When it comes to Writing Retreats, Arvon is up there on a pedestal for those wanting to master their craft. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that. It’s hugely expensive. You probably know that too. There are grants, not as many know that.
I first found out about their isolated houses thanks to The Newcastle Writers Conference. More experienced authors talked of no distractions, of making friends, of being challenged. I looked at the price and balanced that against other things I needed, the kids’ uniforms, the rent, food, bills, debts, all that. One week would cost me more than I paid for my car, and that needed replacing again soon. Arvon? A nice dream. I didn’t need it. I so didn’t belong in that swish place.
Then a friend recommended it. A week to yourself, time to write. Time! Ha, a distant wish. My family need my time, not my writing. Work needs my time, not the book I’ll finish, one day. Time? That’s just a dream. I don’t have time to organise cover for my weekly routine, the cost of childcare, time off work, the burden of having to ask for help for a week!
No thanks. It’s not designed for me, I know my place. I can’t afford its supportive environment. They can keep their course designed to target that thing I was struggling with and the two experienced tutors you could approach about that same thing. That course doesn’t cover my genre, and I’d have to cook and share space with a bunch of strange people.
I don’t need that. I can find a way around, I’ll figure out this problem in the end. Arvon’s miles away from Hull anyway.
Isn’t that the point?
I don’t belong there.
When are you going to take this seriously?
Fill in the grant form. They can only say no.
They didn’t. It wasn’t going to be a free ride. I still had to find a lot, including the travel and the childcare and…
You can’t turn down an opportunity like that.
My week at The Hurst was a Christmas, Birthday, Mother’s Day present all rolled into to one. (And few other compromises.) It took Arvon for me to grow. It took my family’s support to allow myself that space. That’s huge.
From Arvon we all brought home friendships forged from a group of strangers who didn’t want to step out of their comfort zone, but needed to grow. Different lifestyles, one shared goal. Words.
Industry professionals Rachel Kerr and Nikesh Shukla were amazing tutors, both inspiring and friendly. Their advice, insight and consideration went far beyond previous experiences of workshops. Together they were really supportive regardless of what we were writing.
Thanks to, to the staff, working tirelessly to keep the fridges full and the lights on. Giving guidance when asked, but never fussing or distracting. Their’s is a true skill in such imposing grounds. Their work gave my week life.
Clare Alexander crowned it all with anecdotes and knowledge only someone of her experience could possess.
We all discovered that how much we did/didn’t know about genre, or wine, had nothing to do with connecting to our work. We gained an understanding that it’s not all about the word count, the opinion, or even the market. Exploring deeper, some profited from how to structure a day, and if we really paid attention, how look after yourself mentally and physically as a writer.
That’s on top of the workshops.
We left with lingering visions of the novels we were working on, honed in those morning classes.
Blue plastic bags and London Markets. Smog thick air of Victorian times. Owls at 4am. Poledancers, and 1980’s dialphones. Family, secrets, divides and divorce. The ache of missing mother and her favourite book, a can’o lager shared with mates. The unfinished books we all want to read. And mint.
An inability to cook has no reflection on an ability to write, your skill isn’t pigeonholed based on salary or commitments. Voice is found in all walks of life.
So many things impact your writing, it’s not just the words you put on the page. Your story is just as important as mine. You won’t have my experience, it was personal. Yours will be what you make it. I didn’t attend the SFF course, (yes they do Science Fiction and Fantasy at Arvon, Crime, Poetry, Plays and YA too…) I knew what I needed to develop. I went to learn, not in the hope of a book deal.
It wasn’t the challenge I expected, or the one I was warned about. But it was the one I needed. I treasured the One to Ones, the workshops cast a new light on how I approached things. I won’t forget the stupid-o-clock times I would sit in front of the Aga watching the house wake. Or my surprise at my room, space to hide away from everything. I will cherish the clarity.
There are other places, especially for Science Fiction and Fantasy, like Milford SFF’s Retreat, or the recent one organised by Jo Zebedee in Northern Ireland. Scotland’s Moniack Mhor offers SFF and more, or try the Welsh Tŷ Newydd
You can find the course that will help you grow, as a person and as a writer. You can figure it out alone, I’ve often said that you can get great workshops at conventions and literature festivals. You can learn and figure your way through the writing maze cheaper, because even with a grant, it’s still costly. But working with others does wonders for that nasty nagging doubt. Give yourself time, give yourself permission. You might not know your place as well as you think you do.
Still think Arvon isn’t for you? Fill in the grant form.
Arvon might say ‘not this time’, but they’re Open To All.