from the archives: my experience on an arvon novel writing course (part 2)

This week I'm sharing the blog posts I wrote about my experience at an Arvon writing course, to mark seven years since the experience! Please see this post for background.

This post originally appeared on my blog Green Ink in April 2010, and has been slightly edited.


I arrived at Moniack Mhor on April 5th, after a day travelling up from London on the train. On the first night, dinner was cooked for us and we socialised a little, getting to know the other students and the two tutors, Morag and Tim, who were going to be guiding us through the week. It was an exciting night, and held a lot of promise for the week to come. I went to bed fairly early, I remember. I heard rain beat against my window, like handfuls of stones. My favourite way to fall asleep.

The way the course was structured was that the group met for writing classes in the mornings, from 10.00am to 12.00pm. This wasn't compulsory, but nearly everyone showed up for them and they really were a great way to get the writing day started. After our morning's work, everyone would go off and do their own thing for the afternoon. We were encouraged to make afternoon appointments with the tutors to show them our work and get feedback. The group of 15-16 students were split into groups over the week to do cooking duty once - the rest of the time you just showed up in the dining room and found dinner waiting for you! The evenings usually had some group activity on as well which, again, was optional.

What follows is an excerpt from my journal on the first day of the course.

Tuesday 6th April 2010

And so the Arvon course has begun. I am currently on my own in my tiny room, listening to Gershwin on my iPod speakers, breathing in the smell of mint tea brewing in my pink and white striped mug, noticing melted chocolate under my finger nails. I have spent the past hour and a half re-reading The Memory of Us (*the working title of my novel). And now I feel tired.

That is exactly how I feel most of the time whenever I think about it. Tired. Heavy. Bone weary. This mountain I have tried so hard to climb....well, come on Phil, how hard have you tried to climb it? Lately you haven't been trying at all. I keep telling myself not to worry, not to concern myself with what other people are doing. Just do what I came here to do. This is what I've been dreaming of. Time and space away from it all. To write.

I've got to stop worrying. About whether what I'm doing is as good as or on the same level as what others here are doing. About Ruth's surviving family and what they might do or say to me if the story isn't to their liking. 

I like the people on the course with me. I think the ability level in the group is very even. I feel out of my depth, however. The others here seem to have a coherent story, one that seems to flow logically. I have so many issues and obstacles. Well, perhaps that's my problem. I keep focusing on the hurdles. But bloody hell, I can't even write a synopsis for the damn thing. People ask what my novel is about and I don't know where to start. It turns into a long rambling speech when I should be able to tell them in a few sentences. 

But it's amazing what having paid a small fortune for the privilege of being here will do for your productivity. I'm just telling myself to get the hell on with it. And, incredibly, I am. In between naps, reading and a few chocolate gingers. Still not convinced what I'm coming out with is any good....but still. Words are coming.

Continued tomorrow.....