Elise Valmorbida – Suitcase Stories

22 Jan 2019 / #Arvon50

Lumb Bank West Yorkshire Writers Course

I have just returned from Ted Hughes’ house in deepest greenest beautiful West Yorkshire. I’ve been teaching ‘Suitcase Stories’, a course theme dreamed up many years ago in discussion with my friend Nick Barlay. The name came to me after so many migrant stories came to me. I designed a logo for it in 2011.

That was long before I’d met Aamer Hussein, but he and I had heard of each other through links with PEN International, City Lit and Central Saint Martins. We started to meet for coffee and cake and conversation.

I loved teaching with Aamer at Totleigh Barton in 2015, and we certainly had no wish for simple repetition this year. But I almost feared that our week at Lumb Bank couldn’t live up to that experience.

There was no need to fret. It was a wondrous week of creativity, progress and so much accomplishment all round that I came back to London with a proud smile.

And then, on the same day, came the news of a terrorist attack at London Bridge and in Borough Market, a long-loved haunt of mine. Now it feels difficult to smile.

But I know, deep in my marrow, that storytelling is a bridge between people of all kinds. And I believe, more than ever, that teaching is a positive political act. My engagement with the Arvon Foundation is doubly meaningful, doubly vocational: I’m a writer, and I’m a teacher.

Marlene Dumas writes: “The drawing of maps and borders turns neighbours into foreigners. Within military cultures whole generations of children have grown up, thinking only in enemy-images. Art is a way of sleeping with the enemy… I travel in my imagination, or should it be – I ‘live’ in my imagination.”

The theme of Suitcase Stories actively invites diversity. And we got it. Some of our students were cautious beginners, some were published writers. Quite a few were torn between projects, spoilt for a choice of ideas. Many shared tales of displacement, abandonment and transformation.

They all left Lumb Bank with more confidence in telling stories that need to be told. They now have a writerly community and, I feel certain, greater powers for good in the world.


Arvon turned 50 in 2018 and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection is published in our anniversary booklet and featured on our blog. This contribution is by Elise Valmorbida.


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