Piers Torday blogs about how his Arvon week inspired his debut novel.
In the summer of 2008, I found myself at the end of a TV production contract, after ten years of solid work in the industry – with no immediate desire to leap into the next job which came along. For the first time in a very long while I had space to think and perhaps, try my hand at something else.
Since leaving university in 1996, I had been fortunate enough to work in very creative industries – first theatre and then television. I had helped writers for both worlds edit and hone their scripts, written countless proposals and reams of publicity copy. I had even stuck my toe in the world of sitcoms and sketches, written collaboratively – but what I really wanted to do, deep down, was write fiction.
Constantly, a narrative voice ticked and muttered away in my head, but there never seemed to be enough time to pursue the compulsion further. However, about a year before, my father had shocked me, my brother and just about anyone who knew him by – after years in the engineering business – publishing his first novel at the age of 59, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Not only did this charming, funny and very wise novel sell around the world and make his name as an author, it made me extremely proud and gave me the first stepping stone – confidence.
If my Dad could write, perhaps I wasn’t mad to think I could as well.
So that baking hot summer, I found myself on a train wending through the green valleys of West Yorkshire to Ted Hughes’ old home at Lumb Bank, now an Arvon Centre. I was booked on an “Introduction to Fiction” course. I didn’t know the tutors or anyone else on the course, but had heard many times of Arvon’s reputation as a place to retreat and learn.
Perhaps most importantly there was no Wi-Fi, no mobile signal, and no TV.
Because we were there to write. We being an incredible mix of twelve from the retired to school-leavers, barristers to yoga teachers, drawn from all over the country – and everyone with a story of their own to tell. The tutors, Jean McNeil and Bill Broady, managed to create an atmosphere which was nurturing and supportive without ever slipping into false praise, and which allowed our imaginations to take wing. Each day began with a seminar, full of hand-outs and exercises which were like adrenaline shots to the creative mind. “I’ve never thought about doing it that way…”
Then, we filled the rest of our time writing in sunlit and silent rooms, or striding out across the moors in search of fresh air and inspiration. I made friends that week whom I still see, five years on, the beginnings of a writerly support network which is so crucial in a very solitary occupation. And I also began the first chapter of the book I finally published earlier this year – The Last Wild.
When people ask me whether I would recommend Arvon, or how best to describe my experience, it’s very simple. I arrived at the beginning of the week wondering whether I might be a writer or even if I could write. But when I left, not only did I feel I could write, I knew that’s what I was going to do next.