Barbara McDaid – I’m Still Here

29 Nov 2018 / #Arvon50

Lumb Bank house

‘I’m not sure I’m cut out for this’ I said, my case packed and my taxi due. Having been trying my hand at writing for the last year or so, I decided it was time to try it out in the outside world. An Arvon course seemed like the obvious next step.

‘If you really don’t like it, you can come home on Tuesday night, at the earliest’ said my daughter, wise beyond her years.

With trepidation, I boarded the first of 2 trains to Hebden Bridge with a big, heavy case containing clothes for all weathers. Arriving at the station, I met a fellow course attendee, who offered to share a taxi, herself travelling with only a small rucksack containing mostly paper, pens and pyjamas.

Shown to my cosy barn room by a friendly staff member, who I think mistook my nerves for excitement, I unpacked and realised I had forgotten to bring any make-up.  Here I was in the wilds of Yorkshire, meeting 16 strangers and two well-known tutors, with nothing but a lip balm.

For the ice-breaker, I described a penknife, keeping it short but sweet. Fast forward to the second evening, my turn for cooking and washing- up and after about half an hour of whisking the cream, someone else took over just as it was about to reach fruition.  In the following morning’s workshop, 4 sentences in, I was asked to stop and read my contribution out again from the beginning, loudly and clearly. At this point, I wondered if it was indeed time for me to go home.

Then came my first tutorial. The short story I had brought along was received with genuine enthusiasm and I was given in-depth feedback by the tutor. It was then I realised what was meant by the Arvon magic. Up to this point, I had no idea if what I was writing was any good whatsoever. Spurred on by this advice, I rushed off to get to work on editing and there the story transformed.

On Wednesday, we made a map of a significant place, describing events that happened to us there, which had me reliving my student years in London. Other people’s maps were a real insight into their personalities and by this time the group had bonded. I felt at home in Lumb Bank, enjoying the communal eating, daily routine and the visiting robin, pheasant, dog and cat, all set against the backdrop of the rain swept Pennines.

Still, the Friday night reading loomed large. Having had a phobia of public speaking since school, I was certain I was going to be sitting this one out. A tutorial with the second tutor on Friday afternoon gave me more positive feedback and advice for my book idea which left me on a high. Maybe I could actually do this! I got back to the barn and resolved to read out a short extract from my story. 1 minute and 50 seconds, short and sweet.

Names were called out of a hat. Luckily, mine was second, leaving less time for nerves to build up.

Shaking, I got up, concentrating on the words and before I knew it I was sitting down to a round of applause. The tutor said I stopped reading too soon and looking back I knew I could have read on for longer. This, in itself, was remarkable.

At the dinner table, we were asked to sum up our experience in three words.

‘I’m still here’ I said. And that, for me, was perhaps the greatest magic of all.


Arvon is 50 this year and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection is published in our anniversary booklet and featured on our blog throughout the year. This contribution is by Barbara McDaid.


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