I had no idea what to expect when I started the long drive from London to Totleigh Barton in Devon. I was going to spend a week with a group of strangers sharing our creative writing, which is usually my most private activity.
I was inspired to join the ‘Starting to Write’ course as it sounded less frightening than the others which suggested people who would turn up with half written manuscripts.
We were a mixture of ages, professions and from all over the UK. We all had one thing in common: a burning passion to write something, be it prose or poetry. Arvon was going to give us the confidence to start and finish something as big as a novel or screenplay.
I knew I wanted to write a book and had a good idea of my main characters, setting and story, but I needed somewhere quiet to clear my head and write without interruption.
The first thing I noticed, on the bumpy drive through fields to the thatched cottage at the end, was that we soon lost reception and were met by a sign saying ‘no wifi’. It was startling how much more productive I was without Facebook and Twitter notifications, never-ending email chains and the telephone ringing.
After initial nerves, our group bonded over tea and endless cake with everyone getting into a rhythm. We had classes in the morning covering everything from setting, character and dialogue to vocabulary exercises. Our tutors Laura Barton and Tim Clare led one on one tutorials every afternoon and were excellent giving encouragement and advice on novel outlines and draft chapters.
What I enjoyed most about the week was being in the company of other would be writers. Everyone was much better than they clearly thought and by Friday evening had produced a brilliant piece to share with the group.
Most of us had previously experienced that incredulous look you get when you first utter out loud that you want to write a novel. Being at Arvon, for the first time, it felt like we were all in the same boat and could support each other.
Everyday I handwrote 2000 words in my Moleskin notebook (before breakfast or dinner), which is more than I’ve written at home in a month surrounded by distractions. What I appreciated most was having time and the space to write, either upstairs in the eaves or outside in the garden.
We all quickly realised that without a daily goal or writing schedule it was very easy to fall back into old habits. That’s why three months after our initial course over half of us managed to get back together for a follow up weekend. We spent a glorious bank holiday, on the edge of Exmoor, where we could share our latest writing.
Our group has been so inspired and motivated by our experience at Arvon that we plan to meet for a writing weekend twice a year. This is in order to ensure that we continue with our respective projects. At least one of us plans to finish the entire draft of their first novel by Christmas and our follow up weekend allowed them to share a major set piece with us!
I’ve found that it helps to have a safe place to share your recent scribblings but, most importantly, Arvon allowed me to make some new friends with a similar love for reading and writing.
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