My Arvon Week: Debi Barry | Arvon

My Arvon Week: Debi Barry

27 Feb 2024 / My Arvon Week

Banishing barriers and cultivating creativity

Debi Barry on an Arvon RetreatFriendships are formed over food, (or a glass of wine in my case!) and cemented over shared life experiences – so what could be more soul-enriching than spending five days with fellow writers on an Arvon Editing Fiction course?

In my earlier forties, juggling motherhood, and enjoying a job supporting disabled pupils, I caught flu. When I still felt no better after 3 weeks, I remember crying ‘I want my life back!’ when our Head TA, Brenda visited. How could I explain that the staircase I’d previously clambered up 3 steps at a time now felt like climbing up a mountain?

Looking back, I realise I was one of the lucky ones. Firstly, my GP listened and referred me to the Neurology Department at Frenchay Hospital. Secondly, I was assessed by Dr Peter Gladwell, a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist who remains Service lead in the Bristol M.E. Service today.

My prompt diagnosis of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS) in February 2007 was a game changer.  It meant prompt access to group support and CBT therapy where I learnt acceptance was key to managing the condition successfully. Thirdly, Unison were pivotal in fighting for reasonable adjustments to my timetable; effectively reducing my working week from five days to two-days. A work pattern I still need today.

Completing an Open University Modern Languages degree in 2020 was the catalyst for rediscovering writing. I had always enjoyed writing as a teenager, before academic overload thwarted my creativity. In 2020, the OU accepted my short Spanish story ‘Luna’ which was published as part of an anthology – A Multilingual Decameron. Family pestered, ‘what happens to the young girl abandoned in the story?’  Thus, the seeds for Abandoned were sewn. I enrolled on the OCA (Open College for the Arts)’s creative writing course: Starting your novel which got the first 10,000 words down. A friend recommended Arvon and I haven’t looked back since! the first draft last month so hence the Editing Fiction course.

The course was a balance of structure and free time to write/rest: classes began at 10am with a coffee break and finished at 1pm.  Lunch was a communal affair, prepared daily by Arvon’s staff, all very healthy, using local ingredients.  The ample dining area accommodated

everyone.  After lunch, you were free to ‘treat the house as your home’, burying yourself in one of the main alcoves or snug to read, retire to your room to rest or write (every room had its own desk and chair), use the computer room, or explore the grounds, or local area.  Be prepared to cook one evening as part of a team. I found it enjoyable, and no one expected Masterchef meals! Supper was at 6.30pm prompt with readings by one of the two tutors at 8.00pm in the main lounge and a guest speaker – we had a publishing agent, so very handy. The last evening was an opportunity to share a piece of our work.  Although very daunting, it is so rewarding when you overcome your fears (mine in this case).

As regards managing my CFS/ME, I rested most afternoons and managed all the tutor-led sessions bar one.  Unfortunately, I did suffer a relapse when I returned home – this course was more intense than a previous one I’ve attended.

Personally, I would advocate letting Arvon staff know you have CFS/ME as they can accommodate specific requirements like allowing you access to your room ahead of the usual check-in time of late afternoon, or ensure any specific equipment is available – an ergonomic keyboard in my case.

Lastly, having Emma Glass, a published experimental writer and Rose Tomaszewska, an Editorial Director at Chatto & Windus as our tutors was brilliant. We experimented with different styles of writing whilst Rose showed us the benefit of completing a structural edit of our work when considering plot and second draft editing.  Working on our elevator pitch and the beginning of a submission letter to an agent were also of key benefit for me personally.  What I’ve come away with which I hadn’t expected but was the most precious of all – a WhatsApp group of lovely supportive people who want to stay in touch.  That’s magical and as ‘life-affirming’ as it gets!

Debi Barry


NB. If preparing a meal is inaccessible to you, you can opt out, just get in touch with the house ahead of your course. If you have any wider questions regarding access please look at our access page or email


SI Leeds Literary Prize 2024

07 Mar 2024 / General

A writing prize that helps discover exciting new talent from underrepresented groups will be accepting entries again next month.
The SI…

Read more

Arvon and Creative Minds Calderdale to Develop Writing for Change Project

28 Feb 2024 / News

Arvon and Creative Minds Charity, hosted by South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, are embarking on an exciting project aimed…

Read more

My Arvon Journey: Gráinne O’Hare

27 Feb 2024 / My Arvon Journey

When I logged on to my first online Arvon workshop, it was autumn 2022 and already chilly at my writing desk;…

Read more

Advancing your poetry: Time to read, time to write.

22 Feb 2024 / Poetry

If as a poet, you are looking to advance your skills, what is one the best pieces of advice I can…

Read more
Read more