My week at Arvon

Anyone working in creative circles will tell you that the hardest part of the job is making it pay. We all love what we do but turning it into a living wage can be troublesome.

I’ve done alright. I’ve self-published four novels and along with running workshops and doing various other projects, I’ve scraped a living for the last four years. Unfortunately, scraping a living doesn’t leave a lot of spare cash to spend on improving your skills or your creative practice.

Step forward, Sunderland Culture.

There are many grants available to creatives but sometimes the application form can appear impenetrable and aimed at anyone who isn’t you.

When Sunderland Culture first announced the Creative Development Fellowship, I was delighted that not only did I tick all the boxes; they made the application process as easy as possible.

Knowing a number of creatives in Sunderland, I knew the competition would be tough, and I was both delighted and a little surprised when I got an email in July to say my application was successful and they had awarded me a bursary.

The point of the fellowship is to take your creative practice to the next level. Whilst I’ve been a moderately successful self-publisher, I would like to make the step up to traditional publishing so someone else can take control of the things I’m not very good at (covers etc) and leave me to the writing.

With that in mind, I opted for some professional editing software and a week long residential writing course at The Hurst in Shropshire.

A lot has happened since I got that email, including going back to full-time employment in the software industry and the small matter of my heart almost packing up and me having two stents fitted a fortnight before my course started.

Because of the wonders of the NHS and a plentiful supply of drugs, I declared myself fit and took a leisurely drive into a beautiful part of the country I’d never visited before.

The Hurst is an imposing building but comfortable and homely inside. Once I got myself settled in, I started to meet my fellow guests.

Sharing a house with sixteen other writers, including our tutors Mike Gayle and Freya North, could have been tricky, but despite our significantly different backgrounds, we all got along. They even excused my non drinking although I had a good excuse.

We spent Monday getting to know everybody with the workshops starting on Tuesday. We worked together in the morning, whilst we spent the afternoons writing or wandering the grounds thinking and mulling over what we’d learnt.

The workshops were fun and challenged us to try different ways of writing, I even made a baby swear.

Evenings were for dining together and having readings from the group or the guest authors.

Mike and Freya both read from their books and answered questions whilst Lucy Atkins visited on Wednesday to give yet another voice and more helpful advice.

Along with the workshops, we got a tutorial with both Mike and Freya where they critiqued work we’d handed in the night before. Both sets of feedback were very useful and made me think about how I was approaching my latest novel. That was the one thing I’d hoped to get out of the week and whilst I have plenty of work to do, I now know which direction I’m heading.

My aversion to party games, and the thought of a five and a half hour drive the next day, saw me retiring to bed after round two of the parlour games on Friday night. Much to the disappointment of competitive Mike who saw his team sloping off one by one. I never found out who won.

After a week of reflection, I think the true value of the Arvon course was being in the company of fellow writers, all looking to learn and improve, and bouncing ideas off each other and the tutors, who’ve been in the business for over twenty years, either within the workshops or informally over dinner.

I now need to pull my finger out and get this novel finished, but I feel that I’m in a much stronger position to submit to agents when I’ve finished it.

Also, with the quality of the readings within the group, I suspect I may have witnessed one or two future best sellers.

Hopefully, I can bring back some of what I’ve learned to my fellow scribes at Holmeside Writers who have helped to push me this far.

With both my heart and my writing in a healthier place, I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me in the future.

Thanks to Mike and Freya for all the advice and feedback.

I’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone at Sunderland Culture for their support. The fellowship is not just a one-off payment but an ongoing support for creatives with network meetings to meet fellow bursary beneficiaries, a free professional head shot (photos not assassinations) and as much advice as you can handle.

If this opportunity arises again, I would urge any Sunderland creatives to apply for it. It might just take you that next step.




Picture 2

This Arvon course was supported with funding from Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, through Sunderland Culture’s Creative Development Fellowship.

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