10 May 2021 / My Arvon Journey
I first went on a residential Arvon course more than 25 years ago.
It was at Moniack Mhor, a remote farmhouse in the Scottish Highlands which at the time was one of Arvon’s writing houses.
Those five days were memorable in many ways, but life-changing in one in particular. One morning, as soon as it was light, I walked to the nearest post office and sent a letter of resignation.
I can’t say I did this entirely on a whim, having been brewing on the idea for months, but that week certainly spurred me into making the decision.
Friends and family thought I had gone a little mad (perhaps I had). I was in my early 20s, had a recently acquired, well-paid role in a respectable profession. It wasn’t as if I had another job to go to. I simply responded to their perplexed looks with the answer: I’m going to write.
I’m not advocating career desertion as a wise course for would-be authors, but those five days were so inspiring, so motivating and so different from anything I’d experienced before that I simply couldn’t not roll the dice. I came back from Moniack Mhor knowing I’d found, not just my vocation, but also my tribe.
It’s been a long slog since then, with some setbacks along the way. My fiction career has been pursued in tandem with journalism and I’ve now had three novels published, the most recent by Penguin in 2015.
Working with the very talented team at Penguin was a wonderful experience and the book, What She Left, went on to be published in 21 countries and turned into an audio book starring Emilia Clarke and Charles Dance (from Game of Thrones). Yes, I am still pinching myself about that.
During the 25-plus years since that Arvon course, I’ve had an enduring belief in the importance of lifelong learning. Sadly it was a lesson I’d learnt late, as my school tended to turn out car thieves rather than classicists.
Writers learn by reading, but they also do so by interacting with their peers and listening to those more experienced than themselves.
Nowadays, I’m a member of Leicester Writers’ Club and the Poetry Society’s South Leicestershire Stanza group, but I’ve always been aware of the huge range of fantastic opportunities that Arvon offers.
So it was with excitement – and a little apprehension – that I recently reconnected with the charity, signing up to a 1-1 tutorial with one of my favourite poets, the wonderfully talented Clare Pollard.
The session was informative and inspiring and I came away with plenty of practical steps to improve my poetry. Of course, Covid necessitated that it was via Zoom, but that didn’t detract from the quality of the experience (perhaps it’s just as well it wasn’t a residential course – I’m not sure I could afford to resign from my job these days!)
It brought back many memories of that trip to the Scottish Highlands over a quarter of a century earlier. I can clearly remember the tutors and visiting speaker – Carl MacDougall, Dilys Rose and Ron Butlin.
I can remember the exhilaration walking to that post office (it felt like a mammoth hike, but in reality was probably only a couple of miles each way). It wasn’t so much a feeling of fear at quitting a job, more one of joy at having found what I really wanted to do.
As I was walking through the countryside back to Moniack Mhor after posting that resignation letter, a car driver stopped and asked if I was lost. No, I said, quite the opposite. Then I carried on walking.
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