Pippa Goldschidt blogs about the role Arvon has played on her writing journey.
After I went to Arvon for the first time I dreamt about it, and in my dream Totleigh Barton was surrounded by lush fields and the house itself appeared as a huge mansion. Perhaps the exaggerated size of the house was a measure of the importance of that first course to me. It was an ‘advanced fiction’ course and I was thrilled to have been selected. I’d only been writing a few months, and all I had was the beginning of a story – I had no idea whether it was a short story or a novel.
The first day at Arvon was terrifying as I realised we were going to spend all day every day just writing – for a whole week. But what I learnt on that course is that writing is a mixture of effortlessness and extreme effort. The first bit is the fun part, relaxing and letting the words take over. After that comes the analysis; the editing, the restructuring, the listening to feedback.
But the analysis was familiar to me because I used to be an astronomer. Science, like writing, is a mixture of inspiration and slog. And as my confidence in writing grew, I realised I wanted to tell the tale of an astronomer. There are not many fictional accounts about what it feels like to be a scientist; to not know whether what you’re doing is right or wrong, to make mistakes and argue with other scientists. I wanted to explore the inner life of an astronomer, and I told her story to explain to people why we love some scientific theories so much, and how that love can spring from very non-scientific reasons. The Big Bang theory in astronomy is very much a Genesis tale, it is the ultimate tale of our origins and our future. That’s why it’s so easy to become attached to it, and get it tangled up with our own smaller tale of where we’re from and what we’re doing here.
I had found my subject.
I took the embyronic novel back to Arvon three more times where I got advice and feedback and space to think. I met fellow writers, both tutors and students, and learnt from them.
I went on to do a Masters degree in creative writing at Glasgow University, I became writer in resident at Edinburgh University, I won an award for my writing from the Scottish Book Trust. And the novel which I started at Arvon, The Falling Sky, was runner-up in last year’s Dundee International Book Prize and is published by Freight Books. All this would have seemed unimaginable to me on that first day at Arvon.