Virginia Macgregor, novelist and English Teacher at Wellington College, blogs about a school week at The Hurst, Monday 30th March – Saturday 4th April 2015
“Pass it on, boys [and girls]…Pass it on.” Hector, The History Boys, Alan Bennett
I’m a writer and a teacher: a wonderful balance, which allows me to go into every creative experience with a dual perspective. For myself, I sit hungrily at the feet of talented writers, looking to how I can make my writing stronger and truer; simultaneously, I think of how I will ‘pass on’ this treasure to my pupils.
This is embodied in a notebook I took with me on my first Arvon Course at Lumb Bank: The Tricky Business of Second Drafts with Hannah Griffiths and Marcel Theroux. On one side of my notebook are the scribbles from all the wonderful workshops; on the other side, I jotted down ideas for what I could bring back to my classroom.
It was therefore a particular thrill to take this writing-teaching connection to its natural conclusion by bringing sixteen pupils to The Hurst this Easter. I wanted to give these young people a taste of Arvon’s magic formula for getting straight to our writing hearts – and, of course, Arvon delivered.
At Wellington College, I run the Creative Writing Society and teach English part-time alongside nurturing my career as a writer. My first novel, What Milo Saw, came out with Little, Brown in July 2014, and the second, The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells, will be on the shelves in January 2016. Through its workshops, its retreats and the friendships I made along the way, Arvon has played a vital role in helping me realise my dream of becoming a published novelist. My pupils have now joined me on this journey: they are building their lives as writers and now Arvon is part of their story too.
Over the last few days, I have been moved to watch these young men and women experience what I have lived through so many times: the long journey to the countryside; the removal of daily distractions (family, work, television, mobile phones, the internet); the intensive workshops with Caroline Bird and Amanda Symth, which left us exhausted and exhilarated and inspired; the long afternoons of tutorials, walks, naps, writing; cooking together; eating together; readings (the glorious Richard Bean on Wednesday night); and of course, the forging of new friendships. Like the trees which are blossoming at this time of year, I watched my pupils unfurl their minds and their hearts, become truer versions of themselves and grow in confidence as writers and human beings.
This morning, as I sat at my desk, back at Wellington, I received an email from a parent which summed up how special this week was for us all: ‘Anna has said it was one of the best experiences of her life!!!’
Thank you, Arvon, for what you have given me and for what you have allowed me to pass on.