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My Arvon Journey by Emma Simon

Arvon journeys can take surprising turns. Mine began making chilli for Simon Armitage at Lumb Bank.

Five years later, and my first poetry book has just been published by The Emma Press. This still seems quite incredible: I can riffle pages, sniff the paper and trace my name on the front cover — although only when no-one is looking.

But I wouldn’t have got to this point — and certainly not had as much fun along the way — without the Jerwood/ Arvon Mentoring scheme.

Poets are supposed to be confessional sorts, aren’t they? Well, I have a small confession to make: when I applied for a place on this scheme, I wasn’t quite sure what this mentoring would involve.

Would I have to write a set number of poems each month? How would feedback be given? What if I couldn’t think of anything to write?!

I needn’t have worried. My mentor was Caroline Bird. Those who know her poetry, or have been on one of her courses, will know what a talented poet and enthusiastic teacher she is.

But mentoring isn’t quite the same as tutoring. It’s not simply a case of handing over your most recent work, and getting a detailed crit back. This is part of it, but it embraces much more.

For me, working with Caroline helped me start to think of myself as a writer. Writing poems wasn’t something that now just happened in a small corner of my life, away from the paid work and the childcare. I felt emboldened to shift it centre stage.

I looked forward to my regular meetings with Caroline: we’d drink coffee, talk through poems in detail, and have more general discussions about the challenges of writing. These could can be quite wide-ranging: what kind of lexicon would a cockroach have, for example, or how to tell imaginative truths without necessarily sticking to the facts. We started to put together a manuscript.

Getting advice and guidance from a more experienced writer is invaluable. How do they come up with ideas and titles, tackle edits, know when a poem is finished (it generally isn’t).

And there is also the encouragement: to play, to try something new, to be braver, to give it a go and not worry what others might think. We were encouraged to write about the personal, with abandon. For someone like me this was a lot harder than it sounds!

You need to believe in yourself as a writer, but this is much easier if you’ve a mentor cheering you on from the sidelines. This support doesn’t just come from them though; it also came from the talented, funny and downright wonderful writers who also took part in this scheme.

During the two weeks at Totleigh Barton — which bookmarked the year — we wrote a lot, laughed a lot, discussed all things writerly, and stayed up far too late drinking cider. I was so proud to be part of this group.

It’s almost a year now since that year. I am quite envious of those just starting out on their own Jerwood/ Arvon journey. If you go on a course this year, think seriously about applying. I never thought I’d get on it, and almost didn’t bother sending off my application. I’m glad I surprised myself.

Emma Simon’s Dragonish is published by the Emma Press. Buy your copy here.

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