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My Arvon Week: Writing for Radio – Anita MacCallum

Arvon has been shrouded in mystery for some years for me, I’d heard it’s only for real writers, people who take themselves seriously. I always presumed I wasn’t quite good enough to go. How do you know when you are a real writer? Most people I know have feelings about being ‘found out’ one day, classic ‘imposter syndrome’. I certainly feel I reside in a culture of ‘fake it, till you make it’, so how do you know when ‘it’ becomes real?

The fee for one weeks residential was out of my reach, however after years of not being sure if I qualified to be a writer, there was no question of me not going. I researched into grants available and phoned Arvon; I was told that all the grants had been allocated this year. My disappointment was palpable, I had felt that this course had my name all over it. I was encouraged to leave my name and details as circumstances are always changing, places are cancelled, money returned. A few days later I received a call saying some money had become available and I was encouraged to apply. Needless to say I submitted a successful application, packed my bags, waved goodbye to my family and headed down to the depths of Devon.

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Time to hear myself think is rare; I’m constantly distracted by cars, computers and children. To travel to Totleigh Barton out of range of a phone signal and the internet was a risk. A chance to commit to a personal writing transformation in a safe environment, is a risk worth taking. When it’s quiet enough stories pop up behind everything. Every single thread in the clothes you wear, every speck of dust that lands on your skin. Fuelled by the sun which shone every day, onto the thatched roof of the old farm house, pen ink flowed onto paper. Swallows swooped and sung above an abundant garden, heavy with ripe fruit and herbs. It felt so perfect that at times I was hit with the feeling that this place might not be real. I wanted to have laser vision to see past the perfection on display, and find out what was underneath. Like an experimental science fiction film, I wanted to see the whirring mechanics that kept the place going, hardworking pixies covered in oil or trolls sacrificing their demonic dreams, simply to fuel the toaster, toasting perfect toast. I wanted to know whose gnarly grubby hands wound up those perfect fat bees buzzing around the perfect garden. Those paradoxes resided in my head fueling my radio play along nicely, because to me, a world without shadow is a world that is absent from life.

The tutors, Jonquil Panting – BBC radio drama producer, Kate Clanchy – poet, writer and Eloise Whitmore – sound designer and engineer, all brought boundless expertise. Working with people active and successful in the radio industry was invaluable. They unlocked the creative potential of each and every one of the 12 writers at the residential and the week culminated in sharing of the work made. It was an honour to be amongst such talented writers.

I feel one step closer to being made a ‘real’ writer and once you are real…

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” ? Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit


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