Shola Adewusi was awarded an Arvon Grant to attend Starting to Write at Totleigh Barton earlier this year. Here she tells us what the week meant for her writing and personal development.
Arvon’s unique grants system is part of our commitment to giving everyone the chance to write. The grants are awarded on the basis of financial need and not writing ability. We offer grants to around a quarter of students each year and you may apply for any amount up to the full course fee. For more information visit our website
Totleigh Taught me to Write!
I was on fire when I got back to London following my fab week in Totleigh Barton, truly I was. My fingers were going like the proverbial clappers. Before I knew it I had written one half of the first draft of a short film script conceived during the workshop on the very first night. My little fictional boy, Biyi lived! The retreat had worked! And then from nowhere came the sound no writer – not working in longhand that is, wants to hear – “phinkt!” My computer had crashed. It has not worked since. But you see, this is where the amazing Arvon retreat came into its own. This was a test.
Before the Totleigh retreat, an unfortunate event such as this would have led to another long period of – not writing. I say another long period because I have had several of those owing to my incredible ability to allow the vicissitudes of life to get in the way, but more of that later. Once I got over my computer shock I surprised myself by simply writing the remainder of the short film script in longhand.
I started trying to write several years ago, okay it was 23 years ago! And although I wrote a few short film scripts and short plays along the way, in terms of my proper writing ambitions I kept stalling and starting and starting and stalling, but in 2011, I finally took the step of enrolling and starting a Post Grad Course in Screenwriting. I told myself ‘this is it now, you are on your way’ and I was, I truly was. Until that is the vicissitudes of life that befall many an actor fell upon me and I found myself evicted from my home of 30 years just towards the end of the first term! Please do not worry though because although it took 4 months, I did get the flat back, but those 4 months as a squatter in my own flat had taken its toll. I was spent. The next 6 months saw me ambling through the days and nights not writing, just staring at my television screen and that was despite the fact that I had plenty of free time and the type of work that allowed me to pursue my silver and small screen dreams (I was in Quartet and A Long Way Down – feature films!) and my writing ambitions. It was time for action.
All Hail Arvon! I applied and appealed to Arvon for help since I am not yet famous (LOL!) and they said yes and so it was the literary gods sent me to Sheepwash, Totleigh Barton, arguably the prettiest place in the world!
It was pretty but it was also magical, for how could anyone in this day and age survive a full week with no television, no mobile phone (without heading up a hill) and no internet? But there it was, without telling me how, Totleigh Taught me to Write! The distractions were the robbers of my time. If I want to write now, I know how. One simply cuts out the distractions from the outset. Because of those five days I now know I can live for some time without my TV, phone and internet because lo I did not die!
Unlike most short courses or intensive courses I did not leave Totleigh exhausted but refreshed ( I haven’t mentioned the beautiful fresh food have I?) and ready to write. Those mornings spent in workshops with peer critiquing which was not nearly as painful as one might have expected, coupled with the amazing , reassuring one to one tutoring, gave me in five days what I did not get in the six months of my post grad course – I would call it applied story structure. The beauty of having those two fantastic writers Maggie Gee and Nii Ayikwei Parkes to look over my work and point out what needed mending is immeasurable. The questions one needed to ask about one’s work provided by the tutors will serve me well – even when I go back to my other course and beyond.
As for my computer, there is hope in the form of a computer guru named Kev – he assures me it may yet live – just like my characters who I see in moving pictures in my mind – I love them and hate them in equal measure and look forward to that beautiful sound – phwat as they hit the silver screen.
Thank you Arvon.
See Shola in the film Quartet playing Salsa loving nurse Sheryl. Her self named website highlighting her acting and writing exploits should go live within a few months.