Alumni - Arvon Writing Courses - Arvon


Writing course pupil smiling on sofa

Arvon has had a deep and lasting influence on literature in the UK –  generations of writers have acknowledged the significance of Arvon in their careers.

One of the most important things about the Arvon experience is being able to be mentored by writers at the top of their profession.

Costa Book Award winner Andrew Miller came on an Arvon course when he was 18 and his tutor was Angela CarterPat Barker and Maggie Gee were also taught on Arvon courses by Angela Carter.

Tim Firth was on a course taught by Willy Russell when he was 18 and has gone to write very successfully for theatre and television with credits including Calendar Girls. He also often teaches with Willy now.

Hilary Mantel tutored a course at Lumb Bank in August 1989 which included Lesley Glaister on it, as a student. Her first novel, published a year later, won a Somerset Maugham Award.

Forward Poetry Prize winner Kate Clanchy was taught by Jackie Kay and Carol Ann Duffy.
Novelist and playwright Anne Aylor was taught by Salman Rushdie on a course where Kazuo Ishiguro was the guest.

Costa Book Award shortlisted Sathnam Sanghera,  and journalist/ novelist Lottie Moggach were on the same course taught by Jim Friel.

Alice Nutter  (ex-Chumbawhumba singer) went on a screenwriting course taught by Jimmy McGovern and Val Windsor and has gone on to write for The Street, The Mill and various other high profile TV programmes.

Paul Abbott, screenwriter of Shameless, State of Play, Cracker, Coronation St,  came on an Arvon course when he was 20, tutored by Willy Russell and Danny Hiller (who had both just launched Blood Brothers in the West End):

it was a tectonic, life-changing experience – just that full thrust of spending 8 hours minimum per day attending to writing tasks… it was a moment midway through the week that I realised, categorically, how determined I was to become a professional writer.

—Paul Abbott

Arvon’s first courses in 1968 were with school children, and it now hosts over 35 schools a year at its centres. There are many leading writers, including several Arvon tutors, who were first awakened to their passion for writing at an Arvon school week.

Poets David Morley and Lemn Sissay  were on the same course at Lumb Bank as teenagers.

Stephen May began writing seriously as a teacher after taking a group of high school students  to Totleigh Barton in 1999 for a writing course tutored by Jill Dawson and Henry Shukman. He later wrote his first novel (TAG about gifted students on a residential week away) in the Lumb Bank library in 2005 when he was centre director there.

Poet Helen Mort, shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award came to Lumb Bank five times as a Foyle Young Poet.

Emma Carroll, children’s author, came as one of the teachers on a school course. She’s published two books and have just signed a three book deal with Faber.

Playwright Nick Stimson came on the first ever Arvon course as a 16 year old student:

We had been called on to write as if writing mattered – and for the first time someone hadn’t just put a tick or a mark at the bottom of one’s writing. I think what was shattering was that suddenly everything mattered.

—Nick Stimson

Arvon centres can claim to be the birthplace of countless stories, many of which have gone on to be published to critical acclaim.

Mark Haddon had an idea for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time while tutoring at Arvon.

Esther Freud wrote the first pages of Hideous Kinky in the garden at Totleigh Barton.

Jamila Gavin was inspired to write Coram Boy at Lumb Bank. inspired by a conversation she had with a dog walker on the lane.

Maria McCann saw the face of Jacob, the protagonist in As Meat Loves Salt, in the garden at Lumb Bank. She has now published three novels with Faber.

Arvon’s grants scheme gives over 200 people a year financial help to come on an Arvon course. This opportunity has often proved pivotal to their writing development.

Playwright Ishy Din was working as a taxi driver at the time of receiving an Arvon grant in 2011. His first radio play was written for BBC Radio 5 Live, and he was 2012 Pearson Writer in Residence at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. You can find his blog about his relationship with Arvon here.

BRIT Award-nominated singer Rumer came twice on Arvon weeks, both times receiving a grant. Rumer was taught by Donovan and Maria McKee.

Poet Warsan Shire is a former grant recipient. She is the Young Poet Laureate for London, won the inaugural African Poetry Prize (set up by Bernardine Evaristo, a regular Arvon tutor). She tutored on Arvon’s (M)Other Tongues project with Somali-speaking young people in 2012.

