Jane Feaver – My life according to Arvon

15 Jun 2018 / #Arvon50

Arvon is 50 this year and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection will be published in our anniversary booklet and featured on our blog throughout the year. The following piece is by novelist, poet and short story writer Jane Feaver.

In the late 1970s, when I was a teenager, the eldest of four siblings, my mother abandoned us to our father for a week.  She’d had enough. She was going on a poetry course in a place that had belonged to Ted Hughes (his ‘Pike’ and ‘Death of a Pig’ I’d recently been introduced to at school). I’d no conception then of how relentless being a mother was, how squashing-out-of-life. We were a strange, half-feral outfit, living for six weeks every summer in a remote cottage with no water, and no heating but the fire in the room where our father worked.

When she returned, there was something far too chipper about our mother, too energized and excited.  We were suspicious, closed ranks. We’d had a poet visit our house once, and had all agreed, he’d looked like a gorilla. We teased her mercilessly to make her pay. But there was something untouchable about her now, some bit of her that was entirely separate from us. And determined. It wasn’t long before she became a published poet in her own right.

In 1983, when I was 18, and desperate to break out from a family that by then had horribly imploded, I took my mother’s example and signed up for a course at Lumb Bank.

At that time, students were completely cut off. No internet, no phone, no news. It was a compression chamber, vivid and water tight, between one world and the next. I stayed up into the small hours in my pyjamas, sipping wine, listening wide-eyed to despatches from adult life – writing regimes, abortions, love affairs; rushed out to be in a thunderstorm, the chimneys lit by lightning, because this was surely what writers did; cowered from the cockerel who in the mornings paraded the length of the terrace shrieking, I’m not drunk! When the time came to leave, I sobbed, imagining it would all be lost, that taste of who and what I wanted to be.

For another fifteen years I buried any ambition to write. I went to university, got jobs. And then, by an extraordinary stroke of luck, I ended up working with one of the tutors on that course: Christopher Reid had become poetry editor at Faber, and I was drafted in as his assistant.  Many of the poets on the Faber list had tutored or been schooled at Arvon. There was a sense of familial resemblance, a connection that was in no small part down to a shared presiding influence. When Ted Hughes appeared in the Faber offices it was like the word made flesh, his burliness, his laugh, electrifying everything and everyone.

In 2001, I moved out of London. At nights, tentatively, I began to write, sketches of that cottage in the 1970s. I was aware that Totleigh Barton was down the road, and, when my mother offered to come and look after my young daughter, I seized the chance. Writing can begin at any time, and it does. That week was mine, and it gave me courage all over again.

– Jane Feaver



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