As someone who writes pretty much in isolation, sometimes it feels like the me that writes stories is an alter ego of the day-to-day ‘real life’ me. (Hi, if you’re reading – hope your day is going well. Remember to get some milk while you’re out there please).
I felt this disconnection even more after disappearing from my normal life for a week in October to attend, for the first time, a week-long Arvon course. The course was entitled Short Stories: Towards A Collection and involved me being one of sixteen students spending five days with two tutors – the writer Michele Roberts and Jim Hinks, an editor at Comma Press (who publish Adam Marek and Hasin Blasim and lots of other great stuff). This all took place at The Hurst, a lovely old house in the Shropshire Hills which was previously owned by the playwright John Osborne.
Without rambling on too much about it, I can tell you that it was an excellent week spent with a group of lovely and talented people.
It is difficult to explain or describe being there because it was a bubble we inhabited for a short time, and a kind of infectious mania slowly took hold – which skews my memories of the week somewhat. Parts of each day were spent writing in workshops, then there was time to write alone and some time spent reading work aloud. There were a lot of conversations about writing and more specifically about writing short stories – conversations I don’t usually have. Plus, the house had a fantastic kitchen and a fantastic library, both of which we were free to enjoy.
My instinct was, of course, to take some pictures of The Hurst before I left, but then I decided against it, to keep it just in my memory. Hopefully I will have chance to return in the not too distant future. I did take one picture however:
This strange ceramic bird stands in the entrance hall – a kind of totemic welcoming party. I identified it as a cassowary, but have no idea if this is correct or not. Nevertheless, one of my course-mates issued a challenge in response to my picture – a 500 word story about the cassowary.
Another of my course-mates, Valerie, responded with a beautifully realised little piece of work about John Osborne’s relationship with the cassowary. Encouraged by other members of the group, she forwarded the piece to one of the coordinators of the centre.
In this blogpost, Natasha Carlish, who had welcomed us to The Hurst on the first day of our visit, published Valerie’s cassowary piece, and reflected on the challenges she had encountered in her first three years of working at Arvon.
What I liked about this blog post was Natasha’s reaction to Valerie’s sharing of her piece – it took me back to the final night of our time at the centre, in which each of us read some of our own work to the group. There were – of course – some nerves, but slowly an event that had been approached with trepidation revealed itself to be a vital and victorious ending to our little week-old community.
In short, it reminded me about why we share stories – to try and make connections between our own separate realities.