Playwright Janice Okoh was awarded a grant in 2011, and was then selected for the year-long Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme. She has produced a range of award-winning plays including The Real House (Three Birds), which won the Bruntwood Prize.

Graphic novelist Katie Green is a former grant recipient, who, in 2013, published Lighter Than My Shadow, a graphic novel memoir:

My experience of Arvon was life-changing… I certainly wouldn’t have been able to attend if I hadn’t been given some assistance with the financial side of things.

—Katie Green

There is a long list of Arvon alumni who have since gone on to see their writing published, and who often acknowledge the instruction, feedback and time and space to write they found at Arvon as instrumental in their success.

In Sarah Butler‘s international bestseller and debut novel Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, she acknowledges the importance of her Arvon courses in the author’s notes.

Lizzie Enfield was on a writing for Young Adults course at Lumb Bank in 2008 and has subsequently published three adult novels including her latest Living With It (Daily Mail book of the week July 2014).

Susan Elliot Wright came on an Arvon course before writing her first novel Things We Never Said (2011). Her second The Secrets We Left Behind came out in 2014.

Emylia Hall attended an Arvon course at Totleigh Barton in 2008 to work on her novel The Book of Summers. The book was published in 2012, translated into eight languages and was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She has since written three novels and is proud to tutor at Arvon.

Eleanor Moran was on a Starting to Write course in 2006 taught by Chris Wakling and Jean McNeil. She has since published four novels.

Virginia Macgregor was on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank in 2005 and a retreat in 2006. Her first novel What Milo Saw was published in 2014 and has been sold into ten languages.

Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee which was a 2012 Richard and Judy Book Club pick, came on a course taught by Hannah Griffiths and Marcel Theroux in 2008.

Jane Feaver, Emma Henderson and Sanjida O’Connell were all on the same course taught by Charlotte Mendelson and Joanna Briscoe, and all went on to be published.

Historical novelist Katherine Clement signed a three book deal after a Lumb Bank course.

I am the graduate of three Arvon courses. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed these weeks. More than that, they kickstarted me into a serious commitment to being a writer after years of wishful thinking.

—Emma Haughton, author of Carnegie Award-nominated Now You See Me

For many now highly-lauded writers, their week at Arvon was the first time they acknowledged to themselves that they were a writer.

Kate Fox went on a poetry course at Lumb Bank, where she discovered  she could be a poet.

Colette Bryce, winner of the National Poetry Competition, wrote her first poem at Lumb Bank,  about a spider there.

Caroline Bird, winner of the Poetry London Competition, was a Foyle Young Poet and says her time on the course was transformative in that it was the first time she was made to feel it was OK to write poetry.

Piers Torday went on an ‘Introduction to Fiction’ week at Lumb Bank in 2008. Piers is now a bestselling children’s author:

When people ask me whether I would recommend Arvon, or how best to describe my experience, it’s very simple. I arrived at the beginning of the week wondering whether I might be a writer or even if I could write. But when I left, not only did I feel I could write, I knew that’s what I was going to do next.

—Piers Torday

If you have been on an Arvon course, we’d love to hear what the experience was like for you and how your writing has progressed since. Email

"An Arvon course is transformative and energising for tutor and student alike; it draws a temporary magic circle within which nobody has to duck their head and apologise for calling themselves a writer."

— Patrick Gale

"It was a week that changed my life. I was very nervous, wondering if I was kidding myself, but the tutors' exercises shook me up. They got me thinking about different ways to write. One of the big things for me was narrative voice, particularly exploring first person, and Kester's voice cam from that....I went on that course thinking I want to be a writer and I left feeling I am a writer"

— Piers Torday

"At Arvon, everyone is a writer. Here writers teach writers .... a place where no one need be embarrassed to love words or books, or by wanting very much to write better."

— Maggie Gee

"It might be a cliché (what a sin a writer!) but the Arvon course I went on really did change my life; it gave me the space to conceive a long poem I've never been able to match for scope or style since"

— Andrew McMillan

"Every time I’ve taught at Arvon - going back over fifteen years now - I’ve seen how much difference just a handful of days can make in the life of writers. There’s a perfect mix of tutorials, writing time, socializing, and discussion - all those elements come together to create an atmosphere in which writing projects move in that longed-for but often unattainable direction: forward."

— Kamila Shamsie

"Arvon is the single most important organisation for sharing and exploring creative writing in the UK.”

— Carol Ann Duffy