The recent residential I attended at Arvon’s John Osbourne Centre at the Hurst, though organised as part of my MA Creative Writing course, followed the standard Arvon format; morning workshops followed by free time in which to write in the afternoon and evening readings from the tutors on the Tuesday, a guest reader Wednesday and the group on the Friday. Like most people attending an intensive writing week, I had a bought of nerves, mine hitting when I was an hour or so from the venue. They quickly passed though and I arrived, after a long drive from Germany, at the Hurst.
The three 18th century buildings that compose the John Osbourne Centre, The Hurst, The Clockhouse, The Foyle Studio are situated in the heart of the Shropshire countryside, surrounded by thirty acres of lush woodland and a spring-fed lake. In their promotional materials Arvon describe The Hurst as the perfect place to lose yourself in words and I would have to agree. On my arrival I was struck with both the peaceful air of the place and the warmth and friendliness of the Arvon staff who were there to welcome arrivals. As the week progressed these first impressions were reinforced again and again.
The first night’s cooking was done for us, giving the group a chance to relax after our travels but for the rest of the week we cooked each evening in groups of two or three. The food was excellent. Evening meals were wholesome, healthy and filling, with some excellent puddings. Lunchtimes we returned from the morning workshops to find the dining tables loaded with good things to eat. Perfect after a morning spent working and writing together.
My room was at the front of the Clockhouse. John Osbourne, when he lived at The Hurst apparently declared he had ‘the best view in England.’ I can’t argue with that statement really having spent a week writing at a desk with this as the view from window:
The morning workshops were run alternately by tutors Nicholas Royle and Gregory Norminton (gentlemen, both). The tasks set were a mixture of exercises intended to generate ideas for fiction, work on adapting scenes to different registers or points of view or simply a flex of the old writing muscles before we tackled our own work in the afternoons. It was great to have the time to focus on exercises like that. Like most writers, I am guilty of neglecting this kind of thing in my rush to get cracking with whatever it is I am working on at the time. Since my return home, while I am not doing daily writing exercises, I have dusted off my Creative Writer’s workbook to tackle something every so often.
Having had a week or so to reflect on the experience it is easy to see what I have gained by attending. Firstly, I spent a five days living alongside a group of very cool and interesting writers. It was fantastic to talk books and writing and not have people’s eyes glaze over after the first five minutes. It was also fantastic to hear so many writers reading their work, from Nicholas reading snippets of his forthcoming novel First Novel, which sounds very cool indeed by the way, to Gregory’s reading of his Calvino inspired examination of the impact of cities on the environment and people they consume, to Wednesday’s guest author/poet Jean Sprackland‘s trio of linked short fictions from Ellipsis 1, to the many and varied pieces the group read out on our final evening together. The sense of community, partly generated by our shared love of words and partly by the Arvon ethos of shared writing, cooking, eating and evenings, was both surprising in how quick it came into being and the level to which it rose during the week.
Secondly, I came away from the week with three new pieces of flash fiction, 3,000 more words for my novel, and, following an honest and instructive tutorial from both of Nicholas and Gregory, a much clearer idea of how to progress with my MA novel. More than that, since arriving home I have written a smidge under 10,000 words of my novel. The week at Arvon got my motor running and I am doing my level best to keep it moving. I’ve been helped by the fact that there hasn’t been a great deal of work for me this last fortnight, which has left most mornings free. I am about two thirds of the way through a lengthy key section of the book. Once that is done I plan to tackle a very different part of the story, told from another character’s point of view. It’s all very exciting. For me at least.
If you get the chance to attend an Arvon course or have thought about it before but were unsure about the benefits, I would urge you to take a leap and go. It’s a great way to spend five days and you might find, like me, you come back full of writing beans.
You can see more of my photos from the week and find links to the Arvon flickr stream here.