Inspiration for writers in the Yorkshire countryside

Hello – I’m back!

What do you mean you hadn’t noticed I was gone? I’m hurt.

For four days and five nights last week, (yes I counted every precious hour), I was staying at Lumb Bank in West Yorkshire, formally owned by Ted Hughes, and now one of the inspiring properties belonging to The Arvon Foundation. I was staying with 15 other aspiring writers, indulging ourselves in an almost-week of writing, drinking and talking about books.

Our live-in tutors were the writers William Fiennes and Mark Haddon and they were both fantastic – so experienced and knowledgeable and generous with their time. Plus quite fanciable, which is always a bonus.

The picture is a view from Lumb Bank. You can see why you might be inspired can’t you?

The four days were blissful – in the mornings we had group workshops, writing snapshots of stories and reading aloud to each other, sat around a long wooden table, made from one whole piece of wood. In the afternoons we wrote, took walks through the windy Yorkshire valleys, (to the pub in my case), and had individual tutorials with Will and Mark.

In the evenings, after taking turns to prepare feasts of baked fish, chilli, roast chicken and tiramisu, we gathered for readings – Will reading from his memoir The Music Room, and Mark reading us the opening chapters of his latest work in progress.

On the last evening we read the short stories we had worked on during the week. We sat listening to each other, stunned at what we had been able to produce. During the morning workshops, I had been reluctant to read, my stories feeling childish and unformed compared to everyone else’s. At the end of every sentence I struggled for breath, my heart pounding. When I read aloud on Friday night, my breath came easily, my voice sounded strong and clear. My heart was still thumping, but it was from exhilaration, not nerves.

One woman cried as she read out a poem she had written about love and family. I didn’t want the evening to end.

But of course it had to end, if only so our brilliant tutors and my mother at home with the children could go and lie in a dark room and recover.

If you are looking for inspiration, encouragement, or just a week in a beautiful house, not having to do any shopping, you should absolutely go on an Arvon course. My first last year came from a recommendation from a friend, who described hers as ‘one of the best weeks of her life’.

She was so right.



  1. 13 June, 2010 / 1:04 pm

    Oh, Jo … how heavenly! I’m jealous. I’ve bookmarked the Arvon Foundation’s page, and maybe some day I’ll get to go myself.

    • 13 June, 2010 / 6:28 pm

      My taxi driver was telling me they have people from all over the world – the week before he had a professor from Arizona in his cab apparently!

  2. 13 June, 2010 / 2:47 pm

    I went on an Arvon course YEARS ago, utterly YEARS, and it was just as good as you say.

    • 13 June, 2010 / 6:30 pm

      I think it’s one of those things you just don’t appreciate until you go – they are utterly fantastic.

  3. 13 June, 2010 / 3:59 pm

    That sounds brilliant. Am going to go and have a look on-line…

    • 13 June, 2010 / 6:28 pm

      There are still some spaces for later this year – I looked as soon as I got home!

  4. Suzie Grogan
    13 June, 2010 / 5:34 pm

    SO glad you enjoyed it!! I am, once again, horribly jealous. You are indeed right – Arvon is inspirational, and you were so lucky to have such fabby tutors. I want to go again! (Pity my little car has just gone bang at a cost of about £400…)

    • 13 June, 2010 / 6:29 pm

      Oh no about the car :-(

      I will be forever grateful to you for introducing me to the delights of Arvon x

  5. 13 June, 2010 / 6:34 pm

    That sounds amazing/scary/inspiring all at once! I’ll add it to my list of things to do one day.. Welcome back, hope the girls missed you and you got brilliant hugs and good behaviour from them both on your return :)

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:54 pm

      Belle didn’t seem too bothered, but Bee missed me in a very touching un-teenage way :-)

  6. 13 June, 2010 / 6:58 pm

    Oh wow that sounds amazing! I’ve wanted to do one for years. You’ve inspired me.

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:55 pm

      You must! Don’t put it off – you won’t regret it.

  7. 13 June, 2010 / 8:05 pm

    It sounds like a delightful experience. It is nice to have you back, as while you were gone, they turned off the internet, as there seemed be be little point.

    Welcome back.

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:56 pm

      Thanks Brian – I love the image of the internet being turned off in my absence :-)

  8. 13 June, 2010 / 8:31 pm

    You make it sound wonderful. Meeting such aspiring authors would be a fabulous experience for anyone, definitely me. Great post.

    CJ xx

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:57 pm

      It did fell like a massive honour to be sat next to Mark Haddon, chatting over dinner every night! They were both so utterly lovely too – they are great friends in real life and there was a real fondness between them that was lovely to see.

