I’d wistfully looked at the Arvon brochure for years, pouring over each course title and author tutor as some women might covet handbags or shoes, thinking, ‘One day, maybe one day…’ but on a limited income with two small children, it simply wasn’t possible. As a family, we’ve never even taken our small children on holiday. Even if we’d had the finances, there was no way I could possibly justify an Arvon course to myself.
But when I saw the course advertised, I knew it was perfect for me and decided to apply for a grant.
Sue Walker contacted me extremely quickly after I’d sent my application and gave me the good news.
As for the actual week? Well, it was magical. I’m sure many people say the same and genuinely mean it, but without sounding sycophantic, I’m not sure really, if Arvon could possibly have any idea of what this week personally meant.
I am enormously grateful for the grant I received which made it possible for me to spend a week at Lumb Bank, starting to write.
The tutors, Patience Agbabi and Tim Pears, devoted themselves to tutoring, advising, encouraging and entertaining a group of sixteen enthusiastic adult students. In the mornings when we gathered round the huge wooden table to complete the writing tasks that Patience and Tim set, I noted down each exercise, ready to use in September with my students.
What I valued most were the individual tutorials held in the library in the afternoon; it’s a humbling experience to have your own attempts at prose and poetry critically reviewed by a professional.
Last year I set my A Level English Language students a coursework task of writing a short story using Sylvia Plath’s Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit as a style model. When the students wrote their pieces I felt inspired to write my own, but somehow life got in the way. My stay at Lumb Bank provided time to sift through and make notes on memories which were to be my material.
One afternoon, I sat down and wrote my story. Then I took it to a novelist for appraisal. Next year when I teach that unit, I will be able to show the students my story, and show them I too know how it feels to sit chewing my pencil and thumbing the thesaurus, wondering what my tutor will say: I’m not just the pedantic pedagogue with the answer book and a red pen.
Now, on my return, I have five weeks before I’m back in the classroom. Five weeks to plan how I’m going to use what I’ve learned with my students, to work out how I can find an opportunity to go on anther Arvon course and, of course, to write.
The course came at the perfect time in my life, and offered a truly unique experience. It is amazing that I had one to one tutorials with established writers of different disciplines, as well as group workshops in such a nurturing environment. The West Yorkshire countryside helped to create the environment of a real retreat, no distractions meaning no excuses, so I could really immerse myself in the experience.
As for the grant, I am on a very low income and at age 22 with no real savings I really could not have attended without it. The application for the grant itself was really straightforward. Communication between me and Becky, who dealt with my grant application, was really good. This in itself is a merit and enabled me to concentrate on the course with no worries.
On the course, I responded well to the process. Writing is an extremely personal thing where your life experiences and the emotions inevitably come to the surface. What I loved is that these personal responses, thus your creative voice weren’t shied away from the tutors. It is celebrated. I felt like I was in a safe environment to share these experiences that shine through and make me the writer I am today.