Account Login

Category Archives: My Arvon Journey

What A Way to Go – Julia Forster’s Arvon Week

Totleigh Barton at nightfall. The two poets leading the course have switched off the lights in the drawing room and we are sitting in the kind of inky blackness you only get in the rural sticks. I wait for my turn with the match box. Each of the participants strikes a match in turn, holds it just below their face and – in the few seconds it takes for the flame to burn – we introduce ourselves. I am second to last.

‘I’m Julia and I’m twenty. I’ve just got back from Italy where I was a nanny. I wasn’t very good at it.’

The flame is scorching my fingers. I blow it out and pass the box to the person sitting next to me. She introduces herself as Retta. In the faint glow of the match, I admire her spiked hair and mis-matched earrings.

On the Friday evening, after we’ve all read our poems aloud and worked our way through the Arvon wine cellar, I drunkenly throw my address book at Retta – my shy way of saying I don’t want to lose the friendship which has formed in the workshops where, in between looking at each others work, we’ve also found plenty in common aside from poetry.

During the years that followed that course in 1999, I’d visit Retta in London and we’d often talk until the small hours. Once, I fell asleep in the middle of a sentence at three in the morning; there was never enough time to explore all we had to say. At the time, Retta was co-editing an anthology of poems, Poem for a Day Volume II. Later, she’d go on to publish a pamphlet called The Ornamental World with Tall Lighthouse Press. Meanwhile, I crossed the stream and started to dabble with prose.

When I was 24, I moved to London just a short walk from Retta’s flat. I worked part time in a literary agency so that I could spend a day a week volunteering and also try to move my writing forwards. Mindful of how important Arvon had been in fostering that important friendship, I called up the head office to see if there were any ways in which I could volunteer.

I can picture now the day I met the administrator, Philip Cowell. He sat across the table from me, snappily dressed and fresh-faced, a stack of lever-arch files in front of him. He never opened them once. I think it was clear to us both that I was volunteering to be his friend rather than to help him with his filing.

Before I left London to raise a family, I made sure to introduce Philip to Retta; they are now great friends in their own right, joined by the common thread of Arvon. Because that is just one of many hidden benefits of attending an Arvon course: yes, it is about writing and finding your voice and honing your craft. But Arvon is also about finding those friends who are not just short flashes of light from a struck match: these friendships, you find, can also illuminate a lifetime.

What a Way to Go by Julia Forster is published by Atlantic Books (£7.99)

What a Way to Go


Find out more

Three Years at Arvon – Natasha Carlish

Natasha Carlish, Centre Director at The Hurst. When I arrived at The Hurst three years ago, the world…

Find out more

The Dark Side

By Julie Mayhew, a former Jerwood/ Arvon mentee Comedy is my happy place.  As an actress I performed…

Find out more

Eden Summer & Arvon – Liz Flanagan

One evening in March, I found myself sitting in the guest reader’s chair at Lumb Bank, facing a…

Find out more

Hornet Press: It all started at Totleigh

I’ve been working for Arvon for three years, and in that time I’ve been on two courses. My…

Find out more

A Magic Carpet Ride with Arvon – Julie Summers

When you go on an Arvon writing course anything can happen. Shutting sixteen people in a remote house…

Find out more

Annette Brook’s Arvon/Jerwood Week: Silence, Bliss & Writing

There’s nothing quite like a Arvon retreat. Stepping away from your day to day concerns and focussing entirely…

Find out more

Arvon Freehouse of the Imagination: Russ Litten

TUTOR DEVELOPMENT WEEK I came home from Totleigh Barton with a rattle in my boot. It’s there now,…

Find out more

Jonathan Asser’s Arvon Journey: From Poetry to Scripts

My script for Starred Up was drawn from personal experience running a therapeutic group for violent prisoners, and…

Find out more

Arvon tutor week at Lumb Bank

Image by Julia Golding Three Arvon tutors who attended our Tutor Development Course ‘The Freehouse of the Imagination’…

Find out more

Archive