was to arrive in Craven Arms an hour later than I had planned to. Thankfully, on arrival in Shropshire, there was another late-comer and we boarded the naughty bus together, both relieved by the safety in numbers.
Prior to the course beginning, I had very few expectation of what the week would entail. Rather naughtily I hadn’t read the books of either of my tutors and other than a quick google search the night before my departure, I knew very little about them. I knew I was in a group of fourteen, but other than imagining a mixed bag of writers, I hadn’t really stopped to consider that I might come away with friends as well as ideas for moving forward with my novel. My sole aim of the week was to work on my book, something that I began in my final year at university and have done little work on since. I’ve always struggled with the plotl; not known the direction in which it should go, and thus hoped that five days in the Shropshire countryside, with nothing to distract me – no Twitter, no Facebook and no mobile phone – would inspire and aid my writing.Any apprehension I had before my arrival quickly dissipated as we pulled up to The Hurst. Previously owned by playwright John Osbourne and surrounded by the Housman’s ‘blue remembered hills’, it was a haven of tranquility away from the often overbearing smog of London.
A shared love of literature and writing immediately forged a bond between myself and my fellow-Arvonites; I’ve never been surrounded by so many people who love reading as much as I do, nor who want to write with such passion. When I read Emylia Hall’s blog on her time at Totleigh Barton, she described it as a week of firsts – something that certainly resonated with me.
It was the first time I had spent any proper time with real, published authors, which in itself was inspiration enough. It also helped that they were engaging teachers and both constructive and encouraging in the one-to-one tutorials. It was the first time I’d had my work critiqued face to face since my university days, thus giving me the opportunity to discuss any feedback I’d received and ways in which I could improve my writing. It was also the first time I’ve been surrounded by so many talented and inspirational people, both published and unpublished, which did, at times, allow for creeping self-doubt of whether I was actually any good. Suffice to say, however, that I wasn’t alone in questioning my writing ability and the encouragement and reassurance from everyone at The Hurst really helped spur me on.
My time at The Hurst was one filled with laughter, and wine, and writing; new friends were made and stories were shared. There were walks through the woods, mouth-watering chicken pies, a burnt chocolate pudding and lots of washing up. We had a singing tutor, a psychoanalyst from Toronto and a Belgium-based Nigerian author who inspired us all with her evocative readings. There were tears, there was laughter and there was a moist, wet, glistening otter. These were days I will never forget.
And alas, my week at The Arvon Foundation’s centre in Shropshire has come to an end, and I am back to reality with a bang. I’m approximately a stone heavier – part wine, part food – but I’m also slightly wiser and more hungry than I’ve ever been to pursue my love of writing.