Alongside our residential weeks, each year we run Arvon City, a programme of non-residential weekend courses in urban locations across England. One participant of last year’s Birmingham weekend has blogged about how the experience has influenced her writing…
‘I’d always heard consistently great things about Arvon courses, but thought they weren’t for me – I couldn’t afford it, and anyway, to a townie like me, the idea of an educational and indulgent week away in a beautiful rural retreat was terrifying. (The countryside? Animals poo there, you know.)
But then Writing West Midlands told me they were working in partnership with Arvon to run a City Course in Birmingham, and encouraged me to apply for funding. I’d never thought of doing so before because I wasn’t expecting to be eligible, but it turned out that my income was low enough to secure me a grant.
The Ikon Gallery is somewhere that I try to visit when in Birmingham, so it was a lovely bonus to be within my physical “comfort zone”. as well as knowing that I’d be going back to my own bed each evening – a lovely “reality shock” after being immersed in writing all day, not only through the excellent tuition of Courttia Newland and Jenn Ashworth, but also simply by being in a space full of writers. The supportive atmosphere and the encouragement of the group was invaluable, especially for someone like me who needs “permission to write”. The intensity of the weekend was such that I wrote more in three days than in a normal month – partly because on an Arvon course there are no electricians you should be phoning and no litter boxes you should be emptying – and partly thanks to the instruction and inspiration.
Although I recently gained an MA in writing from Warwick, with wonderful tutors, I got so much out of the different teaching styles and resources of the Arvon tutors, and it was instructive in itself to see how much more I have to learn. In particular, one point that Jenn Ashworth made about short story structure instantly “clicked” something into place for me – I suddenly saw how an incident I’d been wanting to write about became a pivot for the story as a whole.
When we had a couple of hours of writing time later that day, I wrote the story, in longhand, in one go (not counting a couple of false starts).
The highlights of the weekend were the wonderfully inspirational tutor readings, and our readings of our own work. It was so exciting to hear what the other students had taken from the course, and the richness and depth of their stories. It was an enormously supportive environment in which to read, and several people, including Courttia Newland, were extremely kind about my story, suggesting it might be publishable. The information and inspiration I got on the course is still improving my writing. And, most excitingly of all, the story I wrote there won a runner-up prize in the Fiction Desk flash fiction competition. This is a popular competition from a very high quality publication, and I am thrilled and astonished to find myself among the winners. This is not something I was expecting as a direct result of my weekend in Birmingham, but what better side-effect could I have asked for?’