Keeping your Arvon group going
An Arvon course can be an intense week – you’re thrown together with a bunch of strangers and expected to cook and eat together, share a house and a bathroom, and worse of all share your writing. That intensity can forge great trust, which is why many Arvon students keep those supportive writerly relationships going once the course has ended. Three writers tell us how they set up and run very different writing groups.
The afternoon poetry circle
In 2013, Meg Rumbelow attended a ‘Starting to Write Poetry’ course tutored by Vicki Feaver and Jacob Polley. Since then, she and a group of 10 female poets have been meeting regularly on a Saturday to have afternoon-long sessions that keep everyone feeling inspired and writing. The group started offering each other very gentle feedback but now, Meg says, it is far more constructive. There’s a mix of experiences with ages ranging from 20s to 60s, but everyone has a similar approach to writing. She says:
“The sessions have really helped me improve my writing, just little nuggets to help me develop. I’ve learnt I need to be more daring about my writing and the sessions have helped me understand what I’m trying to say and develop my voice. Indeed, one of the group recently emailed me after a reading to say they felt privileged to watch my journey – which was great!”
Future ideas for Meg’s group involve planning a weekend-long writing retreat or an afternoon adventure on a barge. The main thing for Meg is that forming a group shouldn’t be an arduous task and has reaped great results. “Just do it quickly, just do it, you’ve got nothing to lose. Be the first one to offer a venue to get the ball rolling and make the connection – you don’t know what will come out of it.”
The writing retreat
Taking the initiative to set something up before real life kicks in was how Rina Vergano’s group has stayed in contact for nearly ten years.
The group met at an untutored retreat at Totleigh Barton in 2005 and got on so well they decided to keep writing, reading and supporting each other. The group meets a couple of times a year and includes published and unpublished writers of all types including writers for theatre and radio, and of children’s books, novels, short stories and memoir. Rina said:
“It quickly became apparent that it didn’t matter what the genre was. What mattered was the quality of the storytelling and having readings where people could receive peer-feedback. It also mattered that everyone was an emerging writer and that broadly, people were on the same level.”
The group has grown over the year as people invite friends along. There’s a ‘core’ of around 25 writers and in terms of diversity – people are from all different backgrounds and ages have ranged from 28 to 70.
“As a group we’ve been extremely solid and supportive for nearly ten years. There is a lot of affection and friendship amongst people in the group – I’d count them as my dearest friends.”
Cloud collaboration – the virtual group
Whilst retreats and afternoon-long writing and reading sessions might recreate the Arvon magic, it might pose a problem for people who live in different parts of the country – or the world!
Songwriter and performer Johnny Steinberg helped form a virtual support group after attending an Arvon songwriting course. Johnny has made great use of social media and email to make sure that song writers attending courses don’t lose touch. He said:
“On the last night, someone takes responsibility to gather up names, emails Facebook and Twitter. They set up a private Facebook group and send everyone an email. Facebook is a great way to help people stay in touch. You can post up lyrics for comments, you can advertise gigs or post up songs or performances on YouTube or Sound Cloud. It’s more helpful than getting a ‘like’ – you get positive comments and feedback from people you trust.”
After a course tutored by Kinks legend Ray Davis, Jonny worked on songs with members living in Kent and Massachusetts, USA – each recording their separate parts and sharing them using Sound Cloud. They met in Ray Davies’s KONK studios in London and recorded various tracks written on the Arvon course. Johnny went to New England in summer 2014 to record and gig with one of the course members.
Relationships aren’t all virtual – group members attend each other’s gigs and sometimes play together. Indeed, one fellow student ended up supporting Ray Davies and his brother Dave Davies on their US tour!
Johnny said: “it has been fantastic for me as a songwriter going to Arvon, I am going back in September to recharge my song-writing batteries. Some of the participants from the other workshops will be there catching up. It is like one big musical family.”
You can hear a song written by Johnny and top Scottish Singer Karine Polwart at Totleigh Barton, and performed at Brandy Pete’s in Boston on YouTube here.
Bec Evans was centre director at Lumb Bank between 2010 and 2013. Since leaving Arvon she has developed Write-Track, a website and app to help writers set writing goals and develop a writing practice. Sign up for Write-Track updates at https://www.write-track.co.uk/me/signup/ or read her blog http://blog.write-track.co.uk/