12 Aug 2020 / My Arvon Journey
A personal journey to publication of my first book
‘The West Façade’
A collection of short stories.
My Publisher, James, called. He had taken delivery of my book of short stories.
The Corona pandemic had arrived on the same day!
We were ALL Locked-down; House-bound.
Five copies arrived in the post.
Incredible event in the light of my past.
My new title – ‘Author’!
I didn’t read a book until I was fourteen. My mother taught me, using phonics; an unfashionable method then. She passed on her love of literature to me. We took it in turns to read Dickens.
At school was disruptive, dishonest, disturbed. Father thought a ‘good boarding school.’ Mother did not agree. She ‘stuck by me’.
On a school trip, I stole a metal sign on the train. I was expelled. No-one talked about Dyslexia back then so I struggled through ‘Crammers’ and was finally accepted into Primary School Teacher Training, and I later obtained an MA. at Uni. The last of the two schools in which I was Headteacher were awarded ‘Beacon’ status for ‘Outstanding Understanding and Teaching of Dyslexic Pupils.’
When I retired I volunteered with Woodland Trust and then Wildlife Trust… but didn’t know I’d learn to be a Charcoal Burner as I am now. I also studied Writing Fiction through courses in Oxford and in Writing Groups.
Ruth Dowley, my first Tutor, inspired me, ‘Go away and write, Liz.
I met Sarah Watkinson on my first course and she has become a close writing friend
I entered for the OUDCE International Short Story Competition, 2010, and I won it!’
So writing became my way of life.
Sarah and I wrote in our Group for many years. She nagged me to go on an Arvon Course when I was ‘stuck’. She had benefitted from several of them, returning home invigorated and inspired. Her poetry, so inspirational.
In a pub garden in Oxford, in 2017, she tried again, but I was not going back to lessons.
Sarah left the carpark ahead of me. Suddenly she turned her 4/4 across the drive, jumped out and ran to the car, posted an Arvon catalogue through my open window, without a word and drove away. At home I looked through it … didn’t want Teachers, Lessons, False hopes, Successful Writers and worst of all ‘being an amateur!’
But I needed a break. So reluctantly I booked myself a place. I listened to Bach in the train. The cold rain pelted the window.
I was quiet in the bus; nervous, cold, shy. This week–long course was the price of a foreign holiday… it had better be GOOD!
The informality of the welcome of the Arvon staff was warm. Out of the rain, into that warm Tudor house. I found my little study. In the corner under the oak beams, there was a table and chair with a desk light. I felt the bed; soft. The view from the window was across a farmyard and out onto open fields. Immediately I felt cocooned in my own space.
In the ancient barn I met, jovial company and a welcome drink. There was a tangible feeling of warmth and comfortable informality.
I went to most of the taught sessions in the mornings. Adam Marek and Zoe Gilbert were, funny, interesting … completely open in their amicable ways. In the evenings I recorded the things they had said that were going to be useful or interesting to me for my future. I began to feel like a ‘Writer’.
The freedom to do what I liked morning, afternoon and evening was great. One morning I woke up with a good idea and sat in bed with my tea (access to the kitchen all day was a great idea) I jotted down an outline for a short story ( my preferred genre) and after breakfast decided to go to the library. I wrote for the whole morning. The rain continued to pelt against the window but the warm isolation enable me to feel intensely involved with my work.
The other days I loved hearing Zoe and Adam; their quirky humour, vivacious manner were infectious. In quiet times in my cosy room I was inspired, able to dream.
We were ALL story tellers!
On the last evening we shared our stories in the barn; relaxing arm-chairs under lofty beams. I stood nervously with a mic. in my hand. The barn was full of budding writers with Zoe and Adam, all watching and listening.
My story was ’Breasts in the Train’( now entitled’ The Moral Map’) I sank into the story as I read and was shocked by the raucous applause and laughter when I finished. The clapping, shouts, hugs, hand-holding, touching as I went back to my chair! I felt like a Wimbledon Champion!
I left inspired! I would publish. That moment did it!
I must find a sympathetic Publisher.
Again it was Sarah, in her kitchen having lunch, she suggested I contacted James Harrison, in Oxford. He and I worked well together to make my book just what I wanted, attractive and a bit whacky.
Another foreign holiday sacrificed… but a creative climax never to be forgotten.
My eternal thanks to Sarah Watkinson, James Harrison and ARVON!
The West Façade’ was published 2020 by OXFORDFOLIO; James Harrison was a brilliant help to me throughout.
My book,’ The West Façade’ can be bought directly from my website; www.lizhenderson.co.uk or from book shops or Amazon.
‘Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight’ by Sarah Watkinson. Cinnamon Press.
(‘Poet in Residence 2019’ at Whytham Woods, Oxford; a remarkable juxtaposition of science and poetry.) Original, authoritative and beautiful poetry.
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