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.