06 Nov 2018 / #Arvon50
In the mid-90s, aged 22, I landed my dream job at an indie record label. This was mainly due to a well-spent youth collecting stacks of vinyl – but the position also required ‘computer skills’, still something of a novelty back then. I didn’t have any but I chose to gloss over this at the interview. The night before my first day a friend sat me down in front of his monolithic PC and began:
‘So, this is called the space bar…’
At 10.30 the following morning (thank heavens for music industry office hours) I was at my new desk, tapping away with my index fingers, like a pro.
I took a similar tactic when first approached to become an Arvon tutor. Working on my standard M.O. of ‘Say yes and worry about the details later’, I relished the chance to rise to the challenge. It was Ian Marchant’s idea, the doyen of Arvon, aka Lionel Spume FRSL. We had met, drunkenly, many years earlier, at a book festival dinner. I don’t recall much about our conversation, except that it was too loud for the Poet Laureate’s delicate ears, but something must have made Ian think I was worth a punt as a co-tutor.
I had written three books that had been published throughout the world, but what wisdom could I impart to budding writers? I began to give my writing process much thought, much more than when I was actually writing my books. I formed ideas and theories that seemed new to me but had obviously been fermenting somewhere in my subconscious for years, the product of a lifetime of writing and reading. But I was still nervous about this new venture. A sleepless night preceded my tutoring debut and I drifted in and out of anxiety dreams on the train from London as it rolled north through Lincolnshire. Ian would no doubt suggest that this was to do with the transfer of the East Coast Mainline franchise to Richard Branson, but it was just new kid nerves. Then, somewhere north of Grantham, I woke up to bright spring sunshine, and thought, I can do this. I want to do this.
That week at Lumb Bank transformed me and my writing. I came away in awe of the writers on the course and inspired by the fearlessness of Ian’s teaching. I woke early every day that week, my brain firing with ideas – ideas for our workshops, for the writers’ projects, and for my own future work. I loved the intensity, the communal meals, the urgent exchanges of favourite books, life stories and email addresses, the muddy morning walks and late-night singing. Most of all I loved the Arvon ethos of inclusivity. It felt like I could fit in here. It felt like everyone could fit in here.
I was invited to Totleigh the following year, and I have just returned from a week at the Hurst, so I’ve got the hat-trick now. Most satisfying of all, each year has seen writers from my previous courses returning, sowing the seeds of friendships and long-term writerly relationships. To witness an idea discussed at the beginning of the week put into action and ultimately read out on the Friday night is rewarding; to see that process happening over years, even more so.
So, thank you Ian, for taking a punt on me. I didn’t know I had it in me but maybe you did.
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 is published in our anniversary booklet and featured on our blog throughout the year. This contribution is by Lois Pryce.
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