Image by Julia Golding
Three Arvon tutors who attended our Tutor Development Course ‘The Freehouse of the Imagination’ at Lumb Bank in January 2015 blog about their week…
I’ve always been in awe of writers. It’s been that way ever since I was a child and fell in love with books. Books are magical. I can never quite believe I’m allowed to be a writer myself, and mingle with other writers. When it happens, I’m an excitable child, scared to death I’ll talk too much and be sent home from the party. So I was high on adrenaline when I arrived at Lumb Bank for the tutors’ course. Quite apart from anything else, Peter and Ann Sansom (who were leading the programme) are two of my heroes. Even thinking back now, my heart speeds up.
But I have a sensible head too. I knew my expectations were unreasonably high. I would soon come down to earth. Except I didn’t. The entire five days was, for me, unmitigated bliss. When Peter Sansom said in a writing workshop, ‘Right, we’re going to do some flying now,’ he wasn’t to know I was already sky-high.
The Arvon formula—morning workshops; afternoons of talking, reading, sleeping and cooking—worked. It is simple but clever. The admin staff know precisely what they’re doing so everything falls into place apparently effortlessly (though of course they work tirelessly behind the scenes). I loved the cooking and washing up! I was grating chocolate with a playwright and a novelist. It doesn’t get much better. And Lumb Bank has its own magic, whether there’s sun, rain, hail, thunder or snow. (We had all of them, though not all at once.)
There was only one regrettable aspect. It had to end. But I came away, if anything, more excited. I have new friends, new ideas, new poems. It’s really true. I am allowed to be a writer—look!
It must be a mistake. I reread the email to make sure I had it right – that instead of being asked to share some wisdom about being a writer, or lead a workshop, or be in some other way responsible for the creativity of others, I was being offered the chance to spend a week developing my own creativity, in the company of other Arvon tutors at my favourite Arvon centre, Lumb Bank.
I couldn’t say no. As a professional writer, in my experience, there are few opportunities for professional development. There is a great deal of support for the aspiring and emerging writer, and I have, in my time, made good use of it. But once you’ve had a few books published, most of the help available is about tax or websites or child protection – not about you as a writer.
We were from all over the UK and beyond; we were poets and novelists and book makers and playwrights; we wrote for adults and children. We all, as well as loving words, relished the chance to be students for once, able to take advantage of what we’re usually responsible for facilitating. We shared ideas, formally and informally, in workshops, in the kitchen, around the fire, in the steep snowy lanes.
Peter and Ann Sansom were the perfect tutors – generous and inspiring, highly organised but happy to be flexible in response to the particular needs of the group. In a reversal of the usual mid-week guest spot, Lucy Burnett, Lumb Bank’s centre director and a participant all week, led a really useful presentation on what makes a good Arvon tutor.
I booked the course hoping for some new ideas for my own teaching, at Arvon and elsewhere; to make new friends; to have time for my own writing, and to experiment with writing something new (I’m a prose writer, but almost everything I wrote that week was poetry). With everyone’s help, I achieved all of it. Thanks, Arvon – yet again.
What a great way to start the year – a week at Lumb Bank with a bunch of Arvon tutors for a course led by Peter and Ann Sansom. However many courses you lead, there’s still the same excitement when you first arrive, and it’s completely different when you come as a student. It took me right back to1989, my first Arvon course when as an English teacher I had asked the LEA to pay the course fee (those were the days.) There’s nothing like an Arvon week and that first time is a transformation. No matter how much or how little you write, you come away a writer.
When tutoring for Arvon I always look forward to meeting my co-tutor and joining in their workshops, because I’m curious, and there’s always more you can learn. Every writer has their own way of doing things, and taking part in a good workshop exercise is the best way of enriching your own tutoring practice. A welcome feature of this course, then, was that everyone got to lead an exercise during the morning sessions. And there were the course leaders’ brilliant workshops – Peter and Ann only have to walk into a room and everyone starts writing. There were opportunities to meet and share ideas, to write, and to walk in the spectacular countryside around Lumb Bank. And the cooking. I’d forgotten about the cooking. Now I’m no cook, but, I have to say, my honey-roasted parsnips were amazing.