Shutting sixteen people in a remote house with talented, generous tutors brings any number of surprises: friendships, laughter, tears, burned roasting pans and even the odd hangover. Nobody, in my experience, comes back from an Arvon course unchanged. It is a uniquely wonderful environment and exciting things often happen.
In 2012 I was to experience that first hand when I enlisted on a course at Totleigh Barton. As a non-fiction author with several published books under my belt I had decided that I needed a change of direction. Script writing rather appealed to me as a completely new and different discipline. On the way from Exeter station my fellow passengers chatted about the scripts they were working on, how much Final Draft costs and how many hours of television they watched each week. I could barely understand what they were talking about and hadn’t watched any of the sitcoms they clearly knew intimately.
I had made a terrible mistake and booked myself onto the wrong course.
When I rang my husband and said I wanted to come home he said: ‘Stay, give it a chance. You never know what will happen.’ Best advice I’ve ever been given as it turns out and it is the advice I would give anyone who arrives on a course and gets cold feet.
So I stayed and loved it. I listened, learned, made copious notes and decided that my first instinct had been right. I am no budding script-writer. Tutors, Brian Dooley and Simon Block tactfully agreed. When I had my tutorial with Simon he asked me what I did as a day job. I had just received the hardcover jacket for Jambusters, my book about the WI in wartime, on my phone. So I showed it to him. To my surprise he was interested and we spent the half hour talking about women on the Home Front. We talked again over supper (it was my turn to cook) and the next morning, as we parted, he put his hand on my arm and said: ‘Julie, I think Jambusters could be enormous.’ I was slightly taken aback but he had seen immediately the potential for a drama about a group of women set within a wartime village.
A month after the course he introduced me to a producer. I met her in London and four days later she took out the option on my book. When she asked me if I had any suggestions about developing a drama based around a wartime WI I said yes. After all, I had been on an Arvon course, hadn’t I? ‘I know,’ she said with a grin, ‘Simon told me. I think you might have been his worst student.’
That was October 2012. Jambusters became the inspiration for ITV’s wartime drama series, Home Fires, now in its second season. And the scriptwriter? I’m happy to say it is Simon Block. As my husband so rightly said, ‘stay … you never know what will happen.’ Thank you, Arvon, for creating the environment where the unexpected is to be expected.
~ Julie Summers
Julie is tutoring an Arvon non-fiction course at The Hurst in November 2016. More information about her course can be found here.