For a few days I have been away. Somewhere without family and friends. Out of contact with the outside world – no internet, no mobile phone signal.
Just me and fifteen other writers.
I have just attended my first Arvon Course.
We were at The Hurst in Shropshire, former home of playwright, John Osborne. A wonderful place surrounded by woodland.A
The course was Historical Novel and we writers were of all ages
Physically – from 17 to “too polite to ask”
Era – Ancient Greece to 1970s.
Why were we there? As many reasons as there were writers. Some were beginners, others were moving from a different genre (science fiction!). One had written 90,000 words and torn them all up. Another had been published but was now frozen by a bad review. Everyone had a problem they need help with.
How did we get that help?
There was the freedom. Freedom from the pressure and restrictions of home, work and life. Time to just sit and think, walk through the woods and just write.
There was hard work. At 9.30 in the morning we met, in a wonderful room, around a large round table, like King Arthur and his Knights. We were surrounded by shelves full of books.
Here we were set exercises by our tutors; short bursts of writing on what we were feeling, descriptions of objects and people from our WIP, dialogue between people in our own books and once with other writer’s characters. It was scary but exhilarating. Breakthroughs were made. Writers suddenly discovered a surprising new character, a new way of writing, or even a totally new book. There was a break for refreshments, but then back to work, until lunch at 1 pm.
There was advice. After lunch was free time, to write, think or walk. Apart from the tutorials. During the week every writer had two, twenty-minute tutorials, one with each of the tutors. This is when you could get an opinion of your work, ask questions and get advice.
There was food. Once during the week this afternoon freedom was cut short at 4.30 when you reported to the kitchen – to cook dinner (7 pm). Four strangers in a foreign kitchen. Ingredients and recipes were provided – what could go wrong? Nothing. Meals appeared on time (near enough) and the food was plentiful and delicious.
There was relaxation. After dinner we gathered at about 8.30 in the living room. We relaxed on chairs, sofas, even the floor. We read out loud, the tutors work, writing we enjoyed and on the final night, our own work.
The tutors were all excellent.
Manda Scott – writer of contemporary crime novels, who moved to historical fiction with the Boudica series. Her recent book, Into the Fire, brilliantly combines modern crime with the story of Joan of Arc.
Karen Maitland – writes dark medieval crime novels including The Gallows Curse – the only novel “narrated by a root vegetable”
Guest for Wednesday night was Andrew Taylor – three times winner of the Historical Dagger. He read to us from The Silent Boy, set during the French Revolution.
So, what did I hope to get from the course? I arrived at The Hurst with a 50,000 word first draft of a book about the early life of Byrhtnoth.
- Was I a writer or should I find another way to spend my time?
- To spend the time editing what I had and thinking about the sequel (I was planning a trilogy)
- With only 50,000 words, what was my book? Adult, Young Adult, Children?
- I was advised I should carry on – for now.
- I got more than halfway through editing.
- Considering the length of book and the fact the main characters do not reach adulthood (age 15/16) it is YA. But, my writing style is adult.
I have to make a decision.
Either I learn to write YA. I have been given a book list – (It is not something I have ever read, it didn’t exist when I was young!)
Or I write a longer book, extending the timeline.
I have a long road ahead. Follow this blog to find out what happens!
Where ever I end up. This last week has been an important point in the journey and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Finally. Thank you to the staff at The Hurst – invisible until needed, then there to solve all problems.