I’ve just returned from a week teaching for Arvon at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire. I took an Arvon course myself in 2008, and one of my tutors back then was Patrick Neate. I was working alongside Patrick this time, and for a nostalgic sap like me, well… let’s just say that set the tone for a pretty special week.
If it’s possible, I loved returning to Arvon to teach even more than I loved being there the first time around. Preparing for my workshops forced me to stop and think about process and craft in a way that’s easy to blast past when you’re entrenched in your own work. I realised I was re-inspiring myself - even before I got to Lumb Bank I was grateful, once again, for Arvon. It’s a privilege to be taken into the confidence of someone – the sharing, the listening, the discussion, what we write and why we write and who we write for – because even if we haven’t fully realised it ourselves yet, writing is about as personal as it gets. Last week it felt as though everyone at Lumb Bank gave it their all, and isn’t that as much as you could ever ask? I had a moment in a workshop when I looked around at those fifteen writers, their heads bent, pens touching paper – each of us wholly separate, but bound in the moment – and, I thought, you know what, right now, there’s no place on earth I’d rather be.
For over forty years Arvon has been giving people ‘the time and space to write’. For me, as a tutor, it offered the time and space (even amidst the busy workshop & tutorial schedule) to remember why I write. Something that can be all too easily forgotten when you’re chasing deadlines, and fretting book promo. When the thing that once felt to you extraordinary and precious is in danger of becoming, just sometimes, a little too much everyday. In fact, that was the very last written exercise that I set the group. Why Do You Write? The looks on some people’s faces as they put down their pens showed that some kind of understanding, one that might previously have proved elusive, had been reached. Me? I know why I write. I write because life’s too amazing to live just once. Because somehow we’ve been gifted hearts and minds that permit us to transcend the order of things, so why wouldn’t we want to see where that takes us (even if, sometimes, it turns out to be just three streets over, drinking coffee instead of tea)? I write because it’s time travel, it’s hurtling through place and space, it’s kissing the one who got away, or the one you never knew existed. It’s the button that came off your skirt one day when you were five years old, and knowing that that button mattered – maybe because your mother sewed it on and she’s not around any more, or maybe because she is here but you don’t see enough of her, or maybe, actually, everything’s pretty fine between you and your mother, but for some reason you still find yourself caring about that button… In a world where even the things we think we have a good grip on tend to have a habit of, sooner or later, slipping away, writing them down feels like the one practical, magical thing that we can do to hold on tight. That’s why I write. It just took this week – with one other tutor, one guest, fifteen writers, centre staff and their dogs, together in a grand old house on the side of a hill – to remind me. And for that, dear Arvon, I’m eternally grateful.