Ever since August when I taught my first course together with the amazing Courttia Newland, I've been recommending the Arvon Foundation to people all over the place: a doctor friend of mine, for example, who thinks she'd like to try writing for fun; the trombonist George who drove our stuff down from Edinburgh who's keen to work on his song lyrics; or our dog boarder who told me, 'I know I have a book in me, I just don't know how to get it out'. I seem to come across a lot of folk who are keen to write but who, for whatever reason, don't know how to begin or feel they're needing something new to push them a bit further with what they're doing. These are the sort of people to whom I've been saying, 'Have you heard of Arvon?'
I did talk about Arvon on this blog a little before, but I never followed up on it to tell you about the experience. Now seems a good moment, following on from the writing tips I posted up the other day. Basically, Arvon offers four-and-a-half-day residential writing courses in beautiful, historic country locations. It's an incredibly intense experience. You are literally catapulted out of everyday life (no internet, very little phone reception, a bunch of strangers who you're going to be living, cooking, and writing with for the week) and in exchange you're given the time, space, and inspiration to develop your writing.
I've heard a lot about the fabled 'Arvon magic' that occurs on an Arvon course, but I still couldn't help but feel that Courttia and I had struck lucky with our group. They were amazing - talented, hard-working, absolutely supportive of each other, and such a lot of fun to teach. It was hard to say goodbye at the end of the week. In fact, I know the London members have already set up their own post-Arvon writing group and there is talk of having a new year reunion.
As a tutor, it was totally (and I mean totally!) exhausting, but I loved every minute of it. We held three-hour workshops in the mornings, gave individual tutorials in the afternoons, and in the evenings we'd all get together for readings. There was no time off. No chance to go exploring. But on the final two nights, when we all sat together in the big barn and the students shared their work, much of it written during the week itself, I felt incredibly proud of them. Not one person failed to read, even those who at the beginning of the week would never have imagined they could pluck up the courage. It was amazing to see how much confidence the week had given them.
Arvon isn't, by any means, the only organisation out there offering writing courses; Spread the Word, the Faber Academy, UEA-Guardian Masterclasses, your local community college - that's just a few other suggestions off the top of my head that you could look into, google and you're certain to find many more. There's always a huge debate over whether it's possible to 'teach' writing. Personally I think it's more useful to ask whether it's possible to 'enable' writers, and I believe that this is what a good creative writing course can do, it can enable students - trigger them, inspire them, nurture them, and challenge them.
So anyway, if you're an aspiring writer looking for a way to motivate yourself and take your writing further, a course could be something to think about. The support of a workshop environment and the guidance of an experienced tutor can, for a lot of people, help their work to move on in leaps and bounds. I know this to be true because I've seen it for myself when I've been teaching. It can be staggering to witness.
Should you be interested, by the way, I'll be teaching another Arvon course in early February next year (6th-11th) at the Lumb Bank Arvon centre in Yorkshire, Ted Hughes' former home. This time it's a Starting to Write course with Christopher Wakling and our guest reader will be Maggie Gee. Do contact the centre if you'd like to know more.
Either way, keep writing! I wish you the very best of luck.