In July 2017, I was in a barn in Totleigh Barton listening to one of our playwriting tutors, Brad Birch, read from his one person play. In January 2018, I was watching a professional production of my debut one person play, ‘Woman Caught Unaware,’ at the Arcola Theatre in London. It would seem my Arvon journey was short and spectacular, but, in truth, it was longer, more complex and interesting than that.
For years I had read the Arvon brochure wishing I had the courage to take a course. Sometimes I would convince myself, often from the tutors’ headshots alone, that they would hate me. Sometimes I would get to the stage of booking, only to find the course I had set my heart on was fully booked. Finally, in 2015, I grabbed one of the last places on ‘Starting to Write Fiction’ at the Hurst.
The tutors, writers Jane Feaver and Ross Raisin, were not only excellent teachers, but they also did us the great service of treating us seriously as writers. I didn’t want someone just to say, ‘That’s wonderful.’ I wanted encouragement, of course, but also to learn. During that course, I completed the first chapter of what would be my (unpublished) novel. I also loved the Arvon week: the beautiful house, the cooking, the walks in the countryside, the conversations.
The following year, I picked ‘Psychological Thriller.’ I spent a week in Totleigh Barton with inspiring tutors Alex Marwood and Melanie McGrath, learning so much, including that, ultimately, this probably wasn’t my writing genre. But I could feel myself circling around areas of interest: women’s voices and bodies; fairy tale tropes; humour; motherhood. I also had one of those magical Arvon moments – meeting our visiting Wednesday speaker, the award-winning writer Kate Hamer, on the top of a cow-filled hill, as we searched for a mobile signal.
The next year, I plumped for ‘Playwriting.’ In my first Arvon course, Jane had been complimentary about my dialogue – perhaps this was my chance to explore that further? I found myself fascinated by the careful unfolding of information in Brad Birch’s one person play and encouraged by Jessica Swale’s advice on structure (I now keep one of her handouts next to me when writing) and her practical, have-a-go attitude, as well as the wonderful playfulness of everyone on the course.
In August, 2017 I began writing plays, one of which, ‘Woman Caught Unaware’ was selected as one of the three winners of the Heretic Voices competition, seeing off more than a thousand other entries. Besides receiving a professional production and positive reviews, it has been published by Nick Hern Books.
I can see how each of these Arvon courses influenced my play – its concerns, structure and voice. One line from my (unpublished) novel was even directly transferred to it. And I don’t believe my Arvon journey is over yet – I’m looking at the brochure now. There is a TV writing course which looks scary (will they hate me?) and exciting.
You can get your hands on a copy of Annie’s award winning works. ‘Woman Caught Unaware’ is available to purchase as a single publication here, and ‘Heretic Voices’ is available here.