Written in early December from a remote farmhouse on Dartmoor....
It's 6 am and I'm sitting drinking tea from a mug with "The Big Sleep" on it, and writing this instead of following it's very sensible instructions. But I'm so inspired I feel as if a dozen novels - or at least a dozen scenes from my current novel - will come pouring from my fingertips with ease. There must be something in the water in this place, for after a few days I can feel that the quality of my writing has changed. Those key scenes which I haven't previously even attempted to write don't seem so daunting, and while not perfect, what I'm writing has an integrity and authenticity and I know it's good. Does that sound arrogant? I hope not - don't all writers instinctively know when something we have produced is working?
"This place" is Totleigh Barton, the Arvon Foundation house on Dartmoor. The house is fab - nooks and crannies for writing, wood-burning stove and long table for the evening meals, and a huge (and now lovely and warm!) barn where all aspects of writing are hotly debated. We are immensely privileged to two amazing tutors this week: Frances Fyfield and Dreda Say Mitchell. Both are enormously generous, to the group and on an individual level. In the mornings we share writing exercises and talk about different aspects of writing a novel. In the afternoons the tutors provided individual feedback. To have someone of the stature of Frances Fyfield saying they enjoyed my writing leaves me walking on air for days! And Dreda gave wonderful feedback on plotting that was like a light going on in the brain.
It's also fab to listen to what other people are writing. I'm constantly amazed by the huge talent of unpublished writers, some of whom have been working away for years and may be on their fifth or sixth novel. Some of the writers here have agents, one is self-published - and nearly everyone is producing work that I want to hear more of. So far we've been sharing first pages and writing exercises: we've had kinky sex in Surrey, prostitutes in Milan and dead bodies everywhere from Trinidad to the Scottish mountains. Friday night we all get to read something from our current work. I can't wait.
So - yes, of course I'd recommend an Arvon course. The opportunity to spend an entire week immersed in writing is in itself rare and valuable. To do it in the company of supportive and insightful tutors and serious writers happy to debate plot problems over the washing up is possible unique. The only problem with the course it it's length - if I could stay for six more weeks, I'm confident I'd have a stonking novel at the end of it!