I’m a writer and a teacher: a wonderful balance, which allows me to go into every creative experience with a dual perspective. For myself, I sit hungrily at the feet of talented writers, looking to how I can make my writing stronger and truer; at the same time, a part of my brain magpies ideas for how I can ‘pass on’ this treasure to my pupils.
The other day I dug out the notebook I took with me on my first Arvon Course at Lumb Bank: The Tricky Business of Second Drafts with Hannah Griffiths and Marcel Theroux. Even then, as a new teacher, I wore these vari-focal lenses: one side of the notebook I completed the exercises set by our tutors; on the other side, I scribbled ideas for what I could bring back to my classroom.
And so, it was a particular thrill to take this writing-teaching connection to its natural conclusion by bringing sixteen pupils (along with my husband, Hugh, my one year old little girl, Tennessee Skye, and my dear colleague and writing buddy, Helen Dahlke), to The Hurst this Easter. I wanted to give these young people a taste of Arvon’s magic formula for getting straight to our writing hearts – and, of course, Arvon delivered.
Through its workshops, its retreats and the friendships I made along the way, Arvon has played a vital role in helping me realise my dream of becoming a published novelist. What Milo Saw (July 2014) and The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells (Jan 2016), owe much to how Arvon nurtured me as a writer. My pupils have now joined me on this journey: they are building their lives as writers and now Arvon is part of their story too.
Over the last few days, I was moved to watch these young men and women experience what I have lived through so many times: the long journey to the countryside; the removal of daily distractions (family, work, television, mobile phones, the internet); the intensive workshops with Caroline Bird and Amanda Symth, which left us exhausted and exhilarated and inspired; the long afternoons of tutorials, walks, naps, writing; cooking together; eating together; readings (the glorious Richard Bean on Wednesday night); and of course, the forging of new friendships. Like the trees which are blossoming at this time of year, I watched my pupils unfurl their minds and their hearts, become truer versions of themselves and grow in confidence as writers and human beings.
On Saturday morning, as I sat at my desk, back at Wellington College, I received an email from a parent which summed up how special this week was for us all: ‘Anna has said it was one of the best experiences of her life!!!’ It seems that an electronically unconnected, drizzly Shropshire, filled with words, can get right to a teenager’s heart.
It remains for me to say thank you, Arvon, for what you have given me and for what you have allowed me to pass on.