26 Dec 2018 / #Arvon50
I wrote the first thousand words of what became my debut novel at a small desk overlooking the fields at the back of Totleigh Barton. The memory is still fresh. It was raw, excoriating, renewing. I wrote in a kind of frenzy. The words fell onto the page. I figure now that the words had been sitting there waiting to be written but it took a very particular combination to unlock them.
I didn’t know it was the beginning of something bigger at the time, just that I’d written something true, a story the tutors – Nikita Lalwani and Sam North – somehow intuited was nagging at the back of my head. But after I left, I found I couldn’t leave those thousand words alone. The story demanded my attention and for the next two years it took over a significant proportion of my life.
Of course, I’d been writing for years before – mostly terrible short stories and the first chapters of aimless novels that, quite rightfully, will never see the light of day – but something fell into place over the course of that week. I still can’t put my finger on what it was, but I found it somewhere between the sense of community that Arvon engenders, the spell of support and challenge woven by the tutors, and the opportunity to go deep into my writing. It was a rare, away-from-the-world time that allowed me to take a creative leap I wasn’t even aware I needed to take.
Those thousand words appear in The Many pretty much as I wrote them. A few line edits, but other than that they remain as written. When I signed my contract with Salt to publish the novel, I said a silent thank you to Nikita and Sam, and again when I held the finished book for the first time, something I had dreamt about for almost 30 years. And when the novel was later longlisted for the Man Booker Award, I thought back to those first words, written in a frenzy at a small desk in my bedroom, overlooking the fields at the back of Totleigh Barton.
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 Wyl Menmuir.
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