  9. 14 June, 2010 / 11:42 am

    Sounds great. So, does that mean you are now working on the next Handmaiden’s Tale?

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:58 pm

      Definitely! Look out Waterstones, here I come…

  10. 14 June, 2010 / 2:43 pm

    Good for you !! Glad you had so much fun on the retreat. You deserved the break.

    • 14 June, 2010 / 6:59 pm

      You’re so right – sometimes you just need a few days don’t you to be selfish, to make you appreciate yourself, as well as everything you already have.

  11. 14 June, 2010 / 3:30 pm

    Wow, that sounds amazing! So very envious I am an interesting shade of froggy green. Fingers crossed I come into some money so I can follow in your footsteps :) Must finish my novel to make cash so can go be inspired for future works :D


    • 14 June, 2010 / 7:00 pm

      They do grants Hazel if you can’t afford full price – so you could end up going for just a few hundred quid. It’s such good value.

      • 14 June, 2010 / 8:06 pm

        Oh, must look into that! Job hunting and writing right now (while being single parent) so mega skint but it’s definately something I would find inspiring. Oh and relaxing! :D Happy writing x

  12. Huisse
    14 June, 2010 / 4:41 pm

    I went on a ‘starting to write’ course last April with 15 other aspiring writers, and recognise every single word you say about your week…our week was just as brilliant, the teachers excellent and every moments of it simply magic…the stuff everyone came up with during the workshops in the morning was incredible, but above all it was a sheer delight to meet all at once such warm, funny, lovely people ! Totally recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in writing…as everyone says :an unique experience !

    • 14 June, 2010 / 7:01 pm

      I did a ‘Starting to Write’ too! Last year I did Freelance Journalism, gave up my job, went freelance, and a few months later had my first national by-line – proper life changing stuff!

  13. 14 June, 2010 / 6:32 pm

    Sounds brilliant. I loved William Fiennes’ Music Room and Mark Haddon’s everything. I’d love to go on one. Maybe next year….We were wondering where you were.

    • 14 June, 2010 / 7:02 pm

      I LURVE Mark Haddon – spending an evening drinking wine and listening to him read from his yet to be published new book was an absolute joy, just fantastic.

  14. 14 June, 2010 / 7:36 pm

    I adored Arvon, too, two years ago at Totleigh Barton in Devon… just to get away from “real” life and to get inspired, get motivated, get vulnerable about writing… and the scenery, and the people. Loved it. Let’s send our kids!

    • 16 June, 2010 / 7:10 am

      Totleigh Barton is next on my list. I am thinking of sending Bee on one – she’ll be 16 next July (good grief…) and I think it would an amazing thing to do. I can’t see her being quite as keen though!

      • Suzie Grogan
        19 June, 2010 / 2:42 pm

        Hi Jo
        I sent James on one as soon as he was old enough and he had a brilliant time, felt really ‘grown up’ and was made a huge fuss of by everyone – and what he wrote was taken just as seriously as anyone else which was the best thing.

  15. 14 June, 2010 / 8:44 pm

    It sounds absolutely perfect. I’d love to do something like that some day.

    • 16 June, 2010 / 7:11 am

      You MUST MUST MUST! It is fab! (Did I say that already?)…

  16. 16 June, 2010 / 8:30 am

    I’m dying to send my daughter on a course as well, but she’s only 13 and also doesn’t think she’s very keen on poetry, which her school’s Arvon adventure does. I’m so glad you had a wonderful time. I did too. I like your blog…

    • 18 June, 2010 / 10:39 am

      Thanks Kristen, glad you like it :-)

  17. 16 June, 2010 / 9:40 pm

    Oh my God that just sounds like the best thing ever, I’m another one who would love love love to go on an Arvon course. Mark Haddon??? Oh my God!!! (And I SO don’t used exclamation marks :)
    Just fabulous. I cried at a one-day workshop from Rory Maclean and Dea Birkett who have worked with Arvon. They were so lovely and encouraging.
    Jo, I would love it if you could read my fiction (well short stories) they’re on my blog under “fiction” at the top and all but one (please ignore The Life and Soul) are mainly just designed to raise a smile. I know you are very busy so please don’t think I will be offended if you haven’t got time! x

    • 18 June, 2010 / 10:41 am

      I know! Mark Haddon! He deserves exclamation marks (and he was HOT).

      I would love to read some of your stories – I will have a look next week – I’m off to the Lake District for the weekend in a couple of hours. I probably should pack…

  18. Suzie Grogan
    19 June, 2010 / 2:43 pm

    And now you know that Arvon read your blog!! How fantastic is that?!!!!

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