A ‘memory’ popped up on Facebook this morning reminding me that ten years ago today I arrived at Lumb Bank – Ted Hughes’s former home – ready to begin a week-long Arvon course on writing for children.
The course was tutored by Steve Voake, children’s author and Senior Lecturer in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, and the legendary Jamila Gavin, a wonderful children’s author whose books we used for teaching literacy at the school where I worked. Jamila was the main reason I decided to attend the course and I spent much of the week being very much the nerdy super fan.
As well as daily input from Steve and Jamila, a mid-week evening session saw literary agent Julia Churchill drop by (at that time with the Greenhouse Literary Agency but now with A M Heath) along with Young Adult novelist Bali Rai, both of whom I’d met before. I don’t think the week was really intended as a networking opportunity, but that aspect certainly didn’t do me any harm. Later, Jamila, Bali and Steve would all send me quotes about writing for children to be included in an online e-course I was commissioned to write. I was very grateful indeed.
I learned loads about the act of writing that week, the most memorable being to relax more about it all and strive for a better self-belief. There were definitely issues with what I was producing – major elements of story-structure were missing, for one thing – but I found out that structuring a story is tricky for everyone and even well-published authors have to ‘rumble’ with it until the story arc is right. There isn’t some secret technique that ‘real writers’ know and the rest of us don’t.
What published authors do have is the commitment and creative resilience to carry on rumbling with their manuscripts through draft after draft until they’re finally ‘right’. It took me a good few more years to build resilience enough to complete ‘a book’ and I struggle with this at times even now. But I got there in the end and the ‘your work is good enough’ messages I had from Steve and Jamila that week at Lumb Bank were a very useful part of my journey.
One other interesting thing about that particular week is that Arvon venues famously provide neither televisions nor internet access for attendees, to limit distractions from the outside world and encourage concentration on the act of writing. So I was totally gobsmacked to step off the train back home at the end of the week and have the family ask ‘what did you think about the riots, then?’ It seems while I was playing ‘mad woman in the attic’ in the depths of rural Yorkshire, the nation had been in crisis, with several cities burned and looted by angry mobs and the country’s transport system disrupted. All of which had totally passed me by!