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Natasha Carlish’s Arvon Week

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My Arvon Week – Starting to Write a Novel with Chris Wakling and Tiffany Murray

The Hurst Centre Director Natasha Carlish heads to Lumb Bank…..

It is one of the glittering jewels in the Arvon staff crown that every two years we get to go on a course ourselves. Clearly there are several benefits of this. We get to experience what it is like to be a writer on a course from a creative, emotional and practical point of view. But we also get to flex our own creative muscle and it is of course this aspect of the week that can be so magical, so transformative.

I chose to do a course at Lumb Bank because after almost a year at Arvon it was still the centre which I had not visited. Needless to say it took on an almost mythical status in my mind as I had heard so many writers, staff and tutors talk of its beauty. I chose Starting to Write a Novel because I have always been an avid consumer of fiction and I suspect  like many others I had distant fantasies of writing a novel one day.

The beauty of Lumb Bank did not disappoint. I had the most spectacular view from my window and each morning I would get up, see the mist rolling up through the valley and marvel at the wonder of the surrounding environment. We were blessed with beautiful weather and I took the opportunity to walk into Heptonstall one day with a very lovely Canadian writer, Stacey, and we visited Sylvia Plath’s grave. Plath had been a hero of mine as a teenager so it was a real treat to see her final resting place.

The first 24 hours on the course I did feel a little bit like Alice in Alice through the Looking Glass. I felt as if I was in a parallel world in which everything I knew was completely reversed, I was the writer and not the host. Fabulous as the Lumb staff are I had to stop myself helping them! I no longer had to juggle the hosting, team management and programming but instead I had to mine my creative soul and embrace the scary unknown of writing! But help was on hand in the form of two INCREDIBLE tutors. Chris and Tiffany were even more wonderful than I had expected them to be. Though they had never worked together before they were consummate professionals checking in with each other at every opportunity to see what each had covered in the workshops. They could not have been more encouraging and helpful in tutorials-even I began to believe I could write!

Each workshop was packed with exercises, examples, challenges and opportunities to read small samples of our writing. The group were EXTRAORDINARY. Perhaps unusually for an Arvon group there were four young women between the ages of 19-22 who had just happened to book onto the same course. Their energy was so infectious and we all spent a lot of time laughing together throughout the week. Every single person had something really interesting about them and everyone was genuinely so supportive of each other’s work.

Two of the most interesting things that I experienced as a writer which I am always hearing writers say are:

“I’m starving!”-I always think how can you be starving when all you’ve done is sit around writing! But I ate like a horse and felt I needed to-do creative calories burn in the same way as physical calories?? And then the oft-heard adage,

“I didn’t have enough time to write,”-how can that be I have so often asked myself? All you have are the workshops, a couple of tutorials and a few domestic duties! But factor in the fabulous walks that are so refreshing at each of the centres, the wonderful individuals from the group who it’s so pleasurable to chat to and the gazing out at the awesome scenery and I understand the challenge. I did most of my writing after midnight and between 8 and 9.30am.

By the time Friday came round I think we all knew it was going to be tough to leave. We had to grapple with the nerves of Friday’s readings but everyone did brilliantly and some of the pieces moved me to tears. Hearing how far people had come with their writing in just one week was so inspiring and something I will always remember. Friday ended with us all giving Chris Wakling the bumps for his birthday (prompted by Tiffany and a few others-you know who you are!) -thank goodness he was light and that I managed to forget about health & safety for 2 minutes! And of course I am now writing my novel supported by my 15 new writer friends on a site that one of the group has very generously set up.

It’s official, Arvon transforms lives.

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