Ahead of this year’s Queer Fiction week at Lumb Bank with Kerry Hudson and Jonathan Kemp at Lumb Bank (find out more here), two participants from last year’s course share their stories….
I didn’t know what to expect from ‘Fiction: Another Part of the Forest’ – I’d never been on a residential writing course before, and I was thrilled to get the place as I’d been on the waiting list until three weeks before the event. My fellow attendees included people from all parts of the LGBT spectrum – and none – and we bonded over cake, cooking, queer-themed ‘Who’s in the Bag?’ – and writing, of course.
The morning sessions covered various topics: character, dialogue, structure, editing… as well as the hotly anticipated Writing Sex Scenes workshop (which I can’t promise takes place on every course…). I volunteered in advance to read out my ‘homework’ piece for that one because I knew I’d chicken out on the day!
Afternoons included one-on-one tutorials with our inspirational tutors, Patrick and Stella, who provided constructive feedback and encouraged me to think about how well I knew the background to my novel (not well enough) and why I wanted to write at all (not enough space to go into that one here!)
I learned plenty about writing and motivation, plus a fair sprinkling of info about llamas and nuclear power (don’t ask). I haven’t lived up to my pledge to finish my first draft in a year’s time, but I like to think that’s because I’ve developed in different ways – I’ve completely changed direction with the novel as well as starting and finishing a number of smaller pieces.
Whenever I’m struggling with my writing, I think back to my week at Lumb Bank and the people I met there, and my enthusiasm rushes back – I wish I could do it all over again, and I wouldn’t change a thing!
I came to Arvon a year ago on a course that was tutored by Patrick Gale and Stella Duffy.
The course was advertised as being for writers who wanted to “explore other parts of the forest”. I’m a woman who has enjoyed being intimate with both men and women and I write about characters with all kinds of desires so this sounded like an interesting proposition.
I suppose I thought that I was likely to meet people with open minds and different stories to tell. These are the kinds of people I think I can learn most from. And I admire Patrick and Stella’s writing very much so I was excited to have the opportunity to learn from such brilliant writers in such a direct way.
The course was a wonderful surprise in lots of ways.
Everyone was just as open minded and interesting as I had hoped. The tutors were welcoming, caring, frank, rigorous and challenging. But the experience was more intimate and intense than I had expected.
Sexual identity ran through the week like an exciting spice – especially in the session on writing sex scenes. Having Stella read out my “real life” piece and to have the warm congratulations of my fellow writers afterwards was simultaneously one of the most enjoyable and excruciating experiences of my life. (It was part of the brief to write about a real experience I hasten to add, not just exhibitionism on my part!)
I think everyone felt free to write the stories they wanted to about their characters without judgement – be they gay, straight, bi-sexual, bi-curious, transgender, trans-sexual, human, robot or even a beloved llama …
But what came through more strongly for me was that no two writers are the same. And what you can learn from listening to each other isn’t expressible in 300 words.
If you’re thinking of going to Arvon all I can say is: just f*cking do it. It’s an amazing experience.
This year’s course Queer Fiction: Exploring the alternatives, takes place at Lumb Bank from 2 – 7 June, find out more and book at arvon.org/queerfiction