My Arvon Journey: Gráinne O'Hare | Arvon

My Arvon Journey: Gráinne O’Hare

27 Feb 2024 / My Arvon Journey

Gráinne O’Hare Arvon Retreat

When I logged on to my first online Arvon workshop, it was autumn 2022 and already chilly at my writing desk; I wore my warmest (and arguably most stylish) jumper, which was from the Greggs range at Primark. I would never have expected that a year on, I’d be sitting around a toasty fireplace in Wales with a group of people from that Zoom screen, all of them telling me they’d thought because of the jumper that I worked at Greggs (and me having to confirm that no, I was just a big fan of their sausage rolls). 

I had been lucky enough to receive an award from New Writing North in July of 2022, and I used some of the grant money to book onto a month-long Arvon fiction course. As well as wanting to learn new things and develop my writing technique, I hoped that committing to a course on set evenings would give me some structure and accountability. Self-discipline was one of the things I found most difficult about creative writing; I would often plan to write on certain days or at certain times, and then when those dates and times rolled around I would feel too tired, or uninspired, or suddenly very determined to clean my room and do all my laundry rather than sit in front of my word document convinced the cursor was blinking at me passive-aggressively. 

The workshops with Arvon tutors Rachel Seiffert and Chris Wakling were like a defibrillator to my motivation. We were given exercises to complete within time frames that didn’t allow for procrastination or overthinking, and when I read over the lines I’d spewed out in a five-minute frenzy, I was surprised to find they weren’t actually that terrible. I sent samples of my fiction in advance of my tutorials with Rachel and Chris, and the encouragement they gave really spurred me on. I told Rachel I’d been focusing mainly on short stories, but that I had a novel that had been simmering on the backburner for a few years; she suggested it might be time to bring the novel to the frontburner. I sent the first chapter of the novel to Chris for my next tutorial, and he set me a date for completing a full draft manuscript—an exciting and terrifying prospect. 

The Arvon course ended, and I worried I’d feel unmoored without the timetable of Monday night workshops and Thursday night write-togethers. A few members of the group suggested we continue meeting on Zoom to write together after the course was over, and I jumped at the chance. For over a year now, we’ve been meeting online two or three times a week, sometimes also doing ad hoc sessions at the weekends. We chat about what we’ve been up to and what we’re working on, we share ideas and advice and resources, and then we turn off our cameras and write. The structure and support of a regular writing group has really helped me properly prioritise and value my writing time. 

Thanks to funding from the Arts Council, I was able to complete a second Arvon fiction course this year, taught by Vanessa Gebbie and Jacob Ross. Writing a novel can feel like building a house and realising towards the end of the project that you’ve somehow put the toilet in the front garden and that there are boxes full of parts you haven’t even unpacked yet. This course was therefore extremely timely for me in terms of Jacob’s lessons on the mechanics of structure, pacing, and plot threads. Vanessa also gave some much-needed advice on self-belief and overcoming writer’s block, which I’ve continued to revisit when I’m struggling in front of that glaring blank word document. 

It’s thanks to these courses, and the writing group that formed as a result, that I managed (incredibly) to meet the deadline I’d been set by Chris in my Arvon tutorial months earlier. I’d had an on-off relationship with my backburner book for almost five years, resurrecting and reassembling and restarting it a dozen or more times without getting beyond the halfway point; and now it was a full, (mostly) cohesive novel draft. I sent the manuscript to my agent Jenny, who gave me great feedback and insightful notes, working with me on a couple of rounds of edits. The novel went out on submission in September, and I’m delighted that Thirst Trap has now been acquired by Picador and is set to be published in summer 2025. 

A month after my novel was acquired for publication, I travelled to Gladstone’s Library in the village of Hawarden, where myself and most of the writing group—Natalie, Victoria, Hatty, and Anabel—had arranged to finally meet in person for a weekend of books and chats and cosy fireplace armchairs. (I say ‘most of’ the group because the wonderful Stephanie is based in Arizona, which is a fairly impractical commute to Wales—she was, however, very much there in spirit.) We had a fabulous time and are determined to make a return visit; in the meantime, we’re back on Zoom together every week. Natalie recently sent a clip to our group chat of Neil Gaiman talking in an interview about his writing shed, in which he says: ‘I would go down to my lovely little gazebo at the bottom of the garden… [and] all I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.’ I think of our Arvon writing group very much as my lovely garden gazebo, and I’m truly grateful to have this space in which I have permission and encouragement to write. 

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