Saturday, 11 July 2009

Arvon Calling 3 (for parts 1 & 2 see below)

Following on from the sheer relief of arriving after a long train journey on a particularly hot day, my very first impression was dangerously close to disenchantment and I puzzled why. I liked the tutors. They were supportive, witty and as kindly as they were specific in their criticism. I certainly expected and could have handled a much tougher approach. My fellow Arvonites turned out to be a cheerful friendly bunch, as frank and open as any I could wish to meet, but by the end of the first main day I was confused.
Maybe it was me. Had I expected something more rigorous and academic? I’ve always tended to feel isolated in a group. Was the gossip more than I was prepared to handle, the air of candid self revelation too unsettling? It took me a while to relax and accept I was there to write positive women’s fiction, about love and relationships, the cheerful entertainment often labeled ‘Chick Lit’ or more pompously ‘Popular women’s fiction’, so why not just loosen up and have a good time?

O.K. so sometimes it felt like I was on holiday with a group of friends, a hen party where we’d temporarily mislaid the bride. When emotions got too heavy maybe it wobbled into women’s encounter group territory, but so what? I needed to let go and enjoy myself and I did.

Katie and Judy were hugely generous in their support

The group may have been driven to write but we also brought our pasts with us, bound up as we were in the minor and profound, comical and weighty ins and outs of our everyday lives,. A few didn’t make it to the end of the week. Some women were so driven they confessed to getting up at five am to write before their kids woke up. Others admitted a significant birthday had left them clamoring for change. All seemed far hungrier than me. I love to write, it’s fun, but I can’t say I’m driven. It is as simple as that.

I finished the week encouraged and inspired. No longer were we a disparate group of learners and tutors but a bunch of friends; we’d cooked and eaten together, shared the wine, the laughter and the tears. After one particularly late evening carousing on the terrace, when wine and secrets were liberally shared, the tutors appeared as bright as ever the next morning, no one would have ever guessed it had been party time the night before, except Judy had forsaken her chic high heels for a pair of very comfy flatties and Katie, as elegant, well made up and cheerful as ever, somehow managed to put her cardie on inside out.

I leant many new things on the Arvon course and not all of them on the published curriculum.
There is such a thing as Obscrab (An obscene version of scrabble),
On a wild night out, a true friend will always carry a scrunchie in her pocket to tie your hair back when you are sick.
A slag bag is what you take with you on the off chance you may meet someone and want to stay out all night (contains clean knickers and a toothbrush apparently.)
Women of maturity are just as able to write ‘fluffy chick lit,' as those of twenty five.

But most important of all I learnt I’ve written a novel that, with luck and perseverance, stood a chance of being published.
My overall impression of the course? It wasn’t as intellectually tough and demanding as I expected, but emotionally it was much harder. I actually got far less real criticism than I deserved and I certainly was less critical of other writers than I anticipated, probably because they were all so very talented. Finally, all I need to do now is a spot of serious rewriting and find a high-quality Literary Agent who’s keen to take on a new author? A doddle!


Maddie Grigg said...

How rewarding. Good luck with the rewrite and the hawking it to agents. I look forward to seeing it on the shelves

ChrisH said...

Fascinating account of the course, I really enjoyed it. (I'm glad you explained about Judy's flatties - I was very surprised by the footwear in the photo!). All the best for the rewrite and future publication.

elizabethm said...

Fascinating to read about Arvon. I have wondered about going but not to a fiction course. I suspect that non fiction writing might pull in a different crowd, although your crowd sound just great to me.
Very best of luck with the book!

Angel Bluestocking said...

Ahh, your last lines made me smile. The REALLY hard work begins now. (and trust me, it won't stop at one re-write!!)

I'm so glad you got something out of the course. The strange thing about Arvon is the courses are not really structured as such - very free flowing and organic.

I would say my writing is all 'womens fiction' and possibly some 'chicklit,' so you can imagine how I felt on an Arvon course with two tutors who'd both won major literary prizes and were best sellers! I would have given anything to have been on the commercial fiction course, Lampie, for lots of reasons - especially Katie and Judy. But mainly, of course, because I think you and I would have been fine if we'd had each other. Now make the most of the investment and get on with the re-write...and re-write...and re-write.
Don't give in.

I wish you all the best


Tattie Weasle said...

This is amazing and inspiring. I've had a story all curled up for years now but I just don't know how to start. It's def NOT chick lit but I have a feeling that if I am ever to do it I had better get writing and worry about everything else later! Good luck with the rewrite and I am crossing fingers for you!

seashell cosmos said...

I send my best wishes to you too. I struggle so with writing and would be happy to get over blog 'comment block' I really admire you all for your writing abilities. Good luck Lampie!!! :)

Cait O'Connor said...

I've really enjoyed reading about your Arvon course Lampie and am very pleased you were inspired by it. Good luck with the re-write and agent search.

Exmoorjane said...

Lovely that you were able to go and have really enjoyed reading your account. I think the courses must depend hugely on the tutors as the one I went on was pretty challenging intellectually and the crit was pretty intense too... think, on reflection, yours sounds just lovely!
Fabulous too that the novel has legs....shall look forward to my signed copy!!

LittleBrownDog said...

I've always wanted to go on an Arvon course, but somehow have never managed to find the time or the money - at least not at the same time... It sounds really good. I don't think I'm really driven, either, but that's no reason why you can't still enjoy and get something out of writing. Really looking forward to hearing how the book progresses.

Frances said...

I have very much enjoyed reading your three-part account of your Arvon course.

Aren't you glad that, in the face of those last minute interruptions just prior to your multi-transport traveling, you kept your pact with your artistic soul and fate, and got to Arvon!

From what you, and previously Angel, Jane and Milla, have written, it seems as if these course vary tremendously. Yet each seems to have a lot of authenticity and value.

Hoping that you will be encouraged to write and write and write, and that you'll be published time and time and yet another time again.


Fennie said...

Go for it Lampie! Yes the Arvon course I attanded years ago in Devon felt a bit like an encounter group at times. But am so glad you had such a positive experience. I look forward to reading that novel.

Around My Kitchen Table said...

"I learnt I’ve written a novel that, with luck and perseverance, stood a chance of being published." That is so encouraging. I'm sending you all my positive vibes to help it on its way.

Friko said...

There is an Arvon Foundation School in the place where I live in the Shropshire Hills, John Osborne's last home.
I hope the course has brought you nearer to your goal and that your novel will be published. In the meantime, one you've done the rewriting, start on the next one. Once you're famous, your books will simply fly of the shelves and it won't do to keep your public waiting.

Henrietta Bird said...

Lampie - it's you!!

Thanks for visiting me and even bigger thanks for writing so eloquently about the Arvon experience. It brought it all back so vividly, only without the damp bedroom - hurrah!

I'm thrilled to have found you in cyberspace because you are one of the coolest people I have met, I think, ever. I would gladly share a galley kitchen, 20 dead chickens and a vat of filo with you again any time!

Hope the writing is going well - it's hard isn't it? Really hope to see you published so I can tell everyone I have shared utensils with a literary star!

Look forward to visiting you again

Calico Kate said...

Oh I really really want to go on one of those courses. You make it sound unmissable and I am seriouly envious.
Very best of luck with the book. Perhaps the next one could be based on your time at Arvon!
PS pleased that Katie Fford is as nice as I thought she was. I love her books.